Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Second Floor at PCA

The second floor of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts offers several shows that are both whimsical and inspirational. While the works in each separate gallery are created within a narrow range, each piece offers a depth of interest and subtext. An exhibit of the works of Dorothy Williams and Doug Hill seems an unlikely combination at first glance. Curator Tom Sarver (of Tom’s Museum) has brought together two artists who use non-traditional, even amateurish, materials and techniques. The resultant exhibition could easily be mistaken for the science and craft display at a local grade school. But on closer scrutiny we find that these works embody the genius of simplicity. The machines of Doug Hill, fashioned from paper, cardboard and string, are masterpieces of engineering. Each machine performs a modest task and is modestly priced. One might also label the as “modest’ the embroidery paintings of Dorothy Williams. Here the yarn is glued to cardboard rather than sewn as one would expect in traditional needlework. The small scenes are largely innocent of sophisticated trapping such as perspective and, as with the best of na├»ve art, are based on memories of a rich lifetime. Ms Williams, who passed away in 2005, was a social worker and a cornerstone of the African-American community.

A second gallery displays the collaboration of Mark and Jeff Zets. Calling to mind the seminal work of Richard Hamilton, these large collages reflect the contemporary updating of Pop Art imagery. Here Britney Spears and Arnold Schwarzenegger take their place along side the Pop icons of Warhol—Elvis and Marilyn. The images have a the flavor of an earlier, innocent time. Marilyn Monroe is portrayed as the happy homemaker and Michael Jackson predates the tabloid feeding frenzy of recent years.
The centerpiece of the galleries is the Regional Student Juried Exhibition presented by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts Conference. The show includes a wide variety of works ranging from traditional pottery to ceramic sculpture to installations. The familiar objects of “Garage Days” by Vijay Paniker are wonders of the “trompe l’oeil.” Installations vary from the quirky “PS 106” of Laura Thompson to the ecologically-inspired “Evolution” of Jo Watco. Perhaps the most poignant is a piece from Northern Illinois University student Scott Ziegler. “Interrogation” is an enigmatic, multi-eyed vessel that invites us to examine recent events in an entirely new context.

The closing dates on these (and a few other offerings at the PCA) vary from late March to mid-April. Details are available at pittsburgharts.org.

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