The Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, an artist-run organization with more than 500 members, holds many of its exhibits under a Darwinian idea: that variety and multiplication of an entity (in this case, the exhibiting regional artist) is bound to produce individuals who thrive and succeed.
The AAP boasts a very wide range of members: some in their 20s, most of the core in their 30s and 40s, and a handful older. Members have the opportunity to participate in several juried shows each year, making the organization a staple for regional artistic expression.
The scope of the AAP's 100th Annual, at the Carnegie Museum of Art, is unmistakably wide, with techniques and interests colliding on the gallery floor. Saatchi would cry; Pittsburgh rejoices.
While it's tough to imagine how such a broad range of artistic needs and ambitions intersect, the AAP's all-inclusive approach to membership, mediums and exhibitions means that what's at play isn't less is more. Rather, more is more.
Whether that's effective for artists is for members to decide. But for audiences, this AAP exhibit boasts a few gems.
One could deem Shelle Barron's very stylish, visual cut-and-paste "Search Engine" the spokesperson (or spokes-art) for the show. This 6-by-8-foot mixed-media wall-hanging throws an eclectic mix of fonts, images and techniques together into what feels like a Dead Sea scroll about the experience of using Google Search.
A fabric political cartoon, Mary Maziotti's "The Rake's Progress" uses simple embroidery to trace the story of a character, Tom, across several stretched cloth panels. Shadowed by a grinning skeleton and manifested through a humble two-color palette, Tom wins the lottery, gets a posse, goes to an orgy and, finally, loses his mind.
More mild-mannered, yet just as effective, is a simple, abstract work in the very back of the exhibit that stands out as a beautiful example of craftsmanship forsaking narrative for form: Sylvester Damianos' "Windspirit." This elegant, natural-grained walnut wall piece suggested a bit of furniture or wood flooring gone wild, staging the sort of rebellion that will take it out the window and away from your home forever.
Wendy Osher's "Promise" offers a bright shawl of sewn and assembled fabric scraps acquired at a local cemetery. In a ghostly fashion, this cloth billows from the gallery floor with a vibrant smattering of flowers, flags and petals that attempt to say mourning and celebration in the same breath. The resulting fabric is delicate and cautiously attractive.
One point of interest is made more by an absence than a presence: the scarcity of technology-based works. One of a few such works, Lori Hepner's lengthily titled digital pigment prints "@ranjit,11.25am Dec 2nd ..." stands out; its mechanical minimalism distinguishes it from the crowd.
Moreover, many AAP artists seem to focus more on craft than concept. For example Kathleen Mulcahy's "Tidal," a giant aluminum-and-glass teardrop that seems to shed its own teardrops, has the look of frozen water; Adrienne Heinrich's "Waterfall Glass" also mimics flowing water, though it's made of fiberglass and silicone.
Some of the artwork in the Annual is distinctly Pittsburgh -- portraits of the city's streets and neighborhoods, like Ron Donoughe's "Pittsburgh Winter," and familiar found objects, like Osher's sewn cemetery flowers. Still, the show defies simple summation. An analogy might help: The Annual is like living on a street in Pittsburgh; some of your neighbors are here to stay and others will take what they need and move on. There is a lot of variety and character, and a certain indisputable level of chaos involved.
The Associated Artists of Pittsburgh 100th Annual Exhibition continues through Sept. 19. Carnegie Museum of Art, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. 412-622-3131