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2011 Pittsburgh Biennial Presents Nine Contemporary Artists with Strong Ties to City
Peggy Ahwesh, Bethlehem, 2009. 4-channel video, DVD, color, sound, 8 min. Courtesy of the artist.

PITTSBURGH, PA.- Carnegie Museum of Art’s contribution to the multi-venue 2011 Pittsburgh Biennial presents nine contemporary artists with strong ties to Pittsburgh addressing a broad range of subjects that touch on the idea of “work.” The exhibition runs from June 17 to September 18, 2011, in the museum’s Heinz Galleries and is organized by associate curator of contemporary art Dan Byers. The Pittsburgh Biennial at Carnegie Museum of Art feature both established and emerging artists who work in a variety of media from painting, drawing, and sculpture to multi-channel video and comic books. The exhibition represents the museum’s largest, most concentrated effort to date to curate and present the work of local artists in a globally recognized setting that was one of the country’s first museums of contemporary art.

The 2011 Pittsburgh Biennial also sets a new precedent for collaboration among major Pittsburgh art institutions, with co-presenters The Andy Warhol Museum, The Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Carnegie Museum of Art, and Biennial founders Pittsburgh Center for the Arts/Pittsburgh Filmmakers each exhibiting a unique group of artists associated with the Pittsburgh region. Each institution’s show is linked to the others by broad themes and ambitions, yet independently curated. The result is that four major exhibitions simultaneously focus the city’s attention on Pittsburgh artists, bringing them into a broader national and international discourse. The exhibition debuts at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts/Pittsburgh Filmmakers on June 10 and closes on October 23. The second half of the Biennial kicks off in the fall at the Miller Gallery at CMU, on September 16 and at The Warhol, from September 26. Both exhibitions ends on December 11.

At Carnegie Museum of Art
The artists in the Pittsburgh Biennial at Carnegie Museum of Art explore in a variety of interpretations of the concepts of “work” and “labor”—“work,” meaning the act or process of making, and also the product or outcome of one’s efforts; and “labor,” as the investment of effort, the value society places on that effort, and the broader social and cultural contexts for industry and work.

“As a curator, I wanted the Pittsburgh Biennial at Carnegie Museum of Art to present in-depth selections of work by a particular group of artists, creating intense connections among their different practices that intensify over time. Pittsburgh, as both a specific place and a more abstract, atmospheric context, crops up in the exhibition’s works, animating art that also addresses broader concerns,” said Byers. “Personally, I am thrilled to work with such a talented group of artists.”

Many of the artworks look at the very act of “making,” the backbone of artistic practice. In ceramicist Ed Eberle’s series, broken abstract forms represent objects in the process of creation. Stephanie Beroes’s cult-classic 16mm film, Debt Begins at Twenty—chronicling Pittsburgh’s punk scene of the early 1980s through fictionalized and documentary footage, and exposing the raw experimentalism of that era’s musicians—both portrays and plays with the fragmented social context of Pittsburgh that acted as incubator to those artists. Zak Prekop’s paintings and collages make evident the artist’s hand as he stacks paint and paper on canvas, layering, covering, and uncovering aspects of the surface. And Jamie Gruzska’s photographs— some shot in his adolescence but only now printed—reveal a highly idiosyncratic vision and yeoman’s effort in the now-nearly-obsolete worksite of the traditional darkroom.

Other works in the exhibition will examine the city and the museum itself as the subject of artists’ labor. In the case of ceramicist and performance artist Brandon Boan, that link is overt: He’s a teacher in Carnegie Museum of Art’s ceramics studio. For his piece commissioned for the Biennial, Boan will create site-specific works made from cast off materials in the museum’s basement ceramics studios. Comics artist and painter Frank Santoro’s work, filled with bridges, tunnels, and rivers, evokes a Pittsburgh of the mind in small oil paintings, and a selection of new series of airbrush paintings based loosely on Pompeii. His commissioned comic book The Glory That Was Pittsburgh (free copies will be available in the galleries) addresses Pittsburgh through images of the city and poetic writing.

Other exhibitions have already examined the rise, fall, and renaissance of Pittsburgh’s fortunes. In this exhibition, industry’s concepts of “labor” thrive in very different ways. Fabrizio Gerbino’s ambitious paintings and drawings portray an enigmatic factory worker shrouded in a sense of ambiguity and mystery. Peggy Ahwesh’s film installation The Ape of Nature intertwines images of an industrial glass factory and subjects under hypnosis. Artist Lenka Clayton looks at her own “work” in a very different light: Through audio monitoring equipment, Clayton will continuously broadcast her experience as the mother of a newborn baby into the museum, raising questions about the value our culture places on maternity, and bringing the intimacy of her home into the gallery.

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