The Guilded Age
The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts’ ‘The New Collective’ exhibit showcases the
diverse work created by members in seven local artist guilds.
“Cage” (detail), 2012.
Right: Chris Calligan,
“Listening to Beck,” 2013.
To describe the local art world in a single word, you could wave your arms around a Pittsburgh Center for the Arts exhibit called “The New Collective.” Your word would be: “this.”
A clever trick, but it’s also the point of the show, which is on view through
Jan. 19. “The New Collective” brings together 75 paintings, sculptures,
photographs, prints and tapestries by 61 local artists who have one thing in
common: They each belong to an artist guild, the co-ops long-affiliated with
the yellow Shadyside mansion.
The guilds are the seeds from which the PCA sprouted. Their artists
helped to found the center in 1945 to promote local arts during the first Renaissance. Since then, guilds have merged and emerged, faded and persisted.
Today, there are seven — the Society of Sculptors, the Craftsmen’s Guild of
Pittsburgh and Group A are the remaining originals, and they have been
joined over the decades by the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh
Society of Artists, the Pittsburgh Print Group and Women of Visions.
The center stopped hosting annual exhibits for each guild in the late
1990s. Instead, it required guilds to submit exhibit proposals, which a committee reviewed. Having proposals made it easier for the center to match
shows to be displayed at the same time.
“It did serve its purpose,” says Laura Domencic, who has been PCA’s director since 2006. But it was time for a change. Some guilds went a few years
without submitting an application. Other proposals increasingly incorporated themes, which can jumpstart creativity — or redirect the natural course
of artistic inquiry. “The New Collective” has an anti-theme. It’s “what those
guild artists are working on currently,” as Domencic says.
As such, anything goes. Pittsburgh is a unifying thread. Cory Bonnet’s
painting of a fiery sunset beyond the Fort Pitt Bridge recalls the bygone blast
furnaces. Carol Skinger’s “Pittsburgh Census”
is even hotter: She maps the city using rubber
stamps labeled “White Pittsburgh,” “Black
Pittsburgh” and “Mixed.” It’s a counterpoint
to the beloved map of the city’s 90 neighbor-
Other works turn Pittsburgh into a backdrop for a modern “Mona Lisa”
or a scene reminiscent of “The Last of Us,” the apocalyptic video game set
here. But “The New Collective” is by no means a local love fest. It includes
serious explorations of forms and materials, particularly in work from the
thriving local fiberarts scene.
The gray strands snaking through Carolyn Carson’s “Dance at the Sea of
Reeds” could be a river delta seen from an airplane or capillaries in a pulsing
organ. Set against a red tapestry, they look both sickly and thriving. Jane
Ogren’s “Jefo 638 (diptych)” trains delicate cloth into fungal knobs. Gerry
Florida’s necklaces also feel alive; they look like a sacred collection of shells,
flowers and jewels gathered at low tide for a pagan ritual.
This all-guilds format is a placeholder while the center determines a way
forward, but it promises to be a model. Domencic wants future exhibitions to
grow organically from the current work of guild artists.
The arrangement lured people to the gallery with a simple idea, though.
Now, the art must speak for itself. “Sometimes that can be more challenging
to package,” says Domencic, but she expects this “more-transparent” approach to be more rewarding for all involved.
The artists agree, says Priscilla Pfanstiel Robinson, guild exhibitions chair
and president of the Pittsburgh Society of Sculptors. There’s talk of bringing
back the group setup every three years. “When they want to do it again, that’s
a good sign,” says Pfanstiel Robinson.
The format has unique benefits: By combining their limited resources,
the guilds got three jurors instead of one — Petra Fallaux, a local fiber artist;
Clayton Merrell, a local painter, printmaker and associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University; and Renée Stout, who grew up here before launching
a successful multimedia career in Washington, D.C. With three sets of eyes,
“The New Collective” aims for diversity and consensus. Of the 75 works
chosen for the show, 17 selections were unanimous.
“At times in the process, I felt the pangs of familiarity as I viewed the
works, while others times it was surreal, like I was in a place that I couldn’t
quite recognize,” Stout wrote in her juror’s statement. “The breadth and
variety of works, in style and content, represented the multifaceted city that
Pittsburgh has become.” PM
BY ERIC LIDJI
“THE NEW COLLEC TIVE”
Through Jan. 19 at
Pittsburgh Center for the Arts,
6300 Fifth Ave., Shadyside;