Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Fall Gallery Crawl in Downtown Pittsburgh.

It might very well be ungrateful of me to complain, but last night's downtown gallery crawl (Pittsburgh) was disappointing. One would expect that since it only happens seasonally (that's right- a mere four times a year!) that they would roll out the very best. The Fall is the traditional opening of the annual cycle, and that should mean that the galleries are presenting some of the best work that they have lined up for the year. If last night was an indicator of what he have got coming in the downtown arts scene, then this is going to be a bland year.

A big part of my dissatisfaction obviously has to do with the expectations I had for the night. Two of the anchor galleries downtown are SPACE and the Wood Street Galleries. I have consistently enjoyed the high quality of shows these institutions bring. SPACE is a Pittsburgh Cultural Trust project, and so tends to roll out some of the better, more challenging installation art in the city. Despite the complaint that it so often relies on a small group of local artists that tend to show up repeatedly, I almost always find something in their openings that I like. Last night's show of video installations very well might have continued that trend, but unfortunately I couldn't process a single piece. Why? Because they had a band playing at a very loud volume, which made it impossible to hear the audio tracks accompanying the videos. I even liked the band, but I was very annoyed at the setup. One would think that the Cultural Trust would be eager to share their enthusiasm in the artists that they sponsor, especially considering the large crowds that the events bring. Unfortunately that didn't seem to be the case.

Wood Street Galleries is a prestigious non-profit that features the work of an international array of artists. They have recently shown impressive pieces by Doug and Mike Starn, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy and Chico MacMurtrie. Despite the fact that they also seem to get distracted by their inclusion of band performances, that is usually just a bonus feature at openings. But for this gallery crawl, they hosted a game night by local dance troupe, Attack Theater. This outfit is certainly an asset to the city, and they put together some very impressive shows... but I didn't fight downtown traffic to play Twister and foursquare with a bunch of hipsters.

To be fair, my impressions of the night were formed by these two destinations. They set the tone for the entire night. There were several other galleries that I stopped in. Future Tenant had a mildly interesting show of conceptual work- I imagine they sold a lot of $1 cans of Pabst last night. 707/709 Penn had some nicely executed photography, including evocative landscape shots of Highland Park by David Aschkenas (I'd actually recommend making a special trip for that). The instructors at the CAPA school downtown put on an eclectic group show. But having had the experience of disappointment to start things off, it was difficult for me to recover my initial interest.

It seems to me that the Cultural Trust and the two galleries mentioned above should take the seasonal "gallery crawls" more seriously. The Cultural Trust would do well to get over their obsession of providing rock and roll distraction where visual arts should be the focus. They went as far as to arrange twelve band performances throughout the downtown area. To me that's simply excessive. Wood Street and Space should understand that these events are some of the best opportunities to attract attention to the visual arts (and their specific venues) in downtown Pittsburgh. People who don't make it out to galleries often are attracted to gallery crawls as "happenings". I'd love to see these two institutions presenting the quality of art that they labor to put out there throughout the rest of the year. If that's not going to happen, then at least we have the Penn Avenue "Unblurred" to satiate our monthly appetite for art.


Anonymous Icramcastle said...

I read some place pittsbugh is in the "top ten" list for arts and culture. I only asked someone to
taxy aprox a 3 hour drive to and fro pittsburgh from my place, although
we agree the night in town was fun,
I consentrate alot on visual stimuli and the beautiful city was as pretty as ever and the youg were out spilling off the sidewalks into the streets with bikes in tow,the "art" offered was rare and a void.Thank goodness for Wood street Galleries and there game room, the whole eve could have been a bust on the eyeballs for art. and a memory not to visit gallery crawl again, unless you are looking for loud music and beer.Some fun and games.But what does all I mentioned have to do with culture and the arts? I dono, I was looking for a great show of art too. Bate and switch? Or Pittsburgh cant produce? Icramcastle

8:48 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

That's the thing about last night that bothered me. If you can have your pick and choice of nights and weekends to spend in the city, you realize just how much quality art is being produced here. But if you were limited, and last night was your one chance to see what Pgh art had to offer, you would get an entirely mistaken impression... as if the city didn't care enough about arts to make a good presentation. Come to Unblurred or galleries on the Side (Lawrenceville has a studio tour next Saturday- I'll post about it)... it seems to be more consistent in terms of art quality and effort.

9:23 PM  

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