Mattress Factory

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    Touching Correspondence: Archive Visit during Making Advances Mellon Workshop

    Author: Paula Kupfer, PhD student in History of Art and Architecture and Making Advances Workshop participant

    One of the postcards shows a hunky man with dark eyebrows and long black hair, dressed in a vibrant red sweater. His left hand grasps his belt, the intensity of his gesture matched only by the fiery look in his eyes. The backdrop—a pink wall with three small pictures in kitschy frames—crowns the humorous earnestness of his pose. The other postcard depicts a hand-colored black-and-white reproduction of Jesus: his hair, highlighter orange; his sleeves, highlighter blue; his torso, highlighter pink. A caption reads: Sagrado Corazon de Jesus (Sacred Heart of Jesus). 

    These postcards were sent by artist and photographer Nan Goldin (b. 1953) to her friend, the artist Greer Lankton (1958–96), and are part of the Greer Lankton archive at the Mattress Factory, which we visited during the Making Advances Mellon Workshop in early May. Lankton is remembered for her hand-sewn dolls, installations, and autobiographical work reflecting her life experiences as an artist and a transgender person who also struggled with drug addiction. Goldin is best known for her Ballad of Sexual Dependency, a series of personal photographs mostly from the 1970s and 1980s, of her life and friends in Boston, New York, Berlin, and elsewhere. The pictures reflect moments of ecstasy and pain, in particular highlighting the ravages that the AIDS crisis inflicted on her community. Ballad offers an intimate, diaristic view of Goldin’s life; she would present it as a slideshow, often in nightclubs, accompanied by a soundtrack created by her and her friends.

    On the back of Jesus, Goldin wrote, from Mexico, in 1982: 

    Dear Greer, a belated valentines card for you, my sweet. . . . Still living a lazy existence, reading a lot, swimming, cooking + cleaning, eating only fruit + veggies for a while. It must be a modern Mexican miracle—this sudden domesticity I’ve fallen into. Still, it’s difficult to be a woman down here. It’s like walking past one enormous construction site all the time. It’s very repressed sexually especially this area. . . . Women can’t drink in the cantinas or play pool in the halls or do much alone. But actually there seems to be a new breed of woman coming up seems more independent. Mardi gras carnival is starting so we’ve been going to all these town events—the crowning of the child queen, the crowning of the lady queen. Marceled hairdos à la colonial Spain, banana curls with tiaras or else Carmen Miranda drags. . . . We’re still planning to come back March 10. Will write if changes. Love to Michele. Miss you! Want word from NYC.” 

    On the back of the handsome man in red, sent from Germany in 1984, Goldin wrote: 

    Dear Greer, this is one of the sex symbols of Turkey. We stayed in Little Turkey in Berlin—like the Lower East Side. Lived in a house with 40 people, a printing press, carpentry factory, dinners for 40 every night. A real little socialist state. Spent all the $ I brought on sekt—the link between wine and champagne—so I have not much to show for it and not even sure how many memories. Did make some good connections workwise. . . . Did 2 slideshows at cinemas, one in Berlin, one here in Wuppertal—sort of like Pittsburg [sic] except w. Pina Bausch company here. No amour this trip. Coming back in time to do the Diane B shot so get ready! Can’t wait to see Art Forum and yr new work. Love xxx Nan” 

    Although I knew of links between the two artists—Lankton appears in many of Goldin’s photographs from the 1970s and ’80s, perhaps most famously in Greer and Robert on the bed, NYC, from 1982—the discovery of these two postcards was particularly affecting. Doubtless it was the sweetness of the tone in both, but also the surprise of reading first-hand words by an artist who so often speaks through images. Reflecting the sort of intense personal character of both Goldin and Lankton’s work, these postcards embody a material link between the two women, a form of tenderness relayed through handwriting, a traveling piece of cardboard that speaks of their connection, trust, and a form of care that spanned geographic distance.  

    Goldin is credited with inaugurating a new aesthetic in photography—her off-the-cuff, bright-flash, richly colored representations of her own life represented a new possibility within the realm of fine art photography. Her life was her art—raw, joyous, painful, sexual, tender. She had this in common with Lankton, whose work and archive—a deeply moving, deeply human collection of photographs, photo albums, diaries, and letters—bears testament to the troubles and joys of her unusual life and its translation into artworks. These postcards fall into the same spirit: they are sincere, disarming, and funny. 

    Thinking of Greer Lankton and Nan Goldin feels urgent today. Not only because of new threats against the lives and rights of transgender people. Or because of Goldin’s admirable and ongoing activism in response to the opioid crisis in the United States—of which she herself has been a victim—and the complicity of art institutions. But also because the radical vulnerability they offer the world through their art and archive is deeply political and necessary today. The more stories of pain and alterity—but also joy and euphoria—are shared with others, the more art may serve a form of much-needed empathy. Sometimes such reminders come in inconspicuous forms, such as that of postcards. 

    Learn more about the Making Advances Workshop here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Kendall in the Yayoi Kusama’s "Infinity Dots Mirrored Room" installation

     

    Development Difficulties: the Challenges of Working to Secure a Non-Profit’s Financial Future

    Author: Kendall Dunn, Mellon Museum Profession Fellow at the Mattress Factory – Summer 2018

    Over the summer of 2018, I worked in the Development Department of the Mattress Factory as an Mellon Museum Profession Fellow. Having served as an Education intern in the previous semester, I was generally familiar with the staff and offices of the museum. Transitioning from Education to Development, however, was definitely harder than I expected. Working in Development requires patience, determination, and focused work behind a computer, whereas museum Education is more creative and active work.  This fellowship gave me a better understanding of how valuable a development department is to any non-profit organization.

    Working full-time every day for three months, I got a taste of what it was like to be an employee at the Mattress Factory, managing a set of day-to-day duties and long-term projects. My daily tasks included donation requests, membership mailing, and filing. In addition to this administrative work, I was responsible for four larger projects throughout my fellowship.

    One of my first tasks as a Fellow was to write two Letter of Inquiries to two different foundations, requesting funding for the Mattress Factory. In order to create persuasive and informed letters I learned to write project proposals, which included conducting research, drafting budgets, and establishing funding plans.

    Secondly, I did a lot of work to prepare for the Mattress Factory's 40th Anniversary Auction. I was responsible for creating artist folders for each winning bidder at the auction. These folders contained a certificate of authenticity, the artist’s bio, CV, and a photograph and description of the artwork donated for auction. I attended all of the auction planning meetings and worked closely with the museum's Archivist. 

    My last project involved visitor experience surveys. This task included, conducting research on museum surveys, compiling a long list of potential survey questions for the Mattress Factory, and then going into the galleries and surveying visitors on a weekly basis. These surveys were designed to supply staff in the Development and Marketing Departments with inspiring visitor quotes for grant writing, social media platforms, and advertisements. 

    Each of these projects were time consuming and detail oriented in ways I found challenging, but I’m happy that I have experienced the ups and downs of a Development office. I want to pursue a career in the museum world and by working in a Development Department I have learned the importance of communication, patience, hard work, and teamwork to professional life at a non-profit organization. Every department of the museum relies on Development to get the job done. I left the Mattress Factory with a greater appreciation for non-profit organizations. Each employee's drive, passion, and hard work contributes to the museum's reputation and financial future. My fellowship experience at the Mattress Factory is something that I will cherish forever, as I jump further into my future career in the arts.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Amanda working with students during Afterschool.

     

    Mattress Factory Afterschool: Techniques of Two Teaching Artists

    Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory - Spring 2018

    In the Spring of 2018, I was a Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory in their Education Department. I helped with Afterschool, the museum’s art education program for third through fifth graders. During my internship, ten students were enrolled and many attended the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Among my various roles and responsibilities, I have observed two teaching artists and how they facilitate their curriculum. A local artist named Suzanne taught the first six-week session, and Jimmy, an Alaskan native, taught a twelve-week session. The respective learning themes for these sessions were nature/habitats, and memory. I have been able to watch students develop artistic and creative skills through the specific educational practices employed by the artists.

    As a Psychology Major at Pitt, I enjoyed observing the ways in which these two artists ran their respective curriculums, given the many connections to the discipline of developmental psychology. From a psychological perspective I attempted to observe and analyze the ways that each teacher connected to the students, challenged them, included others, and the balance of roles in joint activities. One basis for this is the Simple Interactions tool a project in the department of Applied Developmental Psychology at Pitt, which I had experience with as a research assistant. For my purposes in the intern role, it served me as a foundation or heuristic, rather than an in-depth psychology study.

    Turning to the artist teachers, Suzanne’s eclectic personality influenced her teaching style. Though sometimes the classroom seemed like disordered chaos, the projects made by students were fun and unique, dynamic and amalgamated. Suzanne asked them to make “cool trash”, for bird nests and different habitats. The class made trips to the National Aviary, and to various exhibits in the museum for project inspiration. Her practice was playful, and her spontaneity ensured that the students enjoyed what they were learning.

    Jimmy’s methodologies could not have been any more different from Suzanne’s. He preferred structure, and made students relate activities to the overarching theme of the session – memory. At first he facilitated activities to gauge the students’ skills and to see what would need to be worked on early in the session. The projects built upon one another in very structured ways, and he was able to spark curiosity in the students. Overall, his approach to the program relied on planning and sequence, which was beneficial for the students’ development.

    The diverse approaches that these two artists conducted their classrooms impacted the experiences of the students. A rational artist will connect differently to students than one who operates more spontaneously. But in both cases, their methodologies have had significant impacts on the development of students.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Building Lifelong Ties to the Mattress Factory

    Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory - Spring 2018

    Throughout my teenage years, I would often drive into Pittsburgh with friends to visit the Mattress Factory. I remember the first time I was there in 2011 and being immersed in the installations for the first time. A few years later, I decided to reach out to the Mattress Factory to volunteer. I was involved as a museum volunteer from my senior year of high school to freshman year of college. During the 2018 Spring semester, I had the opportunity to work with the Mattress Factory again, this time in the Development Department.

    Since January, I have been interning under the supervision of Caitlin Harpster and Nina Friedman. Along with preparing for the museum’s annual Urban Garden Party, and various day-to-day tasks helping the office move at a quicker pace, I have been working on boosting museum memberships among younger adults (ages 18 – 25). Many in that age group attend an academic institution that provides free admission; however, the Development department is interested in how to increase memberships for those still in school, working, or newly graduated.

    As part of the mission’s goal of creating a new young adult and young professionals’ membership, I have been doing research on other museums’ tactics to attract this age group. Many museums create events that allow for networking. I have also examined possible perks that can be attached to the membership. such as a free magazine subscription or free member tickets to certain events

    While the Development department has been my main focus during this internship, I have done other activities such as shadowing docent tours, observing staff meetings, archiving past development materials, and participating in events at the museum. A final project I helped with is collecting names of North Side residents to support the construction of an installation/public artwork titled Skyspace, by James Turrell. Turrell is a leading contemporary artist from the West Coast who the Mattress Factory has continuously supported, including several pieces in their permanent collection. To acquire another one of his pieces in Pittsburgh would give the city at a clear advantage and enhance the public profile of the Mattress Factory.

    The experiences and knowledge I have gained throughout my internship with the Mattress Factory has allowed me to grow professionally and deepen the long-time passion I have had for the museum.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • 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

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Students with Teresa Duff looking out of the window in Kevin Clancy's installation
     

    Museum Education at the Mattress Factory

    Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory - Spring 2017

    As a child, I spent my third Sundays of each month at the art gallery participating in educational art activities. Some of my fondest memories were attempting to create oil pastel versions of Emily Carr’s paintings and participating in scavenger hunts that helped me get acquainted with new exhibitions. Little did I know at the time I would eventually be learning how to create similar experiences for others.

    Since January, I’ve been interning in the Education department at the Mattress Factory. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to interact with teaching artists, museum educators, and different departments within the museum. The main focus of the internship has been being a teaching assistant in an after school program.INSTALL: Afternoons @ the Factory, the after school program at the Mattress Factory is a program where different artists come in for either six or twelve weeks and teach third to fifth graders about an art practice of their choosing. While I’ve been with the after school program, I’ve worked with two different teaching artists—Teresa Duff and Hudson Rush. The first topic that was explored was motion. During the exploration of motion, I assisted students with understanding different forces through building kinetic sculptures inspired by Alexander Calder and a Rube Goldberg machine. The second topic was photography, which was a very different experience. While working with the students, I’ve learned how to effectively create inspiring learning environments, how to help facilitate a good environment for teamwork, and create dialogue between pieces of artwork and the students.

    Even though the after school program has been my main focus, I have also shadowed tours, helped create examples and prep materials for events and outreach, created educational art activities for families, and documented events the museum has held. While creating examples for different events, I was able to apply the skills I have gained in my formal education as an artist along with the skills I have gained at the internship in education. I could tailor examples to different age groups through the knowledge I’ve gained while at the Mattress Factory.

    The experiences I’ve had as a Museum Education intern at the Mattress Factory have been life-changing. With the help of everyone in the Education department, I’ve gained direction in where I’m headed professionally and academically. I’m grateful for the amazing opportunities I’ve had at the Mattress Factory to help me pursue my passion for art and museum education.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Dennis Maher, "A Second Home", 2016

     

    Development at the Mattress Factory: Learning about the Fundraising Aspects of Museums

    Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory - Fall 2016       

    I am currently interning in development at the Mattress Factory Modern Art Museum in the North Side. For those of you who may not know, the development department is the part of the museum staff that deals with fundraising, grants, and membership. Since the Mattress Factory is a fairly small organization, there are only two development employees that run the entire department. During the internship, I learned many useful skills. I learned how to use Nonprofit CRM software, how to develop and implement a donation campaign, how to plan and implement events and programs, and how to create nonprofit materials for the development department. I was also able to tour the museum freely whenever I wanted. The museum has three buildings full of installation pieces from a plethora of artists. Many of these installations rotate regularly so there was always something new to experience. My favorite new piece at the museum is an art piece by Dennis Maher titled “A Second Home”. Dennis Maher is an artist, architect, educator and founder/director of FARGO HOUSE, Buffalo and his piece fills one of the Mattress Factory’s entire buildings. To some, the fundraising aspect of the museum may seem boring, but personally, I love knowing that I am working to make sure an organization that I love has the means to continue existing and growing. I spent my time at the Mattress Factory getting to tell people how great the museum is and why I am thankful that it exists. As someone who has a great appreciation for museums, this was not a hard task. One of the greatest perks of working for a small organization is that the founders of the Mattress Factory were at the office most days and I learned about many of the steps and decisions that go into owning and running a museum. I was able to experience and assist in many events at the Mattress Factory and I got to watch the creation of exhibitions within the museum. These are experiences that I would most likely not get to experience at a large museum. Overall, I would definitely recommend that any University of Pittsburgh student intern with the Mattress Factory. My internship provided all of the experiences that I had hoped that it would when it first began.

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