Monday, June 23, 2008

Art Under Pressure

I realize that I haven't posted a new blog in awhile with all of my recent hardships (more to come on that later), but now I should try to get back into the swing of things. This is from yesterday.

Tonight I attended the Caregie Museum's "Art Under Pressure" featuring an exhibit entitled "Life on Mars" and a few performances by Pittsburgh's own Attack Theatre. I must confess, I came away from the experience with mixed feelings.

After spending my $5 for parking in the parking lot for this "free" event, I made the inconvenient walk to the main entrance (you have to cross a possible two lanes of traffic at some point in the journey, there's no way around it). Immediately I wished I could have gotten someone to go with me. All of my friends are either out of town or had plans before I could invite them, save for a few that wouldn't have been interested. This made me an awkward in-between: somewhere between the fifty-plus crowd that was touring the museum and the high-school and college freshmen demographic that only seemed to be there to mooch food and attend the live band and DJ music that was blaring from eight o'clock onward. Thus, I neglected to talk to anyone else, for fear of being perceived as the weird old-guy trying to hit on stupid young girls or the young failure with an abortive maturity complex. It's funny how in both situations I find myself being more self-conscious about my hair loss.

Anyway, to get back on topic, the art was a mixed bag of disappointment and illumination. Some of the fixtures were positively brilliant, from the multicolored mosaic that adorns the entrance hall (complete with portions that bulge out like the wall is failing to contain its own opulence), to the room with small triangular paintings that change size and position to give the room an unnerving illusion of depth and motion; other fixtures were decidedly disappointing studies in the mediocrity that is postmodern art, such as the giant canvas covered with comic book pages covered up by gallons of black paint that the artist rolled tires over, the customary screen prints of simple geometric shapes, and last but not least the completely untalented paintings that have no real composition, poor use of color, and of course, a pretentious theme to make them "personal."

An aside:

I think that the inherent level of pretentiousness in this newest age of art is what is devaluing it for me. I could paint just as good (or if you prefer, as bad) as most of these people. Anyone can. The fact that there is an entire clique of douche-bags out there making careers out of it is the real lie. I could forgive the lack of skill if any of these people had anything original to say, but it is easy to paint badly and then blame your own lack of skill on everyone else's perceptions.

Back to my story: I felt that overall the "Life on Mars" installations were better that what I've seen at the Carnegie in the past, but the real fun for me was when I snuck into the natural history portion of the museum, to see the dinosaur exhibit after the natural history section had closed (they were locking the doors all around as I was trolling the galleries). I felt vindicated by this, partly because the flyer said that the galleries were open until eleven, and partly because in the five-plus years that I've lived in Pittsburgh the dinosaur skeletons have been alternatively in repair, redisplay, or reconstruction and I've not gotten a chance to see them. I have to say, the new display is certainly interesting from an architectural standpoint, although it seems like they eliminated some of the less-cretaceous displays to expand it. I really wanted to take photos of it to share with you, but I didn't want to risk getting caught prematurely by the museum guards. Finally, as I was making my way through the Arctic display, one of the blue-jacketed gentlemen told me that the natural history portion of the museum was closed, ending my exploration.

Having had my fill of the art section, I headed downstairs to find the food. There wasn't too much variety: bad cheese pizza, salsa and chips, party mix, and celery and carrot sticks with dips. There were some delicious cupcakes with thick icing on top (which you could make your own design on), but overall the food was as unpleasant to look on as it was to consume.

There were tables with art supplies for guests to make their own "masterpieces," but by my reckoning they were poorly planned out. The watercolor portion was particularly disappointing. I wanted to make a wash and then paint overtop, but there was no white paint to mix with the black to form gray, and I ended up having to dilute the black to the point that it didn't dry very quickly, the result was that anything that I painted over it bled really badly (it was evident to me that the paper wasn't pre-soaked either -- a big no no when working with watercolor). Plus, I prefer a mixed media of ink and color as to straight up tonal watercolor (especially when the paint is the K-mart equivalent of Crayola, and therefore impossible to mix workably). I ended up throwing mine away shortly after beginning it.

After that I watched some girls drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, and decided to go. I went to my usual retreat: the Beehive on Pittsburgh's Southside. It's a filthy little coffee house that all of the local artists, drug addicts and homeless people frequent. I got a pot of Russian tea, a cup of ice, and some Equal. I spent a good deal of time writing this on my PDA with the expandable keyboard, smoked a couple of mini-cigars, and drank my tea.

And that, my friends, was my night.

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