Monday, June 23, 2008

Backblog: February 10th, 2008 Gallery Crawl

I wrote this a few weeks ago, but never really got around to posting it. So here's my delayed dissertation on the:

The Pittsburgh Gallery Crawl

Friday January 25th 2008

I started out of the house at about four o'clock in the afternoon. The event itself didn't start until five thirty so I figured that the extra time would enable me to get something to eat beforehand. I went to one of my usual downtown haunts, Jimmy John's Gourmet Subs. There's really nothing gourmet about them, but they are damn good in their simplicity. I would rather eat there than in Subway any given day, though for variety's sake I still eat at Subway every Tuesday for their $4.79 twelve-inch special.

After that I had some extra time which in normal circumstance I would spend at Point Park, but as that has been closed and in development hell for the last year and a half I merely walked around downtown window shopping for items that I might like to buy (God willing I can hold the new job next week). I started at the two Exchange record stores, mostly looking at their inventory of used games, and eventually made my way to the downtown Burlington Coat Factory for no other reason than to see if they carried business card holders of some sort (An aside: anyone that has spoken to me in the last month or so has probably heard me talk about the business cards I made. They're not spectacular, but I find them clever and I've never actually had any printed up before). While at Burlington I found a few coats that I liked but was more impressed to find the model of wireless mouse and keyboard that I've been ogling at Comp USA for the past few months for about $11 less than what CU is charging during their "going out of business sale" bollocks. I have to get back there sometime when I have the funds...

Having adequately wasted enough time I sauntered over to the Wood Street Station Gallery (as it was the closest) making doubly sure to wrap my head in my scarf. It was pretty cold yesterday, but my main concern was that I've not felt too well in the past few weeks and I'm not ready to invite pneumonia into my life just yet.

When I reached the Wood Street Galleries I sent a text message to Isaac to let him know that I was there so that we could meet up, but I instinctively knew that somehow I would eventually have to call him because Isaac is notoriously bad at responding to text messages. I managed to see all of the exhibits within half of a half of an hour; the thing about pop art that I've noticed is that you don't really need to waste a lot of time looking for deep meaning in it – it's usually as shallow as the people who try to make money doing it. I personally don't think that a quick buck is all art should be about, but then that's probably why I dropped out of art school and am now living in the grips of soul-crushing poverty. Anyway, the most interesting exhibit there had to be the mutant robot dogs, which made up for their lack of interactivity by having clear-cut individual personalities: a pig, a cat, a reptile, a cow, a two-headed dog and a flying pig (sort of – it was exactly like the other pig robot but had human ears attached to its back like wings). I particularly liked the robo-cat, which would not only meow convincingly but also did the stretch-yawn and paw cleaning that anyone with a cat will recognize, although the robot seemed to not spend enough time sleeping. I was amused to observe that the cow robot sometimes got tipped. There was an interactive installation that used individual LED lights with sensors and watch batteries attached to interact with cellular phones, though it really only worked with a few providers (not Verizon, to which I am tethered). Seeing other attendees drowning their boredom in alcohol I decided to see what was available at the bar. For a two dollar donation I received a plastic cup filled with what I thought was Chardonnay but upon further reflection I now believe to be Pinot Grigio. I made my way to the third floor exhibit, which consisted of a really boring robot drawing grass almost as fast as grass actually grows, some trees with weird (but cool) solar-powered robots that imitated birds in various ways but looked nothing like them, and a vat of some kind of liquid with what looked like the roots of some water-plant but was actually an intricate series of electrodes that produced a bubbling effect. Having observed all of these things, I finished my wine, and went back down to the second floor to call Isaac and to get some video of the robot dogs. After I discovered that Isaac was in fact already downtown and on his way to Wood Street I began to shoot my video, though my digital camera started acting up and actually froze on me to the point that I had to remove the batteries in order to get it to shut off. I still managed to get some pictures but put the video on hold for the rest of the night. With the looming threat of boredom looming over me I began to play with the infrared thermometer that I had recently purchased from Harbor Freight Tools for six dollars and took the room's temperature (56.1 degrees Fahrenheit for those of you that care), which set a precedent that followed the rest of the night. After Isaac arrived I wandered through the art again before we made our way outside.

Our next stop was the Space exhibit, which is always for whatever reason unbearably crowded. This might have something to do with the fact that it is by far the most easily noticeable and accessible gallery on the crawl, or it might be because they had a live band (a cello ensemble called Cellofourte which I took an immediate shine to). Although I took many pictures here, there really wasn't adequate room to take notes. All of the works here were metal sculptures varying from the giant metal glass and plastic bird, to tin foil robots, to a contraption that could be ridden for a whole new definition of "spin art." The sculpture entitled "Caution: Madonna is Hot!" allowed me to make the best use of my infrared thermometer that I had yet – she logged in at 130 degrees Fahrenheit! One of the surprisingly interesting works was a metal wheelbarrow with a latticework bucket. You really can't grasp the detail involved with my amateur photographs, but trust me it was impressive. Though we spent quite a bit of time in the Space Gallery, most of it was attempting to position ourselves to be able to see the art, and the crowd got annoying really fast.

The 820 Liberty gallery next door to Space usually has an interesting mix of good and bad art, and tonight was no exception. As a sucker for robots, the big blue retro-style robot made from common scrap was endearing to me as much as the "smoke paintings" in the back of the gallery were uninspiring and bland. It seemed like Space's crowd was spilling over into the new gallery, so we only made a once through then headed to the 937 Liberty gallery.

937 Liberty is usually pretty good, though I'm often put off by the wall paintings there; not because they're bad by any stretch – it's just that once the show ends they are painted over and lost forever unless they are skillfully reproduced elsewhere. It's the sort of fragility of these installations that make them a must-see, but they cannot be saved for posterity unless photographed by a real pro. This is where I don't come in – I suck at photography, especially when I don't have time for lighting and a proper tripod. On the second floor the theme seemed to be "liberal guilt," but that's not unusual for this gallery. Criticisms of stem cell research and man's attempts at controlling nature abounded. While I do not always agree with the conservative movement, I thought that some of the installations were just a little too politically skewed to have any real impact. One of the more time-intensive works was a sculpture made out of corrugated cardboard of an African gentleman pouring water into a pond, and the landscape/architectural sculpture of the river was nice too. The temperature here was 73.8 degrees Fahrenheit, by the way. The third floor of the gallery was sparse this time, with just a few installations, and the cinnamon-like smell of Japanese tea was really strong. There was a strange woman by the Japanese display who looked like she was attempting to meditate, but given the environment it didn't really look like she was faring too well in that prospect. I missed a golden opportunity: I've always wanted to walk up to someone trying to meditate and say, "excuse me, but are you trying to meditate?" just to annoy them.

After leaving Liberty Avenue, Isaac and I went to the August Wilson Center Gallery (temperature 62.3 degrees Fahrenheit), but there really wasn't anything new from the last time we attended, so we abandoned the premises prematurely and went to the next gallery, Future Tenant.

Future Tenant is an interesting gallery. Firstly, because it has changed locations since I've lived in Pittsburgh. Secondly, because no matter where it is located it always looks like the sort of place that you could get the bubonic plague in. This is a conscious decision on the gallery's part, but I personally don't like the esthetic. The show tonight was "Taste Matters" and consisted entirely of paintings found in thrift stores. Some were good, most were absolutely terrible (which kind of made them endearing) and a few were really, really creepy. I didn't take any pictures here, mostly due to the crowds but also because much of the paintings were uninspired drek. There are a few that I wouldn't mind owning though, and I'll soon get my chance – on the 16th of February the gallery is giving all of the paintings away, and I intend to be there to see if any of my favorites are available.

The last gallery that we attended was the 707 Penn Gallery, which showcased one artist called "Ladyboy" and consisted entirely of fluorescent colors highlighted by black lighting. It was interesting, but there really wasn't even any elbowroom and photography was out of the question so there aren't any pics in my photo gallery.

All in all, it wasn't the best gallery crawl that I've been to, but my tastes in art plow a pretty narrow field, so that wasn't unexpected.

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