Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Proposal For the Pittsburgh Arts Scene.

I had a nice long conversation with John M. the other night about the state of Pittsburgh art. John is an artist who has achieved a fair measure of success in the NYC arts scene, and the former owner of a locally-established gallery of high quality. As usual with our conversations, our sentiments were mostly lamentations colored by a faint tinge of hope. For several years we have discussed the potential and possibilities of Pittsburgh as an art market. I think we'd both agree that there is a lot of great art being made in town, but John's experiences here have discouraged his initial belief that the 'Burgh could actually develop into a major arts destination. His thoughts on the matter are compelling, but I won't attempt a synthesis of them here.

Our exchange did however help me focus my own perspective of Pittsburgh's past, present, and future. I've now been an inhabitant of this city for twenty years, and over that time I have seen plenty of change. When I moved here in 1988, there was no Andy Warhol Museum. There was no Sprout Fund... no downtown gallery crawl... no Unblurred along the Penn Avenue Corridor. The Mattress Factory was only a decade old. Hardly anyone seemed to care much about the Carnegie International. Pittsburgh was still trying to get its bearings after the long decline of the steel industry. It seemed to my Northeastern-bred eyes to be a cultural wasteland. Perhaps it was just my lack of familiarity with the scene, but the Steel City appeared barren.

Much has developed since. People who would have had little interest in galleries during the early 90's are now participating in the many events held around town. Granted that many of them are likely involved for the cute girls and beer, but the artwork itself is almost unavoidable. If you would like to show your work in a gallery, it's easy to do it here. Many neighborhoods have a couple of spots to do so, and a few of them have multiple venues. If you simply love making art, this is the place to be. Property is excessively cheap, and there are many interesting alternative spaces serving as platforms. You don't need to work your ass off to make time to do your artwork, as the cost of living is low.

Still the scene has its problems. There aren't many collectors of local art in Western PA. Coordination between galleries and with institutions could be significantly improved. To a large degree, local art is unfairly dismissed as inferior. This is a reflection of the way this city views itself. As John says, there's a certain ghetto mentality. The looming question remains how to garner respect for Pittsburgh artists. One way to do it is to engage out-of-town artists, and display their work alongside that of local folks. But I have an idea that could be complementary- why not build a museum dedicated to the past, present, and future of Pittsburgh art? I'm sure that a physical facility could be procured with relatively little expense.

The way I envision such an institution is in three parts. One section could display a constantly rotating selection of work (drawn from permanent holdings) created throughout Pittsburgh's history. I bet that collectors in town could be convinced to bequeath their collections to such an enterprise (the Carnegie certainly doesn't seem all that interested). The second component could be a sampling of art currently being made in the region. This could draw a lot of interest if it was made into a competitive process. And finally, I would like to see other cities' guilds and organizations invited to display temporary exhibitions of their work. This would give such a museum a national flavor and create a buzz outside of town. The culmination of this enterprise would be increased respect and visibility for Pittsburgh creators, and an enhancement of the local scene in general.

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Blogger Rick Byerly said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Rick Byerly said...

great ideas. i like the other guilds' temp exhibits alongside pgh artists. something i didn't think of when i blogged about the pittsburgh art museum daydream. it gives further credence to "local" art and helping out artist from other areas who are ignored by many of the larger galleries and musuems.

10:12 AM  

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