Archive for the ‘Pittsburgh Artists’ Category


Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

I arrived in Hong Kong after a 24-hour trip from Miami (Miami to LA, LA to Hong Kong). I checked into my hotel around 10:00 PM, and finally made it out to find a late dinner around 11:00. I slept well…until I was awoken (on the 19th floor of my hotel) by celebrating Chelsea football (soccer) fans in the streets at 6:30 in the morning. Congrats, Chelsea, on the Champions League win…and for waking me up. This felt like a uniquely Hong Kong post-imperialist situation. At 11:00 AM I made my way to Art HK. A few British dealers were bleary-eyed in sunglasses, slouching in their booths. I had a crazy day of running around trying to see this enormous fair in six hours. At 2:40 I did a talk with writer HG Masters at the Art Asia Pacific booth. I was followed by artist (and Pittsburgh resident) Bill Kofmehl. Out of 35 talks, over four days, there were 6 people from the US. Two out out of six were from Pittsburgh…not bad! I got to see and talk with many galleries new to me over the course of the day.

Jamie Skye Bianco, Haakon Faste, and Justseeds at Apartment Talks

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Apartment Talk #8: Jamie Skye Bianco and Haakon Faste

On March 13, we hosted two very engaged local academics doing interesting work at the intersection of new media, the humanities, and design. Jamie Skye Bianco is an assistant professor in the Composition, Literacy, Pedagogy, and Rhetoric group at the University of Pittsburgh, where she specializes in digital media, digital composition and rhetoric, media theory, and contemporary narrative. Jamie talked about her work in digital/tactical media and human affect, and screened some of her video work.

Haakon Faste is a visiting assistant professor in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at CMU, where his research focuses on virtual experience and interaction design. His recent installations incorporate real-time interaction and immersive environments drawing on novel paradigms such as telepresence robotics, stereoscopic projections, and kinesthetic immersion. Haakon discussed ways in which perceptual robotic art might save the human species from extinction. Minds were blown.

More about Jamie

More about Haakon

Apartment Talk # 9: Mary Tremonte and Shaun Slifer of Justseeds Artist Cooperative

On April 11, Mary Tremonte and Shaun Slifer of the Justseeds Artist Cooperative (a decentralized group of 24 artists with a distribution center in Pittsburgh) presented the group’s portfolios, prinstallations, and interventions in support of causes like Artists Against the Prison Industrial Complex, the Occupy movement, labor rights, and fracktivism. I’ve included photos from their collaboration with Iraq War Veterans Against the War called Operation Exposure, in which Coop members teamed up with vets to poster Chicago and raise awareness about the traumatic effects of combat. Also included are a couple images of their recent Voices From Outside exhibition, organized in collaboration with Book ‘Em, a local books-to-prisoners program.

More about Justseeds, including protest poster downloads and prints for sale

Braddock’s Neighborhood Print Shop

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Last Friday I drove out to Braddock for the Neighborhood Print Shop‘s party for departing artist-in-residence, Jim Kidd. The product of Kidd’s residency, a lovely handmade book filled with “Kiddisms” drawn from a series of journals the artist has kept since 1967, was on sale for $25 to $60, depending on what each buyer could spare.  The event was also a welcome reception for the next resident artist, LaToya Ruby Frazier, a Braddock native whose annotated photographs chronicling UPMC’s withdrawal from Braddock and Levi’s aestheticization of the city’s blight are currently featured in the Whitney Biennial.  After spending the latter half of the previous week in New York at art fairs, this get-together in the Braddock Carnegie Library felt refreshingly intimate and inclusive, despite Frazier’s art world notoriety.


Oh Pittsburgh!

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

The other day, I got an invitation for a party sent by videographer Ben Hernstrom. I couldn’t make it, I had already left Pittsburgh for Basel, but at the end of Ben’s email I found the link to It took me to a series of Ben’s films and I spent the rest of the evening lingering from one thing to the other. Well, you know Pittsburgh…. first you think, okay, not uninteresting, its history, bridges, Steelers, and Warhol. But the more I go there, the better I like it. No boutique destination, great bars (more about this later), it’s a real city with real people. What does the Washington Post say? “Pittsburgh, Pa., is cool now.” Well, then.

But back to Ben’s films. The first one made me discover Western Pennsylvania’s most complete hobby shop including the slotcar test drive. Not everybody is a hobbyist though. The film that really made me stay was The Hope Business (by Dana Goren, shot and edited by Ben Hernstrom), a portrait of Bill Strickland of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. You may know him, I didn’t. So I watched this film and at the certain point, he says these incredible things: “No one assumed that the arts would have anything to contribute to making life better in the community,” and “I knew that or had sensed that if you could create a beautiful space it would ultimately create beautiful people.”

Yes! But I could never say this. Or rather, some years back, I would have said: “Oh how common, the same old idealistic dreams over and over.” But then, as many others do too, I got tired of the money-monkey-years (as we try to get out of them). And Strickland’s comments are not theories, but experiences, and I trust them more. Anyway, this is Pittsburgh: you find yourself in a city where intense history, amazing engagement, and a great dose of ambivalence is no fancy pose, but just around the corner. Just like these great bars: Gooski’s (no homepage, but Oh that jukebox!) and Cattivo (love that homepage).

Maxo Vanka Murals

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

When you look out past the railroad tracks across the Allegheny River (just down the block from the artist’s apartment in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville) you see Millvale, Pennsylvania. One Saturday this fall I ventured over to this small hamlet of a town, wandering past worn industrial buildings, a few newly-sprouted community gardens, rowhouses—likely the homes of former steel workers—and old churches. On the walk I met a young man from town on his way to one such church: St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Parish. He was about to give a tour of the church’s murals and asked if I wanted to come along. I had heard about an artist of the WPA era whose murals had recently been preserved, but hadn’t realized they were in the neighborhood. The church was cold and dark upon entry. A few others gathered in the lobby for the tour. Over the next hour-and-a-half I relaxed into a pew, craning my neck upward in delight as the young man and his fellow tour guide, a retired history teacher, talked to us about the Croatian American artist I had heard of only in passing: Maxo Vanka.

For some time in 1937 and then again in 1941, after Vanka naturalized as a U.S. citizen, the artist painted over 22 murals in tempera on site in St. Nicholas, a congregation home to ten percent of the U.S. Croatian immigrant population at the time. Themes of war and the rising labor movement dominate Vanka’s powerful scenes. The dress and ceremony of mourning women, I was told, was an Old World Croatian tradition. The faces of Vanka’s women had a sobering Byzantine look and feel to them with wide eyes full of sadness. Two of the most memorable murals for me include Injustice, depicted as a frightening woman wearing a long black gown and gas mask, holding scales unequaled by greed, a bloody sword resting on her shoulder. Another was The Capitalist, a Mr. Burns-style industrialist in top hat smoking a long cigarette, almost chucking to himself while reading the stock report as he is served a gluttonous feast.

Interestingly, Vanka was not religious. His accomplishment in Millvale speaks to an era of hard labor and sorrow that today we appreciate not as religious fervor, but rather, simple human history. For the curious, plan a visit on the weekend and call ahead for tour times, or get your hands on filmmaker Kenneth Love’s recently premiered documentary: Maxo Vanka’s Masterpiece: The Murals at St. Nicholas Church.