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Massive ‘2011 Pittsburgh Biennial’ showcases works of artists with connection to region

With more than 60 artists and five locations, the latest Pittsburgh Biennial is an elephant. And, as the old saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant• … A chunk at a time!’

But don’t worry. The powers that be already have portioned it off for you, having separated this massive exhibit into five separate spaces across town and at separate times. Half of the exhibit opens this month at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. The other half opens in September at the Andy Warhol Museum and the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University.

Considering all of that, this Biennial is the largest and most ambitious to date. Why so big• For starters, the artists were not only chosen from within a 150-mile radius of Pittsburgh, but also if they had a connection to the region, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts executive director Laura Domencic says.

“There are some people who do not live here,” she says. “But realistically, we focused on people who were from the Pittsburgh region or they had some connection to the region.”

A good place to start absorbing it is at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, where it all began, historically speaking, in 1994 under the stewardship of then-director of exhibits Murray Horne, who now is curator at Wood Street Galleries, Downtown. The idea, then, as now, Domencic says, is to showcase the talent of the region.

“It’s a benchmark,” Domencic says. “Nowhere else are you able to look at the work of so many contemporary artists from throughout the region at one time.”

Sixteen works have filled both floors of the center, with almost each artist having a room, or hallway.

The first piece visitors will come to isn’t visual art at all. It is an interactive installation by Pittsburgh artist Luke Loeffler titled “Imagined Systems,” which can be described as an aural experience at best. Upon entering the first room of the center, you likely will hear chimes. They emanate from three locations throughout the room, thanks to three motion sensors on the ceiling that trip the chimes when visitors move about. It’s called “Imagined Systems” because, as Loeffler writes in his statement, “Certainty is a myth, but go on and imagine the system you are in.”

In the next room, Dennis Maher of Buffalo, N.Y., leaves little to the imagination with his piece “Planisphere.” A room-size installation filled with demolition debris, found objects, lumber and hardware, it looks like a tornado hit the room, or at least, spilled debris into it.

An artist and architect, Maher has been harvesting discarded building materials from demolition sites since 2003 to create an ongoing series of installations he calls “Undone-Redone City,” which he describes as “a network of continually reformulated spaces, places, and events.” According to Maher, the materials for “Planisphere” have been harvested from sites of demolition, restoration and reclamation within the city of Pittsburgh. So, there is a chance you may recognize a piece of roof, window frame or doorway.

The remaining works on display are quite compelling, if not beautiful. Pittsburgh artist Paul LeRoy Gehres, a.k.a. LeRoy “King of Art” MFA, presents a fabric-collage installation of pop-cultural references in his installation “I’m a Lover not a Fighter.” The installation encourages audience participation with FOR TWOS, a wearable garment designed for the interaction of two people at once, originally invented by German contemporary artist Franz Erhard Walther.

Visitors are invited to wear the FOR TWOS, have a conversation about the subject matter that Gehres has printed on each, photograph the process, post the photos on his “I’m a Lover not a Fighter” Facebook page and continue the conversation on his blog, lovernotafighter.blogspot.com, making for one of the more engaging works in the exhibit.

Thea Augustina Eck of Ann Arbor, Mich., brings history to life with her piece “April 24,” a narrative installation based around an endurance expedition that took place in Antarctica in the winter of 1916. Eck has filled a gallery with a makeshift boat dock and more than a dozen ceiling fans mounted on opposite walls to re-create the feeling of ocean breezes. A video at the end of the dock features a man alone on a beach — no doubt making reference to the 22 crew members left stranded on Elephant Island by Sir Ernest Shackleton and his five chosen men who went on ahead without them. “April 24” examines that final parting to chilling effect.

The halls and staircase are filled with art, too. A mural titled “Katabasis” by Chris Kardambikis of San Diego, Calif., on the first floor illustrates multiple worlds the artist has imagined as existing in and around our own. Pittsburgh artist Jacob Ciocci has filled the staircase with a mixed-media installation that is a distillation of images that can be found on the Internet — still and moving. And Mark Franchino of Clarion has placed an all-wood garbage can from his “Garbage Can Series” at the top of the stairs as an example of something that humans interact with on an everyday basis seen slightly off-kilter.

Although these are but a few of the compelling works, visitors will find at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, they offer a good start to this massive and most interesting exhibit.

Photo Galleries

‘2011 Pittsburgh Biennial’

'2011 Pittsburgh Biennial'

The massive exhibition showcases the works of artists with a connection to region.

Additional Information:

‘2011 Pittsburgh Biennial’

When: Through Oct. 23. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays

Admission: $5 suggested donation; free for Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts members

Where: Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, 6300 Fifth Ave., Shadyside

Details: 412-361-0873 or website


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