Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh is a consortium of local museums, galleries and archives working together to share information and expertise, and foster collaboration in research, teaching, and public engagement.

Here, at the HAA Constellations blog, you can read about some of the outcomes of these partnerships. Learn more about Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh at


Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh


    Tracing the Influence of William Henry Fox Talbot: Thoughts on a Guided Tour at the Carnegie Museum of Art

    Author: Krystle Stricklin

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    In early February 2018, a group of Pitt graduate students and faculty spent the afternoon talking all things Talbot with curator Dan Leers, during a special tour of the Carnegie Museum of Art exhibition, William Henry Fox Talbot and the Promise of Photography. Organized by Leers, the show brought together more than 30 works by British photographer William Henry Fox Talbot (1800 – 1877), making this the largest collection of Talbot photographs displayed in the US in the last 15 years. During the tour, Leers discussed his vision for the show, highlighting key moments from Talbot’s long career, as well as the difficulties in displaying such fragile objects. 

    Talbot’s influence on the development of paper-based photography is undeniable, with his patented “calotype” process serving as a forerunner to the darkroom techniques that many photographers still use today. At the time, daguerreotypes reigned supreme, but required photographers to spend hours laboriously treating and polishing copper plates, and allowed for only a single image per plate.

    However, Talbot’s calotype process allowed for multiple prints and shorter exposure times, which in turn expanded the potential subject matter. One point that Leers highlighted in his talk, was the incredible range of subjects that Talbot tackled in the early years of his photographic practice. After reducing his exposure times from a few hours to just a few minutes or even seconds, Talbot set out to photograph the world around him, in an almost encyclopedic fashion.

    The photographs on display offer a broad sampling of Talbot’s interests, from landscape scenes, street views, and family portraits to pictures of ceramic bowls and glass vases, classical busts, botanical specimens, and even his mother’s treasured lace collection. He photographed the things and places that had captured his fascination early on as a young Oxford student, where he cultivated a passion for the arts, sciences, and the classics. As Leers reminded us, it was Talbot’s unceasing pursuit of knowledge and his role as a “gentleman scientist” that led to his innovations in photography – innovations that can be traced from this early moment in photography’s history through to today.

    For those who missed the show, which closed in February, do not fret. The exhibition was accompanied by a wonderful catalogue available online or through the Carnegie Museum of Art gift store, with brilliant reproductions of Talbot’s works, an introductory essay by Leers, and detailed captions by noted photo-historian and Talbot expert, Larry Schaaf. With Leers at the helm of the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Department of Photography, I have no doubt that we can expect more exciting exhibits to come, rousing more dialogues about the varied and far-reaching promises of photography.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Paul Glabicki, Work in Computer Animation, Drawing, and Installation. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Forum Gallery/Carnegie Museum of Art. Courtesy of the artist


    Anxious Optics: Microcinema Series Celebrates Local Animator Paul Glabicki

    Author: Ben Ogrodnik

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture and 2017-2018 Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education

    Paul Glabicki, Professor Emeritus of Studio Art at the University of Pittsburgh, has spent most of his career quietly but profoundly changing the world of animated film.

    From his earliest psychedelic experimentations with a Super 8mm camera, to his found-footage plunderings of TV commercials, to current interest in computer graphics, Glabicki has been concerned with animation as a vehicle for generating ideas, concepts and new modes of perception, rather than the Disney-ified usage of animation-as-entertainment that many of us may be used to. When you ask him to discuss his work, he frequently draws analogies with computers – his visuals “encode” new kinds of data directly to the viewer’s brain. He brings to the world of animation his deep interests in such fields as information theory, linguistics, continental philosophy, and classical music. His work has garnered numerous accolades in festivals around the world; and today, the prestigious Kim Foster Gallery in New York City represents him.

    Glabicki completed not one, but two MFA degrees at Ohio University, in Painting (1974) and Film (1979), respectively. He moved to Pittsburgh in the 1980s at the offer of a full-time professorship at Pitt. The city in this decade was a major hub for experimental animation. Local Pittsburgh animators such as Brady Lewis and Victor Grauer opened up new ways of seeing, through the cinematic manipulation of motion/movement. At the same time, the local film scene enjoyed a constant stream of visiting artists. Thanks to the presence of the Carnegie Museum of Art’s pioneering Film Section, founded by Sally Dixon in 1970, and led by Bill Judson from 1975 on, Glabicki recalls seeing leading animators present new work in person at the Museum, such as Robert Breer, George Griffin, and Suzan Pitt. Glabicki quickly made his presence felt in the community by serving as the Board Director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers; teaching courses on art and animation; and exhibiting his work at the Mattress Factory and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.

    Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Glabicki’s work is that, as an artist, he has enjoyed critical success in both the film-world and the art-world – two disciplinary spheres which do not always intersect or tend to recognize the other’s interests as valuable. Indeed, many filmmakers complain they are neglected in the art-world, which prioritizes auratic, priceless objects, like sculpture or painting. Meanwhile visual artists oftentimes struggle to create films that “succeed” with audiences in a more theatrical setting. Neither one is the case for Glabicki. His dual affinity for film and fine art is most evident in his one-of-a-kind animation technique: each film is carefully crafted by means of thousands of hand-drawn images on paper – “each drawing representing both a frame of film and a unique, complete work.” In short, his films are, by their very ontology, multidisciplinary: they exist both as fine-art objects (drawings) and reproducible copies (films/videos).

    Indeed, Glabicki has been able to subsidize his time- and labor-intensive animated work (sometimes taking up to 4 years to complete a twenty-minute short!) by selling individual frames to collectors as stand-alone works.

    In the 1980s, Bill Judson would visit Glabicki working tirelessly in his studio on Pitt campus, just a stone’s throw from the curator’s Museum office. There, he witnessed the slow evolution of Glabicki’s films, which were later displayed as serial drawings in art spaces, as in the 1981 University Art Gallery exhibition, Drawings and Studies for Animated Film.

    The close fit between fine art and film resulted in many innovative exhibitions that broke down the barriers dividing these disciplines. For instance, Judson organized a solo exhibition of Glabicki’s computer-based work, Computer Animation Studies, in 1991, in the Forum Gallery. The installation work on display blended computer animation, drawing, and sculpture. In turn, the animated image fluidly moved across distinct formats and institutional spaces, from the traditional movie theater, to the Amiga computer screen, to the white-cube gallery walls of the Carnegie Museum of Art.

    On April 11, at the Melwood Screening Room, local audiences will once more have an opportunity to survey the boundary-crossing animated work of Glabicki, across three decades of his practice.

    In my role as Mellon Fellow in Curation and Education in History of Art at Pitt, I have been able to curate a retrospective of Glabicki’s animations to cap off the third and final installment of Pittsburgh’s Avant-Garde, a free microcinema series at the Pittsburgh Filmmakers media arts center. On April 11’s screening – “Anxious Optics: The Experimental Animations of Paul Glabicki” – the artist will be in conversation with Judson, discussing his hand-drawn animations from the 1970s and 1980s, and more recent computer-based works, such as Red Fence, 1999, which exist and circulate in multiple formats as video loop, installation, and feature-length films shown at festivals.

    The Pittsburgh Avant-Garde film series aims to “explore rarely seen works, and honor Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ legacy as a hub for artistic experimentation and innovation.” After our inaugural screening on visiting artist Stan Brakhage, and a subsequent event on important work by gay and feminist local artists, we are thrilled for an animation-centric event that celebrates a local filmmaker’s contribution to this important cinematic tradition. Much like his artistic predecessors Oskar Fischinger, Viking Eggeling, and Walter Ruttmann, Glabicki has transformed animation into a powerful bridge, opening up new connections across painting, drawing, and the moving image.

    For a complete list of works being shown, and other information about the event, please click here, or feel free to contact me directly. We hope to see you there!

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    Update on Botany Hall


    This post was written by Colleen O'Reilly, PhD Candidate, Department of the History of Art and Architecture

    This past year has been filled with many productive developments and collaborations in relation to Botany Hall: Dioramas in Context. Aisling and I were very honored to receive support from the School of Computing and Information, the Department of History of Art and Architecture, and the Cultural Studies program at the University of Pittsburgh, and from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which allowed us to apply for an Interdisciplinary Humanities Grant from Pitt’s Humanities Center. These funds enabled us to present our project at two conferences in the fall of 2017. The first was the International Council of Museums Natural History conference, which took place at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in October, and was focused on the theme of the Anthropocene. We presented some of our research on Botany Hall to an audience made up of museum professionals and natural history curators, many of whom are working with dioramas and displays, both new and old, at their institutions. We were able to share our viewpoints as researchers, working from outside the museum to produce work that helps to put natural history dioramas in historical context, and contribute to a broader discussion about the responsibility of the natural history museum in relation to our contemporary environment. 

    In November 2017, we presented at the Museum Computing Network annual conference in downtown Pittsburgh. This was a completely different setting in which we had the chance to talk about diorama history to an audience of museum professionals who are specifically focused on how to use technology in their institutions. It was enriching to share our work on the potential of a digital exhibition for contextualizing natural history museum content, and to bring questions about the role of visual technologies in museums to bear on the dioramas themselves, thinking through their status as objects that mediate knowledge. You can hear our talk here

    With the support of the grant, we are now completing the first iteration of our online exhibition, and will be launching it with special panel discussion event at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in front of the dioramas themselves. This will take place on Thursday, March 29th from 4:30-6:00pm (write to me at for more info and to register). We will be talking about the role that the dioramas play in the museum and the community, incorporating the perspectives of Pittsburgh experts in botany, botanical art, and environmental justice. We are looking forward to hearing reactions to our digital exhibition, and we anticipate that we will continue to develop it as Aisling and I move towards the ends of our PhDs and our next projects. 

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    Ph.D. Candidate Rae Di Cicco discusses Tlingit visual culture in the Alcoa Foundation Hall of American Indians and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History


    Bringing Tlingit Stories to Troy Hill

    Author: Rae Di Cicco

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Adding to the department’s many collaborations with local cultural institutions, I have been working with Stephen J. Tonsor, Director of Science and Research at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and Stewart Urist, Managing Director at Quantum Theatre, to connect programming at the theater on Troy Hill to local collections.

    In December, I led a tour of the Carnegie’s Tlingit collection to the production and design team of Quantum Theater’s upcoming show, Inside Passage (March 2-25). Based on playwright Gab’s Cody’s true experiences, Inside Passage meshes Gab’s patchy memories of her early childhood in Alaska spent with her parents, step-siblings, and Tlingit foster-siblings with family lore and her true quest for reunification 35 years later. I will lead an additional tour of the Carnegie, open to the public, on Saturday, March 24th at 3:30pm.

    During the tour, visitors will have the rare opportunity to see objects outside vitrines, and learn about the importance of art and ceremony to Tlingit storytelling, adding important cultural context to the narrative of Inside Passage. The following is a text I was invited to contribute to the program for Inside Passage:

    “The push and pull of the ocean’s waves around the islands of the Alaskan panhandle are mimicked by the rise and fall of the tides, the pendulum of the seasons, and the growth of red cedar and its eventual disintegration back into the soil. The Tlingit (Klin-kit) people have called this landscape home for thousands of years, passing down stories of their origins in Southeast Alaska to younger generations. Prior to contact with Europeans, the Tlingit did not have a written language, but instead relied on oral storytelling to chronicle their own history. However, the foundational narratives of the entire Tlingit nation, in which the mythical creature Raven takes center stage, are the only broadly shared body of oral literature in traditional Tlingit culture. Other stories are viewed as clan histories. Dating to a time when animals could transform into humans, the origin of clans often entails an ancestor’s overcoming a supernatural foe, partnering with a mythical figure, or transforming themselves from an animal into a human, thereby establishing a new clan. Because they represent familial histories, only clan members have the right to tell such stories.

    Indeed, the Tlingit conceive of stories as important immaterial sources of wealth shared among clan members. This type of ownership is manifested within the narrative content and structure, means of transmission, and visual record of stories. Ownership is usually indicated within the story itself; characters represent important ancestors or mythological creatures representative of the clan in stories with morals about familial duty, respect for natural resources and the changing landscape, or the duality inherent in all creatures. Most overt announcements of clan ownership have been removed in textual publications of Tlingit stories, but within the culture, ownership of oral texts is recognized and respected by audience and storyteller alike.

    Tlingit oral tradition extends beyond verbal communication of narratives to incorporate artistic and ceremonial tradition as well. The stories are not meant to stand alone, and clan chiefs often commission totem poles to represent a chosen narrative to be shared at a potlatch ceremony. For a people with no written documentation, the potlatch ceremony gathered together members of the community at the host’s clan house to publicly share a piece of clan history. The totem pole would often be carved in secret, with only the commissioner and the artist knowing what story the imagery represents. At the potlatch, the totem pole – seen for the first time – is raised in stages. The pole rests on a log crutch intermittently to accommodate breaks for dancing and the explication of the story in successive acts. When the story and ceremony end, the sculpted poles stand as material reminders of the narrative they represent, while confirming the identity, rank, and social standing of the clan. The ceremonial act of storytelling thus canonizes events to a collective history while reaffirming the strict social structure of Tlingit society.

    Removing native children from this context divorces them from their clan histories, making them resource-poor members of the tribe, if they have access to indigenous culture after removal. Inside Passage balances the serious, and often heart-breaking, realities of Indian child welfare with a comedy that mirrors the tension and release seen in Tlingit oral tradition and artistic design. Much like the push and pull of the waves on Alaska’s coast, Inside Passage chronicles one woman’s separation from her indigenous foster siblings and her return, decades later, to the landscape of her earliest family memories. This is Gab Cody’s story."

    For more information about the tour, Inside Passage, and to purchase tickets, click here

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    Carnegie Nexus? It’s a new way of doing museum

    Author: Edith Doron

    Nexus Senior Program Manager, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh

    Those were the words of Rob Long, Founder and Director of Clear Story Productions, who by the end of our ambitious pilot program, a 12-event public series on the Anthropocene entitled, Strange Times- earth in the age of the human, raised a glass (or two) to celebrate. We branded the experimental initiative, 'Carnegie Nexus': conceived, incubated, and hatched by a group of forward thinking curators and educators at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

    In August of 2015, by way of an ACLS Fellowship, I arrived in Pittsburgh having completed by PhD with the Center for Modern Thought at the University of Aberdeen—that’s Aberdeen, Scotland (UK). The museum fellowship had lofty goals: leveraging shared resources across the arts and sciences, creating connections where none had previously existed, changing paradigms and developing new collaborative habits across four fiercely independent museums. It also had rather vague strategies for achieving these goals—which, to me, read as, freedom to experiment.

    Cross disciplinarity is more than just bringing together disciplines around some clearly delineated object of study. It’s about challenging those disciplines to reach out beyond their traditional purview in a way that makes them need the other. It’s about finding that object to which our conceptual apparatus is inadequate—inadequate not only because it is narrowly defined but because it is forgetful. I recall Jacques Lacan’s quote reflecting on the in-betweeness of his own theoretical praxis:

    ‘The fact is that science, if one looks at it closely, has no memory. Once constituted, it forgets the circuitous path by which it came into being; otherwise stated, it forgets a dimension of truth that psychoanalysis seriously puts to work.’

    After much listening and learning, several thematic clusters emerged: the Anthropocene was the first to ‘grow legs’.  The Anthropocene is defined as the new geological epoch when human environmental impact has reached a point of becoming the dominant force upon the Earth’s core systems. Coined by Crutzen and Stoermer, it has penetrated a wide range of research and practices because it troubles at the most fundamental levels our understanding of environment, our theories of history, and of technology. It destabilizes clear cut categories between the natural and the artificial, the human and the non-human, biology and culture.

    We set about developing an event-based series that would offer multi-media performing arts, documentary film premieres, and conversations that cross-bred herpetologists with conceptual artists, and roboticists with philosophers. This required us to put together a ‘curriculum for the Anthropocene’. Working closely with Ben Harrison, Curator of Performing Arts & Special Projects at the Warhol and Steve Tonsor, Director of Science at the Museum of Natural History together with a self-selecting group of people inside and outside the museums, Strange Times was born. We opened each event with a bio-acoustic composition, named Silver Clouds by Jayce Clayton which was based on avian research at the Powdermill Nature Reserve. While this soundscape played, we screened the verses of the ‘Ode to Man’, the famous chorus in Sophocles’ Antigone which holds the key to the series title and reads:

    ‘There is much that is strange, but nothing
    that surpasses man in strangeness.’

    The series was coursing through questions that were grounded in the belief that the ecological crisis is a symptom of something bigger, deeper, older: an alienation, a crisis of humanity, a kind of rupture in our image of ourselves and our relationship to nature—a relationship that no romantic ‘return to nature’ nor technological amelioration could articulate, much less address. Of course, we partnered with scientists; but we all understood that science was too important to leave to the scientists.

    The trace of strangeness remains in our next program series which will be held this April: Becoming Migrant…what moves you?

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Debuting Channel Silver Eye

    Author: Emi Finkelstein

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    As a first year graduate student in the History of Art and Architecture department at Pitt, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to explore the many museums and galleries that make up Pittsburgh’s art scene. During the “Unblurred” gallery crawl night on Penn Ave, I walked into Silver Eye Center for Photography, a non-profit gallery that focuses on contemporary photography. I was immediately impressed with the space; the large glass windows and adjoining bookstore reminded me of the kind of galleries you see in New York and London. The artwork I saw, from local and international artists, was new, engaging, and beautifully displayed. 

    As I worked through my first semester, I got to know the talented team behind the gallery: Executive Director David Oresick and the wonderful Communications Coordinator, Kate Kelley. It was Kate who first approached me with a new idea: wanting to get the HAA department more involved with the gallery exhibitions, she thought of introducing a micro-cinema programme, where graduate students could curate a night of short films for the community. I immediately agreed, and Channel Silver Eye, a series that aims to exchange knowledge and open lines of communication between the university and the art gallery, was born. 

    My screening, to be held on March 29th, will debut the Channel Silver Eye series to the public. As such, I have chosen to combine some of the themes most dear to my heart (and my research): feminism, materiality, experiment, and affect theory. In the process, Kate introduced me to the Video Data Bank, a media archive for moving-image art founded by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

    Using the organization’s database, I found the first two films in my screening: Mona Hatoum’s Measures of Distance (1988) and Shigeko Kubota’s My Father (1973-75). I liked that both of the films dealt with the idea of family and loss through the lens of media. Kubota’s film is a mourning diary, where the artist comes to terms with the loss of her father through television and pop music. Meanwhile, Hatoum’s film deals with displacement and exile, questions of translation and distance (both physical and linguistic), through a series of letters written between the artist in London and her mother, a Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon. 

    While the first two films were easy to settle on, I struggled to find a third film to balance out the evening; I wanted to find something more contemporary, with more humor, that reached beyond the idea of personal loss, and was made by an artist working in Germany, the country that my research centers on. Initially, I suggested Tacita Dean’s beautiful 16mm film Kodak, which explores machinery and workers in the soon-to-be-closed Kodak film factory in France; Kate reached out to Dean’s gallery, but the costs of printing and projecting a 16mm film far exceeded the modest budget Silver Eye had provided me. 

    Although we were disappointed, the staff at Silver Eye were patient and I was flexible. I spent a couple days exploring the recesses of UbuWeb, an online archive of avant-garde film, art, and writing, and eventually came across Hito Steyerl’s film Lovely Andrea, which ticked all the boxes on my wish list: it was made in 2007 by a German filmmaker/visual artist, included moments of humor, and, most importantly, located loss in a photograph rather than a person. The film follows the artist through a search for a bondage picture featuring Steyerl herself, taken 20 years prior in Tokyo, and uses restriction, archives, terrorism, and the idea of images to think about loss, censorship, and how pictures can act on their viewer.

    With the final lineup chosen, I named the screening “Imag(in)ing Loss: Media and Melancholy in Feminist Experimental Film” and began to write a short series of essays for the mini-catalogue that Silver Eye will publish alongside the event. I am so excited and honored to be kicking off this series, and to be able to introduce other graduate students and the Pittsburgh community to these amazing artists. 

    As a graduate student, it is important to me to get involved with the local arts community, and to share both my knowledge and work. Silver Eye has given me the opportunity and freedom to do so, and will continue to work with other graduate students in upcoming events for this series. On March 29th, I will be introducing my screening with a short talk, as well as hosting a question-and-answer session after the screening to open up a discussion of how material and loss, feminism and experiment, are portrayed in these three films. 

    I hope to see you there!

    Channel Silver Eye presents “Imag(in)ing Loss: Media and Melancholy in Feminist Experimental Film,” curated by Emi Finkelstein, PhD student in the History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh.
    Silver Eye Center for Photography 4808 Penn Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15224
    Thursday, March 29, 2018 / 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
    More details and registration here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Amanda Bartko and Emma Vescio in Meg Webster’s new Solar Grow Room at the Mattress Factory


    The Sky's the Limit: Two Pitt Interns Discuss Art and Education at the Mattress Factory

    Authors: Emma Vescio and Amanda Bartko

    Museum Studies Interns at the Mattress Factory - Spring 2018

    Emma Vescio:

    During the Spring 2018 semester, I am interning at Mattress Factory in the Development Department. Along with preparing for the annual Urban Garden Party, and various day-to-day tasks helping the office move at a quicker pace, I will be working on attracting younger adults (18-25) to purchasing museum memberships. Many people within that age group attend an academic institution that provides free admission; however, the Development team is interested in how to increase memberships for those out of school or graduated.

    Another project that I am helping with is the building the James Turrell’s “Skyspace”. Turrell is a leading contemporary artist, and having another one of his pieces in Pittsburgh would set the city at a clear advantage and make Mattress Factory even more distinctive. My task will be gathering names collected in a petition earlier this year to make this installation happen, I hope I can help the Development Department with this process, and I am excited to see the progression of my time there.

    Amanda Bartko:

    This term, I am going to be working in the Education Department at the Mattress Factory to assist with "INSTALL: Afternoons @ The Factory" – a twelve-week program for children in grades 3 through 5. There are nine students enrolled, many of whom come from a local elementary school, Allegheny Traditional Academy. A teaching artist supervises sessions with them and gives distinct lessons each week that corresponds to themes of habitats and the natural environment. At the end of six weeks, another artist will takeover and lead the classroom for the remaining term.

    I am most eager to observe differences between the two teaching artists. Because of my interest in and background with Psychology, I suspect that the artists’ methodologies will have meaningful impacts on the students in the classroom.

    I was drawn to this internship because it is inherently interdisciplinary. I will be able to learn by shadowing gallery tours, or when interacting with staff from various departments; but I am looking forward to the possibility of making connections across disciplines of art, education and Psychology.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    From the Carnegie International to the Airport

    Author: Alex J. Taylor

    Assistant Professor and Academic Curator, Department of History of Art and Architecture

    When the Carnegie Museum of Art asked Alexander Calder to design a mobile for the 1958 Carnegie International, they hoped for something spectacular, ‘like a tremendous chandelier in an opera house.’ I rather fancy the idea of mobiles as a kind of modernist chandelier, and do not think it is such a stretch to understand the airport where this work ended up as the architectural heir to the opera house. The fate of this work has not been, however, quite as decorous as such comparisons would suggest. This fascinating and sometimes troubled history was the subject of a talk I recently gave to staff and visitors at the Pittsburgh International Airport, organized by the Office of Public Art.

    Donated to the Allegheny County by Pittsburgh industrialist and collector G. David Thompson, the idea to install the work at the airport seems to have originated with museum staff, perhaps inspired by Calder’s mobile recently commissioned for the International Arrivals Building in New York. But once installed in Pittsburgh’s old airport terminal in 1959, the difficulties began almost immediately. Concerned that the work ‘might give the impression of a whirling saw that might decapitate travellers’, airport administrators urged Calder to allow modifications to the work. Calder refused, but they altered the work anyway – weighing the form down with weights to limit its mobility, and most alarmingly, repainting the sculpture in the county colors of yellow and green.

    With Calder’s approval, the work was repainted red in 1960, but this paint job was also a problem, turning out rather more pink than expected. According to the memory of one attendee of my talk, the result was a muted shade of ‘salmon’. After Calder’s death in 1976, mounting criticisms of the condition of the work culminated in a series of impassioned articles by University of Pittsburgh student Diana Rose. Returned to the Carnegie Museum of Art for the 1979 Carnegie International, the work was restored to its original black and white scheme, and finally reinstalled in the new airport terminal in 1992.

    First developed as a paper in a seminar for a class offered at Pitt by Professor Reinhold Heller, the pubilcation of Rose’s research turned the early history of Calder’s Pittsburgh into something of a textbook case concerning the mistreatment of public sculpture. But even after the material form of this sculpture was returned to Calder’s intention, it has endured other more immaterial interventions. Take, for instance, a 1990s flyer about the work that claimed that the work's ‘four large leaves under each other represent the four major steel industries’ and that ‘three large leaves under each other represent the three rivers’. By the time I read from this flyer, visitors to my talk were informed enough to recognize the absurdity of such symbolic claims, wholly contrary to Calder’s approach. ‘Fake news!’ exclaimed one in the audience.

    The condition of the sculpture is now exemplary, and there is no doubt that everyone responsible for its care understands the importance of this task. But the meanings of the work deserve the same attention as its material form, and tall tales of the sort included in this flyer have a way of hanging around. I am pleased to have helped debunk at least one myth about this most unwaveringly abstract of Calder’s mobiles, and shed new light on its history for staff at the airport to share with others.

    Thank you to Akemi May, Lulu Lippincott and Elizabeth Tufts-Brown at CMOA, and Rachel Klipa and Derek Reese from the Office of Public Art for assisting with my research.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Koyo Kouoh and Jennifer Josten at the public lecture


    Students collaborate on 'Dig Where You Stand' exhibit for 57th Carnegie International

    Author: Rebecca Giordano

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    As a student in HAA professor Jennifer Josten’s Contemporary Art on/and Display graduate seminar I have had the pleasure of attending several events and seminars with Koyo Kouoh, exhibition-maker and founding artistic director of RAW Material Company, a contemporary arts space in Dakar, Senegal. Kouoh is participating in the 57th edition of the Carnegie International, set to open in October 2018, by mounting an intervention in the museum based on its permanent collection and the history of the International. During her ten-day residency in Pittsburgh we have had the opportunity to hear about Kouoh’s practice from a variety of perspectives. In a public brown bag lunch discussion, organized in collaboration with the Pitt Global Studies Center’s Creative Pedagogies Initiative, Kouoh emphasized RAW Material Company’s education programming including the evolution and emergence of RAW Académie. This program is an intensive 8-week artist-led workshop centered around different themes for recent graduates interested in developing an understanding of art practice as a system of thinking. Kouoh and her collaborators identified a need for critical development and professional growth for artists and cultural producers who are in that vulnerable place right after graduation and trying to find their footing. RAW Académie aims to remedy those gaps and draws artists, critics, and curators from around the world and from Dakar to foster new networks and cross-cultural dialogues.

    Our conversations continued after lunch in our class meeting with an emphasis on Kouoh’s exhibitions both in Senegal and around the world. Hearing from Kouoh firsthand about her practice and specifics about the different manifestations of her core concerns­—what she calls an “obsession with digesting colonialism”—provided interesting case studies for thinking about how display with its colonial histories, baggage, and expectations can be reimagined to press forms beyond colonial thinking. Insisting that art is a system for thinking in and of itself, Kouoh figured the making of an exhibition as a way of producing new knowledge through display and dialogue. Kouoh’s dedication to providing art a space in civil society came through clearly. Rooted in Dakar’s love of discourse, RAW provides a place for the public to have critical discussions about visual art and actively positions art as a part of political and civic life.

    In a public lecture and conversation on Thursday, January 25, Kouoh drew out more of her commitment to building an innovative contemporary art institution like RAW. She addressed the changing nature of “the curator” and the ways this term shifts in different languages and places as well as the ways it ties to different systems of cultural production including colonial hangovers. For many of the students in the class, these questions about the nature and breadth of a curator’s work, how these roles shift geographically and historically, and how they bear ethical and political weight are central to our consideration of how the contemporary is produced through exhibition-making and collection-building. Primed by an excellent class visit the week before by Carnegie International curator, Ingrid Schaffner, and, associate curator, Liz Park, the Carnegie International’s history and future was certainly present in our discussions.

    Five students in the seminar (including myself) are now aiding Kouoh and her team in researching, designing, and developing Kouoh’s exhibition, Dig Where You Stand. To kick off our contributions, we joined Kouoh and Park on visits to the Braddock Carnegie Library and the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area to think more about how Pittsburghers are digging where they stand. These opportunities usefully intertwine the content of our class, which asks us to think about the meaning of display and the construction of the category of the contemporary, with working directly with curators who are enacting these ideas in real time. More than just thinking critically about the end product of the exhibition process—a useful endeavor, of course­­—we get to trace and put to use these ideas as they unfold in different stages of an exhibition’s development.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Photography set up for documenting works on paper from UAG collection


    Documentation, Databases, and Attention to Detail

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery - Spring 2017

    In Spring 2017 I interned at The University of Pittsburgh’s University Art Gallery. As part of my work tasks, I worked with the CollectiveAccess database, updating object records and selecting works on paper from the collection to photograph for documentation.
    During the semester, I photographed hundreds of works on paper for several weeks, and imported nearly one hundred photographs into the database website. I archived other photo files to be easily accessible for future use. From the UAG’s extensive art collection, we prioritized documentation and photographs of Andrey Avinoff’s (1884-1949) watercolor sketches of the Nationality Rooms. Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar students used these sketches and images in the UAG exhibition, Narratives of the Nationality Rooms: Immigration and Identity in Pittsburgh

    Working alongside UAG curator, Isabelle Chartier, I found this work extremely rewarding and informative. Before this internship I had never had the opportunity to handle artwork so extensively. I value this new art handling experience while also being able to improve my skills in photography and photo editing. I enjoyed learning the gallery’s organizational systems, where I honed the attention-to-detail required to maintain accuracy within the database, object records, condition reports, storage locations, object IDs, and file naming. 
    For the internship I had to improve my time management and communication skills in order to successfully complete my work within the designated time frames. The skills that I gained while working on this project will benefit me both academically and professionally. I am thankful that I was able to complete an internship that provided hands-on experience in a gallery setting. 

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