Psychedelic lights, cat statues sitting on laptops, naked mannequins spotted with polka dots: just some stuff you might find in an indie music video or Urban Outfitters, right? Well, yeah, but there are also three apartment-style buildings in Northside Pittsburgh filled with these kinds of things. Also known as The Mattress Factory, this is a contemporary art museum that is made up of three buildings that display works representing different cultures, social issues, and trends from all over the world. It was my first time visiting and I can easily say that this place is one of a kind.
In the main building on 500 Sampsonia Way, I first walked into a room with lighting similar to that in Drake’s "Hotline Bling" music video. It eventually led me to the admission desk, where my friend Noni Tinglin-Jarrett, a first-year College of Engineering student, and I got a map of all the exhibits throughout the three buildings. We decided to work our way down from the fourth floor. Once we got up to the fourth floor, we started hearing the sounds of policemen. The noises were coming from a fairly new exhibit titled Active Denial System, by Christopher Meerdo. This displayed screens showing footage of active policemen and protests. Another notable piece on the floor, titled The Great Illusion, focused on the issue of Palestinians in Gaza and their desire for independence. It was created by Mohammed Musallam, and presents pages of Palestinian passports scattered on barbed wire fence, placed in the center and on the ceiling of the room. The fourth floor seemed to have followed the theme of social and global justice, and reminded visitors of a few of the many ongoing issues that people currently deal with around the world.
As my friend and I continued our visit, we encountered two exhibits made in 1996 on the third floor that ended up being our favorites: "It’s all about ME, Not You" by Greer Lankton and "Infinity Dots Mirrored Room" by Yayoi Kusama. "It’s all about ME, Not You" displayed a bedroom filled with dolls and shrines crafted by Lankton, and was supposed to represent her life before she died from a drug overdose in 1996. There was one doll in particular, that was shown to be suffering from anorexia and drug addiction, with pill bottles scattered all over the bed the doll was lying on. I found this exhibit to be disturbing, yet incredibly fascinating. On the other hand, walking into the "Infinity Dots Mirrored Room" exhibit was a fun time overall. There were two mirrored rooms covered in polka dots: the first one had dimmed lighting which created a party-like atmosphere, and the second one had bright lights and mannequins to make it feel as though you were in a department store (covered in polka dots). Both exhibits were definitely unique and entertaining, so if you ever decide to visit the museum definitely stop by these displays.
Aside from the many other interesting works found in the main building, the remaining two buildings of The Mattress Factory on 516 Sampsonia Way and 1414 Monterey St. had exhibits just as unique and exciting. The building on 516 Sampsonia Way was an entire exhibit in itself, titled “A Second Home.” It was essentially a home-turned-toy factory, where at every corner of the house there were wooden contraptions, carvings, and models. Seeing this exhibit certainly brought me back to my childhood. The building on 1414 Monterey St. had a similar structure to that of the main building, with many different exhibits displayed on each floor. A personal favorite of mine from this building was an exhibit from this year titled IRIS_SIRI by Kevin Clancy. This one explored the power of technology and its future influences on society. The room displayed a model of a hand continuously scrolling down an iPad screen, a glass box blowing away dollar bills, and cats sitting on top of laptops. Every piece in this exhibit was intriguing, but the theme was a bit concerning since it brought up the almost-limitless power technology can have over our world.
What made my experience at The Mattress Factory so enjoyable was its unpredictability. No matter the exhibit, there was always some aspect that surprised me or taught me something new. The artwork in the museum makes visitors become more aware of certain topics, or allows them to literally see things that may not be as evident at first glance. If you’re looking for a museum experience that’s not only intellectually stimulating, but also makes you feel cool, then go visit The Mattress Factory.