The Westmoreland Museum of American Art is way different from how I remember it. A big renovation was completed in October 2015, and if, like me, you haven’t been there since, this is the perfect opportunity. Opposites Attract: Kathleen Mulcahy and Sylvester Damianos showcases the work of two local artists whose approach and mediums, on the surface, appear antithetical. Pittsburgh Glass Center co-founder Mulcahy is intuitive, with ideas that come in dreams; Damianos, a well-known architect, is a thinker whose ideas strike in the middle of conversation. Placing Mulcahy’s mixed-media, metal and glass sculptures next to Damianos’ pieces of concrete, metal and wood produces a stirring atmosphere. Quickly, thoughts, feelings and impressions combine within you, and the overall effect confirms that certain opposites need each other.
Positioned in the museum’s new Cantilever Gallery, with its 16-foot ceilings and stunning view of the Laurel Highlands through one enormous glass wall, you get the sense that this space was made for Opposites Attract, not the other way around. Humankind’s relationship with nature is an undeniable motif, but perhaps due to the refined persistence of this pair of detail-oriented artists — who clearly delved deeply into their mediums — this presentation of a familiar theme includes nothing expected.
The exhibit includes three-dozen works, some quite large-scale. Damianos’ 2015 construction “The City Beyond” is a collection of scrap wood, sanded and stained, with grains in all directions, arranged to mimic a city skyline. The beautiful scraps are smallest at the base of the “buildings” as blocks, and grow into long, yardstick-sized skyscrapers. It’s refreshing to gaze into a city skyline made of organic material, rather than man-made garbage. That realization still recalls the damage we’ve done. Then the meticulous arrangement before you galvanizes the next thought: We can do better. Nay, better exists already. We just have to find it.
Over and over, Mulcahy and Damianos find “better” in nature and present it in something we recognize: complex art, full of contradictions. Even Mulcahy’s relatively tiny “Golden Spinner,” a spherical, blown-glass sculpture swirling with fiery golden debris, in the same breath suggests both ugly pollution and peaceful leaves fallen into the water. In individual pieces and altogether, Opposites Attract manages to comment on the external patterns of nature and on the internal nature of inspiration.