A few days later, the North Side gallery and workspace, known best by local artists and activists for its open-studio nights for screen printing, put up for bid a print from one of Pittsburgh's most renowned illustrators and poster artists Mike Budai. The 16-by-24 inch artwork of a super cute kneeling vampire, holding tightly onto a sword that's propping up a lifeless toy rabbit which has just been stabbed (it's much more adorable than it sounds!) was purchased for a mere $60.
But seeing the artwork go for less than the pieces would normally get sold for is part of what makes the auction important, according to Rachel Saul Rearick, a Pittsburgh artist and AIR board member. "As with many auctions, work goes for less than what the retail value might be if buying it outright from the artist," she says. "It makes art accessible to more people."
The stellar online auction, which has been has been filled day after day with incredible artwork of a wide range of artistic styles over the past several weeks, is one of the ways AIR is adjusting to funds lost due to the pandemic.
Rearick herself donated a piece to the auction — a minimalistic but bold monoprint mounted on steel; a collaboration with her wife Katie — that was sold for $160. Other artwork that's still to come up for auction includes another piece by Budai, and work by John Lysak, Clayton Merrell, Mary Martin, Ian Short, and Quai Whitlock.
Like many other arts organizations throughout the city, AIR had to switch gears when the pandemic arrived in March, no longer being able to host on-site events, exhibitions, and open-studio nights that so many local artists have become dependent on over the years.
Beckman says they're working on more ways to invite people into the studio on an appointment basis.
And while the pandemic has been a struggle, in a way, AIR has also been a little more prepared than some other organizations during this time.
"AIR was designed to work with artists both on site and from a distance," says Beckman. "We have always tried to optimize the artist’s time on site and minimize the need for travel and extended time commitments. Some of these dynamics (i.e. trading image files digitally, proofing and testing with and without the artist on site, shipping proofs and tests back and forth, etc.) have helped us create a more collaborative approach to our studio work and have allowed us to work with more people. Some of these methods have positioned us in an interesting way post (or on-going) COVID."
Even though the open-studio times are closed, the space is still accepting projects from designers, activists, makers, and educators in need of print needs during this time. (Inquiries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
"AIR has always been a behind-the-scenes resource working to support artists, educators, activists and others in the community. During this time of uncertainly, we know that there are many people and organizations that have great needs," says Beckman. "We want to be available to help in any way that we can — if you think we can support any of your efforts, please contact us."
And, like many other organizations in time, AIR is also asking those who can afford to do so to make a donation through its website. "No donation is too small to assist with keeping us afloat," Beckman adds.