News Column

Arts Festival's juried exhibit show richness of works

June 8, 2014

By Kurt Shaw, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

June 08--If you want to capture the pulse of art-making in the Pittsburgh area at the moment, there's no better place than the "Juried Visual Art Exhibition," a must-see component of the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival.

Featuring 59 works by 52 area artists, it's located on the fourth floor of the Trust Education Arts Center, in the heart of the Cultural District. It's a few blocks away from the busy Artist Market in Gateway Center, but well worth the walk.

The works were chosen from among 400 entries from throughout the region by jurors John Carson, head of the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Museum of Art curator Rachel Delphia and Andy Warhol Museum curator Nicholas Chambers.

Their choice for Best in Show, and the $2,500 award that comes with it, is Dadpranks, a collaborative team of six Pittsburgh-area women artists -- Lauren Goshinski, Nina Sarnelle, Elina Malkin, Laura Warman, Isla Hansen and Kate Hansen.

Their multimedia video of the same title is a survey of Dadpranks content for their website ( they created over the past year, including video and photographic elements displayed on a monitor and six iPads.

For example, in one video, one of the women runs her fingers through the bristles of a broom. In another, she holds her hand above an ice cube tray to catch a falling lump of clay.

"Dadpranks is an all-woman collaborative team," says Kate Hansen, acting as spokeswoman for the group. "The mission of the group is to create spontaneous works in a digital photographic or short-video medium, addressing the banality of everyday objects. All content produced is exhibited online. All members of the team participate in concept development, physical execution and modeling."

From there, the exhibit falls into categories of more traditional media, with a wide variety of paintings on display in particular. They range in size from the huge triptych "3 Masked Men" by Zachary Brown of Lawrenceville, to the tiny, but powerful, painting "Yellow Slicker" by Alan Byrne of Bellevue.

Through a mixture of modern and traditional mediums, Brown has created a moody narrative piece with the former, in which three life-size figures seemingly emerge from the surface of each respective panel. The latter, which depicts a young woman donning a raincoat, conveys a sense of intimacy. It is housed in a handmade frame made to resemble an open door that can easily be shut.

Byrne says that, for the past year or so, he has been painting small works like this, mostly portraits, in oil and egg tempera. "While I usually make my own frames, this one is unique with the addition of doors that I painted to create the illusion of weathered wood," he says. It's a novel idea, and one that is sure to grab attention.

Also housing her work in a novel way is Maria Mangano of the South Side Slopes who chose to paint animals, each for a letter in the alphabet, for her piece, "Address Book Bestiary," which she painted on pages in an old flip-top address book she found.

Bestiaries are compendiums of animals or natural objects, and were very popular in the Middle Ages. Each animal (or plant or rock) described was often accompanied by a moral lesson or explanatory bit of information.

"I was struck by how the address book was filled with names, numbers, and, in some case, places that no longer existed, and wanted to use the rest of the available space to create a sort of paean to disappearing figures in nature," she says.

The animals Mangano has painted are considered endangered or extinct. They are not systematically alphabetized or labeled (The Chinese River Dolphin is on the "D" page, for example, while the Nene, an endangered Hawaiian goose, is on the "N" page) and, in most cases, are accompanied by very little text.

"I did include excerpts from Alan Burdick's 'Out of Eden' on the back of some pages, which is one of the first books I read about human-caused ecological invasions," Mangano says. "I was interested in exploring the way we remember and forget people -- or causes or interests -- that fade in and out of our lives, and the way we perceive ourselves as 'stewards' of the natural world while having an incomplete grasp on the extent of our actions on the planet."

One of the real showstoppers on exhibit is not a painting, but a drawing. At 4 feet by 6 feet, "My Frederic Chopin Dream" by Kelly Blevins of Point Breeze is a massive double portrait of two young women with string and feathers in their hair.

Blevins says the drawing has a bit of a long story, but in short, "I had dreamt of the image first."

"As I began this drawing, there was a nostalgia about it that sent me back to the days when I was young and taught myself piano," she says. "My first experience with music was Chopin, and it was my ambition to play piano that way. As I was working on the drawing, I recalled the painful memories of when that dream had ended and personal matters with family became more important. Instead of relentless piano-playing, I was taken to drawing, instead, to express myself. This drawing, was almost an accidental window of opportunity to not only cope with the dream I had left when I was young, but the realization of how it had became another dream."

Though there is not a lot of sculptural works in this exhibit as compared to those in years previous, what there are on display are well-conceptualized pieces, such as "Little Nuggets" by Fenny Lai of State College.

A series of interior castings of origami boxes painted in shades of blue, ivory and turquoise, Lai says, "While making the origami boxes, I have to inflate them individually in the same way one would blow into a balloon. These boxes, therefore, each hold a pocket of my breath. I then poured plaster into the boxes in order to capture an impression of and to solidify each breath."

The remaining works are just as interesting and thought-provoking, making for an important component to the festival that is free and not to be missed.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at


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