by Dave Zuchowski
CNHI News Service
PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Since 1896, when industrialist Andrew Carnegie decided to mount an international exhibition of contemporary art in his newly built Pittsburgh museum, some of the world’s most relevant artists have participated in what has since become a venerable setting for exciting and influential new works in painting, sculpture, photography, film and more.
Carnegie missed the claim of mounting the world’s oldest international exhibition of contemporary art by a single year when the Venice Biennale beat him to the punch in 1895. Nevertheless, among the thousands of artists whose works have been showcased in the International are Mary Cassatt, Jackson Pollock, Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin and Camille Pissaro -- the list goes on and on.
Originally held annually but mounted every three to five years since 1982, the 2013 International features over 200 works by 35 artists from 19 countries. To assemble the exhibit’s eclectic art pieces, three curators traveled the globe from Basel and Beijing to Tokyo, Vancouver, Yokohama and Zagreb, talking to artists, taking in exhibits, scouring studios and galleries and "engaging in endless conversations with one another" in the words of co-curator, Tina Kukieski.
On a recent drive to the museum, my eye caught a glimpse of Phyllida Barlow’s (England) "TIP," a nearly 40-foot tall jumbled assemblage of wooden poles and colored cloth that stands just outside the main entrance, positioned between a Henry Moore sculpture and Richard Serra’s towering steel sculpture "Carnegie," itself an acquisition from the 1985 International.
The 2013 International is spread out throughout the museum into unconventional spaces like the café and Grand Staircase. At the beginning of my visit, I found one of this year’s International’s most fascinating pieces in the Hall of Sculpture, where Pedro Reyes (Mexico) took weapons and guns confiscated from drug raids in his native country and ingeniously transformed them into abstract, mechanical musical instruments, electronically wired to play intermittently.
Looking upward to the hall’s balcony, I spotted Nicole Eisenman’s (France now living in New York) fanciful, comedic, foreboding and apprehensive sculptures sharing the balustrade with the museum’s collection of classic plaster casts of ancient Greek and Romans statuary. The exhibit also includes 19 unorthodox, sexually charged paintings by Eisenman, winner of the 2013 International’s prestigious Carnegie Prize.
Fun, entertaining, yet full of socio-political innuendo is Rokni Haerizadeh’s (Iran now living in Dubai) "Reign of Winter," an animated video of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The artist transforms actual media footage of the royal wedding by carefully hand-painting and drawing over each image to create fantastical video clips where humans are refitted with phantasmagoric animal heads or bodies.
Along a wall leading off from the lobby, artist He An (Beijing, China) installed part of his ongoing project "What Makes Me Understand What I Know?" in which he takes neon light characters, stolen from signage in various Chinese cities, and reassembles them to form the names of his father and a favorite Japanese actress.
Just through the entrance doors to the Scaife Galleries, four, large earth-toned cubes by Lara Favaretto (Italy) explore the effect of dissolution and decay of works of art. Each made of nearly 700 pounds of compressed confetti, the cubes will gradually disintegrate over time, representing the transience of material objects, much like a Tibetan Buddhist mandala.
Exploring the crossover between art and entertainment, Taryn Simon’s (New York) “Birds of the West Indies” is an assemblage of 190 color photographs of the weapons, cars and actresses who starred in James Bond films. Each identically-sized photo is framed in black paper and mounted in a straight line across the gallery walls, creating what Kukielski calls an "unintentional film strip" format.
The photo ensemble’s title gets its name from Ian Fleming’s choice of the moniker James Bond for his 007 character, taken from an ornithologist named James Bond credited for writing a book titled "Birds of the West Indies."
Another photographic installation eponymously titled "Homesteading" in a hallway just off the Scaife lobby by Zoe Strauss (Philadelphia) focuses on the residents of Homestead, once a major Carnegie Steel mill and site of the notorious 1892 steel workers strike. The photographic essay chronicles how the lives of the residents have been shaped by the mill and its closing in 1986.
With so much to see, media relations manager, Jonathan Gaugler said that visitors can easily spend a day taking in not only the 2013 International but also the museum’s permanent collection, much of it drawn from the past 55 Internationals.
Dave Zuchowski is an independent travel columnist. Reach him at email@example.com.