Saturday, December 27, 2008

The 2008 Carnegie International.

A happy congruence led to my first (and likely only) visit to Life on Mars, the 2008 Carnegie International. It so happened that the parents of the father of my newest niece were in town from Southern France, and when I brought up the prospect of making a visit to the show this afternoon, they were easily convinced. My father and his wife were also in the 'Burgh, so we were able to muster a group of nine adults and two wee ones. We even chose a meeting time that was conducive to sleeping in. We made our rendezvous at noon at the back entrance. My sister-in-law was late, which actually turned out to be a good thing since I was in sore need of some espresso. I ran across the street to acquire my usual four shots.

It used to be that the Carnegie Museum had a coffee kiosk and a few chairs in the Hall of Sculpture. I don't remember how many years ago they had that, but I swear to it no matter how many folks say that I'm mistaken. Unfortunately the only option nowadays is to sit down for table service at the swank cafe near the entrance to the art galleries. And you can't walk around the place with a drink (and I guess that makes pretty good sense). So anyway, I had to chug the coffee drink quickly while I smoked a cigarette by the fountain. It was a beautiful day, with temperatures in the sixties, and so it was no sacrifice to be stuck outside. As soon as I poured the formula down my gullet I was in a much better mood.

I'm happy I was able to achieve an amiable mood, because I ended up being the guide. We focused on the Life on Mars stuff, as it is due to close down in a mere two weeks. This exhibition is a prestigious international survey of contemporary art, and I've read that it is one of the most important in North America. We should be grateful to have it on our town, even if it only happens once every few years. This collection of work was put together by curator Doug Fogle, with the assistance of Heather Pesanti (who has recently moved on to direct the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, NY). I had little idea about what to expect, as I had only a brief exposure to Fogle's tastes at an Associated Artists of Pittsburgh annual in 2006.

The last International was disappointing. I only remember an extensive collection of original R. Crumb drawings that I got scolded for trying to photograph. Perhaps that restriction soured my experience. This time around I had heard mixed reviews. When the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts Biennial opened on the same weekend this past Spring, some people said that they preferred it. Still I wasn't going to miss the International. Ultimately though, I might be inclined to agree with the naysayers. It's not that I didn't see anything I liked, but rather that I felt that there must be stronger work on the world stage. I could walk around Chelsea in any given month and see more stuff I'm impressed by.

The clear standout of the entire production was Cavemanman (2002) by the Swiss-born artist Thomas Hirschhorn. This installation environment, made with recycled materials such as cardboard, aluminum foil and packing tape, was a multi-chamber journey into a post-modern, consumerist hell. All of us agreed that it was our favorite piece. After that the drop-off was steep. We lingered over some Bruce Connor photograms, and M. said she'd never forget the taxidermied kitten announcing its posthumous status with a hand-held placard reading "I'm Dead" (created by David Shrigley). Finally we stumbled upon another temporary exhibition that we all consider a can't miss- (it runs through January 19th) called World's Away. Alone, it would have been worth the rather steep admission price.

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