New art at the Miller Gallery

Located in the Miller Gallery on campus between the Jared L. Cohon University Center and Warner Hall, the multimedia exhibit, curated by Casey Droege, features pieces from artists such as Edith Abeyta, Michael Lewis Miller, Gavin Benjamin, David Bernabo, Alexis Gideon, Ulric Joseph, Jessica Langley, Celeste Neuhaus, and Drew Droege. The exhibit, which is part of the 2014 Pittsburgh Biennial, is open from Sept. 20 to Nov. 30.

Catching Power by Ulric Joseph features a series of oil paintings that depict themes of corruption, materialism, culture shock, and racism. All paintings in the exhibit feature interesting use of color and glitter. The glitter mixes into the colors of the paintings, making it difficult to immediately discern, warranting another look. The paintings depicting cultural and native life in Trinidad, Joseph’s home country, use vibrant primary colors. As a result, the colorful background and clothing heavily contrasts against the dark skin of Joseph’s subjects, accenting his technically competent detail. One such painting, which shows two Trinidadian women with head wraps and colorful red dresses, features large fake gems. It’s clear that Joseph wishes to contrast his Trinidadian upbringing with American consumerism and culture.

In “Predator,” Joseph uses toned down earthy colors to create an ominous atmosphere. The painting consists of a stalking black man on a grassy plain, looking straight at the viewer while wearing a large gold chain and earring. Joseph challenges his audience by relaying his experience of being generalized as violent simply due to his skin color. To challenge this view, Joseph has a set of portraits depicting faces of African American people smiling at different angles. Joseph’s style carries across facial expressions quite well, and it’s clear that he wishes to humanize the often brutalized black man, a minority he feels has been unfairly judged as violent and materialistic.

Another favorite was Video Muses III: Floating Oceans by Alexis Gideon. A multimedia presentation, Gideon uses the unexpected medium of claymation to tackle heavy ideas, such as existentialism and consumerism.

The video is accompanied by very percussion-heavy music and narration in the form of rap. The rhythm of the video is very thematic in nature, as Gideon explores the nature of dreams and memory in our daily lives; the rhythm of the percussion and spoken work tend to mutate to match. For example, when the protagonist of the video is pondering the crushing mundanity of everyday life, the rapping and percussive beat becomes very uniform and steady, lending to the emotional impact of the scene.

In contrast, the dream sequences feature spaced out, syncopated, surreal rhythms. Memories and dreams feature a unique visual style as well. In dreams, 2-D pictures are interspersed with claymation to give a surreal feel to the dream, as if details are omitted. Memories are also heavily stylized, to reflect the fact that a memory of something is as unreliable as a dream. Memorable scenes include a window washer, who, as he slips, desperately tries to carve his name into the building’s scaffolding before he falls to his death, and a portrayal of two men eternally bidding over a tattered brown coat.

These are but two of the exhibits on display at the Miller Gallery, most of which contain high quality art. Plus, there is the possibility of talking to the artists if you go during a presentation, which is far too good an opportunity for the newbies and aficionados alike to pass up.