Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gallery Crawl (Part I)

Last Friday was the year’s first Gallery Crawl and was for me oddly like John Cheever’s "The Swimmer." I had the first gallery on my journey entirely to myself; by the time I reached SPACE on Liberty I was hemmed in by wall-to-wall patrons. But this just seems to confirm that the Gallery Crawl is as much about the people as it is about the art.
The Gallery at 707 Penn features "Totally Maybe" an exhibit of new works by Ladyboy. The small iridescent silkscreen paintings are illuminated by ultraviolet light which tends to obscure as much about the works as it reveals. There is a strong commercial graphic art influence in the use of transparencies and half-tone dots. Most of the works are non-objective pattern although a few representational pieces have a cat theme running oddly through them. This cat motif culminates in a sculpture isolated in a fluorescent cage. Ladyboy’s exhibit continues through March 1.
Next door at 709, the photography of Colter Harper documents the "Celebration of Life and Death in West Africa." These mostly black and white images depict the relationship between music and the funerals of the region. Many photos are reminiscent of "The Family of Man" in the representation of multigenerational inheritance of an ancient tradition. "Young Xylophonist" (from the Northwestern region of Ghana) shows a boy practicing the songs he has heard at the festivals, no doubt in anticipation of assuming his position in the celebration. Other photos, such as "Black Prophet’s Band", draw attention to the modernization of the urban areas where popular music is replacing the traditional. The evening’s entertainment featureed some of the same instruments seen in the photos, including the "gyil", a framed xylophone. Harper’s photographs will be on exhibit until February 22.
"Taste Matters" at Future Tenant is certainly the most unusual stop on the Cultural District’s tour—possibly the most unusual of the season. Curated by Robert Raczka, the exhibit features over fifty pieces found at thrift stores (for about twenty dollars a piece) and elevated to a gallery setting. Bordering dangerously close to kitsch, works are grouped by subjects ranging from clowns to dogs and seascapes to the cabin in the woods. While most of the works were done by enthusiastic amateurs, some are the uninspired efforts of professional artists. One that falls into the latter category (and crosses into kitsch) is F. A. Fazio’s "Clown". One can imagine this piece, replete with its ornate gilt frame, hanging in the foyer of some tract home surrounded by martinis and Montavani records. A particularly endearing touch for the show is the gallery’s knotty pine paneling which bring backs memories of the Levitt houses of my youth. (In all honesty, this is pure coincidence—the knotty pine was there when Future Tenant moved in.) The deposition of the exhibit is something quite unique as well. On the final day of the show, the works will be given away on a first come, first serve basis.
The final stop on this week’s tour was the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild space on Penn Avenue. Here crawlers were treated to a demonstration of MCG student work using Gigapan, a robot developed by Carnegie Mellon University and NASA's Ames Intelligent Robot Group. This attachment will turn any modest-resolution digital compact camera into a high-resolution super panoramic image capture device. Gigipan can automatically shoot up to three hundred photographs over ten minutes to a half-hour on a tripod-mounted camera, taking focal length into account. Special software stitches the images together for high-resolution panoramic images and the results are spectacular. The website, www.gigapan.org, is dominated by Pittsburgh with over fifty postings by the MCG students.

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