Gallery Crawl: Can you keep up?

Let there be art! On Friday, Pittsburgh proved its art scene had a pulse. The thriving artist community of Pittsburgh staged a series of 12 unique gallery events in a grand tour de force, drawing hundreds to look in awe at their brilliant creative endeavors.

The “Gallery Crawl,” presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, worked on a simple premise: People will come to see free art. The premise worked so well that sometimes it seemed like the galleries couldn’t hold the throngs of people.

No longer can one claim a stagnant world of art in the City of Three Rivers.

Putting up one particularly interesting collection of films, the SPACE gallery played short films by artist T. Foley and students in a collection called “License.” So many people filled this gallery that I could barely hear, but one visual image I could catch and ponder involved a blow-up doll driving a car. Maybe “License” referred to giving dolls licenses.

The fun film “Colon Dash Forward Slash” had a string of emoticons in rapid succession, and when someone stepped on a mat in front of the screen, it would freeze on one emoticon and a computerized voice would throw out a phrase. One emoticon — !-( — emitted a surprised “Ouch!”

At Future Tenant, Bryan Lauch had an exhibition of different kinds of sculptures. Lauch, an adjunct professor of art at Pitt, used various odds and ends to create works of “mobile sculpture,” which had all been “performed” in public spaces. “Centrifugal Orbis” used a central metal axis around which hanging pots full of paints could rotate and drip colors in a circular pattern.
Another sculpture, Lauch’s “Naturalization Vehicle,” involved the most intriguing musical combination of media I have ever seen. The list of materials consists of piano, bicycle, bamboo, glass, paints, and steel. One person can pedal the stationary bike and move the bamboo hanging off the handle bars while another person can sit at the piano and hit the exposed strings with sticks. I asked Lauch how he came up with these ideas, and he said he had no defined process. He instead relied on a stream of consciousness sort of mindset when trying to assemble pieces others would see as junk. He attributed the way of thinking with connecting his mind and hands so he could produce these works.

The folks from Unicorn Mountain, a local arts anthology, have brought together Pittsburgh artists for about a year now, and their exhibition at the Three Rivers Art Gallery included some very special pieces that embraced more than painting. Artists like Jodee Ferrari, Pat Lewis, and Ed Piskar had some rockin’ comics up for sale.

Unicorn Mountain puts together all kinds of works, such as comics, writing, sketches, and music, that come from local Pittsburgh artists. Curt Gettman, the publisher and editor of the collection, said that the group invites many artists to contribute, but he also pointed out, “I love to see envelopes come in from a new name with some awesome painting. That’s a good feeling.” The open-ended compilation represents a quality sampling of our local area, and Gettman wants Unicorn Mountain to act as a gathering point for Pittsburgh artists who lead successful individual careers.

The ArtUpstairs gallery has served the Pittsburgh community for a little over a year, and curator Erin O’Neill arranged a multifaceted gallery for display that analyzed the dynamics of couples, called “Equipoise: Couples Exhibition.” O’Neill asked 11 couples to produce a work of art together at the time when summer begins to succumb to fall and they begin preparations for the winter. Only one member of the couple needed to be an artist, and the collection of works tried to answer the question “What keeps human couples together anyway?”

“Equipoise” gave a little more to think about than the simple “Wow! That’s cool!” artwork. One installation involved pictures of gardening accompanied by a hung and coiled hose that created a green aura, evoking images of the passing summer. The couple Stacy and “Soy Sauce” collaborated to create a dance performance that drew in many young onlookers. O’Neill wanted to collect high-caliber art that would encourage the couples to work in partnership and enhance their relationships. “Many of the couples came closer than they anticipated,” O’Neill said. “They found out more about each other than they thought they would.”

This evening of Pittsburgh art made me ask myself to define a particular “glue” that held these people to the city, to define a certain personality. I could not successfully find it, but I believe that such groups as the year-old Unicorn Mountain and ArtUpstairs will play an integral part in establishing Pittsburgh’s place in the arts world. With artist-educators Bryan Lauch and David Deily, who put on a display of ceramics; strong schools like the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute; and bold, experienced curators like Erin O’Neill, new generations of creative souls will define Pittsburgh’s artistic character.

Matthew McKee | Staffwriter