Social commentary is big on the season's visual-art scene. | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Social commentary is big on the season's visual-art scene.

Art inevitably reflects society. But on Pittsburgh's museum and gallery scene, a trend toward explicit commentary is in the air this fall.

In fact, Astria Suparak, the new curator at Carnegie Mellon's Miller Gallery, has made social change the season's theme. The Miller's Keep It Slick: Infiltrating Capitalism with The Yes Men (Nov. 14-Jan. 19) is the first major exhibition by the group of artist-activists who don suits and wield PowerPoint to pose as representatives of outfits like Halliburton and the World Trade Organization, exposing the dark heart behind corporate capital's sleek façade. The show of videos, costumes, posters and props puckishly includes a "Business Casual Reception" and a sneak preview of the new film The Yes Men Fix the World.

Earlier this autumn, you can get a dose of righteous progressive politics at Artists Upstairs, which hosts a show built around A People's History of American Empire, a graphic-novel-style adaptation of author Howard Zinn's classic A People's History of the United States. The new book retells the events of Sept. 11, 2001, in the context of U.S. expansionism from Wounded Knee to Iraq. Selected passages will be displayed through Nov. 15; the illustrator, Wisconsin-based cartoonist Mike Konopacki, visits for the Oct. 3 opening.

Social commentary is big on the season's visual-art scene.
Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes at the Carnegie.

Meanwhile, at the Carnegie Museum of Art, the sprawling Carnegie International, Life on Mars (through Jan. 11), is joined by Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes. The new show finds artists and architects exploring the "physical and social complexities" of a suburbia that's grown beyond tract housing and picket fences, and is defined by burgeoning demographic diversity as well as highways and big boxes. It's at the museum's Heinz Architectural Center Oct. 4-Jan. 18.

Also that weekend, The Andy Warhol Museum dives a half-century into the past with 1958 (Oct. 4-Jan. 11). The exhibit, curated by museum director Tom Sokolowski, revisits that year's popular culture, from billboard campaigns to the Edsel, Elvis to The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

The Mattress Factory, meanwhile, looks to the future with PREDRIVE: After Technology (Nov. 14-March 22). Commissioned new works by five international artists tease and prod the realms of the virtual, exploring "lo-fi digital effects/dysfunctions, ready-made cyber-kitsch, software aesthetics, and the performativity of digital environments in real space." Curator Melissa Ragona features video installations and more by Takeshi Murata, Brody Condon, PaperRad, Gretchen Skogerson and Antoine Catala. At Wood Street Galleries, internationally acclaimed, New York-based Austrian artist Kurt Hentschlager presents another take on the human condition with one of his immersive environments, titled Zee Range (Oct. 3-Dec. 31).

The Society for Contemporary Craft, no stranger to social commentary embedded in traditional craftwork, hosts The Enamel Experience (Oct. 3-Jan. 10). The internationally traveling exhibition, curated by British artist and researcher Elizabeth Turell, includes historic enamel badges from the Museum der Arbeit in Hamburg, Germany, and new interpretations by an international roster of artists addressing such topics as worker exploitation and other human-rights abuses.

Social commentary is big on the season's visual-art scene.
Rosamond Purcell's Eloquent Eggs & Disintegrating Dice at Silver Eye.

All is not social discourse, of course. Rosamond Purcell, an internationally exhibited artist, visits Silver Eye Center for Photography with Eloquent Eggs & Disintegrating Dice (Sept. 25-Nov. 29), comprising 40 color prints from her years shooting behind the scenes at museums. Local media- and sound-artist Rick Gribenas offers It's not quite the way (Sept. 26-Oct. 19), an installation incorporating video, sound and light, at Pittsburgh Filmmakers Galleries. The Frick Art Museum keeps classical with From Michelangelo to Annibale Carracci: A Century of Italian Drawings from the Prado (Oct. 25-Jan. 4), with 16th-century works long unseen outside the great Spanish museum, including figure studies for the Sistine Chapel. Pittsburgh Glass Center hosts Absence of Body, by internationally known artist Susan Taylor Glasgow, its centerpiece a giant glass bird's nest. And Born of Fire: The Life and Pottery of Margaret Tafoya, at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Oct. 4-Jan. 4, spotlights the late Pueblo Indian matriarch.

Social commentary is big on the season's visual-art scene.
Robert D. Huckestein's Politics and Other Vices at moxie DaDA.

Among storefront venues, Zombo Gallery offers Girls! Girls! Girls!, work by "a bevy of Pittsburgh's hippest art chicks" (Sept. 20). BoxHeart Gallery has the artist Irmaly's works in fresco, epoxy and resin, Seeking the Blue Bird of Happiness (Nov. 11-Dec. 6). In December, ModernFormations Gallery unveils the winner of its annual people's-choice Spring Salon: metalsmith Kathryn Cole's Bits and Pieces of a Place, featuring art inspired by Pittsburgh's landscape. And at moxie DaDA's firehouse space, Politics and Other Vices (Nov. 1-29) -- Robert D. Huckestein's renderings of world leaders both past and present -- offers at least one more volley of social commentary.

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By Mars Johnson