Monday, August 1, 2011

The Arts in Pittsburgh Liven Up the City

Have a seat on a rare "eyeball bench" while enjoying the fountain, all by Louise Bourgeois..


            Cell Phone Disco by Informationlab.

 Parking garage shelters Cabaret Theater.
Thanks to the arts in Pittsburgh you can relax around a fountain by sitting on $50,000 eyeball benches, control a piece of outdoor wall art with your mobile phone, enjoy tulip magnolias year-'round, enjoy cabaret-style theater under a parking garage ramp and see the most innovative work in the city's oldest museum.
 Bronze tulip trees by Tony Chi bloom all year in an Arts District parklet.

Arts District
Credit generous magnates like Andrew Carnegie for founding the arts wagon and
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust for keeping it rolling into the 21st century. Another magnate,  Jack Heinz, sparked the idea of turning a derelict (read "red light" district) area of downtown into an arts district, beginning with Heinz Hall, home of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and the renovation of the former Stanley Theater into the elegant Benedum Center.

A 4,700-pound crystal chandelier illumines seats in the Benedum Center.
The 14-block area is still morphing thanks to the Trust's part visionary, part real estate savvy approach. Thus the Doc Johnson International House of Love Potions and Marital Arts became a public art space. Galleries, studios and living spaces have followed and so have the crowds - 2 million a year, double the number 10 years ago.

Tip: The theater venues are as accessible as it is possible to be in some of the city's oldest buildings. The Benedum Center elevator is at the right of the main lobby and reaches all areas. The Byham Theater elevator is at the top of the entrance lobby to the left. Goes to the lower lobby coat room and bathrooms and to the top of the balcony only. The Harris Theater has accessible seating and bathrooms on the main floor but does not have an elevator to the second floor balcony or to the basement restrooms. The O'Reilly Theater elevator is at the left of main entrance lobby and goes to all levels. The Wood Street Galleries elevator accesses all levels.

                         Space, an urban gallery.
SPACE, 812 Liberty Ave., hosts changing exhibits of contemporary works and installations. Sound "machines" were featured when I was there; through Sept. 4 you can watch a dozen artists painting a 10x10-foot drawing on the gallery's walls.
"Every bride wants to be married here," says Merle Culley of the Carnegie Music Hall lobby.

Rain of shine, but especially on a rainy day, head for the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, two museums under one grand roof. In the days when Pittsburgh was known as "hell with a lid on," Carnegie wanted to prove the city had culture, too.

Kids love the butterfly collection.
He envisioned his facility as an interdisciplinary one - music, fine art, architecture, crafts, natural history, contemporary art. It still is, encompassing the history of architecture, contemporary art from the turn of the century through today, a music hall, decorative arts, industrial design (the first school for this was at Carnegie Mellon) gems, dinosaurs, even the butterfly collection that played a role in the film The Silence of the Lambs.

The Carnegie International, an exposition of the finest contemporary art first staged in 1986 when the museum opened, has gone from an annual event to one every four or so years and guarantees the Carnegie's collection is as up to date as any museum's in the world. Winslow Homer's The Wreck was the first painting purchased from that original exposition.
 Architectural Hall
You can study the history of the world's architecture without leaving the Architectural Hall with its line-for-line plaster casts of Greek Roman, Egyptian, Romanesque and other style structures. Same with statuary in the Hall of Sculpture.

They also have one of the best collections of chairs in the country.

 Fossil lab.
On the Natural History side, the Hall of Dinosaurs is like a magnet but do pause en route to watch through the window into the fossil preparation center and go across the hall to ooh and aah over the gem collection.

Do touch the juvenile diplodocus' thigh bone, but leave the T. Rexes to the experts. 

Upstairs the Egyptian mummies and the royal funerary boat from the Middle Kingdom, one of only six known in the world, are faves. The gift shops looked pretty nifty too but were closed for an annual inventory.
Entrance to the Egyptian Gallery.
In short, this is the kind of place you can be entertained all day and still have seen a mere 10 percent of the wonders to be observed.

Sometimes you enjoy taking the stairs
Tip: You will have to do a substantial amount of walking but there are benches and elevators to make it tolerable.

The Andy Warhol Museum is one of the city's most visited and celebrates the work and acquisitiveness of this native son for whom a bridge was named. The man collected and kept everything from his first camera to old letters and theater stubs. Every year the director puts together a "time capsule" of a portion, opening one more conduit into Warhol's psyche.

Kids of all ages will love Warhol's  "Silver Clouds" room where helium-filled silver mylar pillows are moved about with fans, an early piece of interactive art. His iconic Campbell's cans share a room with celebrity portraits (Silver Liz was done shortly after she choked on a chicken bone).

   Warhol interviews artist Larry Rivers for TV.

A surprise to anyone not a devotee of Manhattan's Community TV are the interview shows he created for them, not to mention the 15-minute pilot he did for MTV. This is now the only place in the world you can see them and they run continuously in a darkened room full of TVs.
Tip: Many people walk the seven levels of stairs, but I'd suggest the elevator.

This barely covers the bottom of the bucket full of arts venues, exhibitions and collections from traditional at The Frick to the Mattress Factory, a former mattress factory turned museum of installation art that may puzzle but rarely bore.

Together, they make Pittsburgh the kind of city you can love rain or shine.


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