Best Art Exhibitions of 2009
Andy Warhol captured many a musical icon, such as this 1984 portrait of Prince. "Warhol Live: Music and Dance in Andy Warhol's Work" at the Warhol Museum focused on Warhol's artwork inspired by music and the performing arts.
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One of the most gratifying events of the year wasn't an exhibition per se, but the gala reopening of the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Galleries at Carnegie Museum of Art. A changing exhibition gallery is part of the reinstalled space, but the best part is the return of 250 decorative arts objects to the viewing public.
Other welcome news included the hiring of Lynn Zelevansky as Henry J. Heinz II Director of Carnegie Museum of Art and Ellen Fleurov as Executive Director of Silver Eye Center for Photography, filling positions left vacant by the departures of Richard Armstrong and Linda Benedict-Jones, respectively.
The Three Rivers Arts Festival was shortened from 17 to 10 days, and a bit lean this summer. But the good news is that it survived, having been picked up by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust after its half-century relationship with Carnegie Museums was dissolved.
Even during an economic downturn, Pittsburgh remained a vital arts center. Ten exhibitions that stood out in 2009 also illustrate the city's rich and varied cultural scene:
1. "Warhol Live: Music and Dance in Andy Warhol's Work" at The Andy Warhol Museum. This co-production with the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts wowed on both sides of the border with more than 600 works and a lot of flash and energy.
2. "The Gift of Art," an innovative exhibition at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art paid homage to those whose generosity has built its splendid collection, and also included a "wish list" of potential acquisitions for anyone else who'd like to join the club. It was part of an ambitious, enjoyable year of golden anniversary programming that continues with the equally creative "Four Perspectives on Fifty Years" (the latter through Jan. 3).
3. Tied for third place are two Carnegie Museum of Art exhibitions unified by the insight of Assistant Curator of Fine Arts Amanda Zehnder: the detailed, theatrically charged 18th-century prints of "Giovanni Battista Piranesi: Architecture and the Spaces of the Imagination," and "Matsubara: A Celebration in Pittsburgh," vibrant woodblock prints by contemporary Canadian-based artist Naoko Matsubara, who also was given a complementary exhibition by Chatham University.
4. "The Road to Impressionism: Barbizon Landscapes from the Walters Art Museum," at The Frick Art & Historical Center, lush, light-filled paintings by the precursors to the Impressionists, complemented by an exhibition of the Frick's own Jean-Francois Millet drawings.
5. "LIKENESS," an examination of contemporary portraiture that is mysterious, reflective and always engaging, by guest curator Elaine King at the Mattress Factory (continuing through March 21).
6. "Transformation 7: Contemporary Works in Wood," the seventh biennial Elizabeth R. Raphael Founder's Prize exhibition, reveals how vital both the medium and the prize competition remain, at the Society for Contemporary Craft (through Jan. 2).
7. "Digital to Daguerreotype: Photographs of People," the first exhibition organized by Linda Benedict-Jones as curator of the newly created Carnegie Museum of Art photography department, is a promising beginning for both (continuing through Jan. 31).
8. "Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand," which originated at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston and is at The Andy Warhol Museum, exhibits the underground and political art that garnered Fairey global attention during the presidential campaign and a fair use battle with the Associated Press, as well as his industriousness and potential as a claimant to Warhol's legacy.
9. Three exceptional solo exhibitions by Pittsburgh artists each arguably fit the ninth slot. "Thaddeus Mosley: Sculpture (Studio/Home)" filled two floors of the Mattress Factory, including a wonderland forest of his large, flowing abstract sculpture in wood. "The Analytical Eye: Photographs by Aaronel deRoy Gruber" at Silver Eye Center for Photography illustrated her accomplishment with a camera, but it took Kenneth Love's documentary "Aaronel deRoy Gruber -- A Life in Art" to summarize the achievements of 10 decades. Capping her year was the Westmoreland Society's 2009 Gold Medal for Distinguished Artist awarded at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. Dylan Vitone's "The Miami Project," presented as his Pittsburgh Center for the Arts 2009 Emerging Artist of the Year exhibition, is one of many series by this gifted and thoughtful photographer that arguably place him far beyond the emerging category.
10. "Opera for a Small Room," an entrancing narrative of constructed memory by Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller was given a gutsy installation by Carnegie Museum of Art in a very large room that made it all the more compelling.
First Published December 17, 2009 12:00 am