Curator of this year’s Carnegie International and Sprout Board Member, Dan Byers has spent his life surrounded by art. Since arriving at the Carnegie Museum of Art in May of 2009, he’s been working with his colleagues to make the museum more accessible and welcoming for Pittsburgh’s own local artists. This week on the Pittsburgh Articulate blog, Dan details the thought process that drives this ambition.
Five curators then in the contemporary art department (Daniel Baumann, me, Amanda Donnan, Tina Kukielski, and Lauren Wetmore) initiated the Apartment Talks series at a space in Lawrenceville. We ran this alternative space, a component of the 2013 Carnegie International, for almost two years on top of 12-13 hour days at the museum, and loved doing it. Pittsburgh artists made up the majority of the presenters, and their names and images of their work were published in the International catalog.
This is not nothing. That catalog is in the hands of curators, collectors, critics, and artists all around the world. For two years that small apartment in Lawrenceville became what I would like to see all over Pittsburgh: a place for Pittsburgh artists, writers, filmmakers, educators, collectors, curators, and others to connect and exhibit with artists from all over the world. This coming together should not be the exception, but rather the rule.
Inspiration for the project was not in short supply. All over the world, projects like the one that Dan and his colleagues had in mind already exist and flourish.
Zagreb, Croatia. A collective of four women known as What, How & for Whom (WHW) run a tiny gallery in downtown Zagreb (Gallery Nova) with an international reputation. They rely on a smart network of Eastern European artists, writers, and others to do inexpensive, imaginative, politically-engaged shows in a space that makes, say, Wood Street Gallery, look like Gagosian. There is no reason an artist or group of artists couldn’t take over one of the Cultural District’s small galleries on Penn and do a similar program, bringing in artists from the southern U.S., Philly, Chicago, Cleveland, NYC, Toronto. Pittsburgh is a far more stable and politically/historically untroubled space than is Zagreb, and has more funding for the arts.
Minneapolis, MN. Artists in Minneapolis are lucky, too, because they have the Walker, one of the best contemporary art museums in the country. If you grow up in Minneapolis and go there you are seeing the best artists in really interesting shows before the rest of the country does. But Pittsburghers have similar opportunities— if you go to three Carnegie Internationals between the ages of 10-20, for example. If you saw the 2004, 2008, and 2013 shows between elementary school and college, you saw Paul Chan, Paul Thek, Isa Genzken, Bruce Conner, Mladen Stilinovic, Zanele Muholi, Nicole Eisenman and about one hundred other major artists in depth, and you saw what it could mean to be an aesthetically, politically, and socially engaged artist.
Dan goes on to describe programs and projects in each of these cities in much more depth, showing how Pittsburgh could use their ideas as a catalyst for something great. He also touches on projects that are springing to life here that are making the positive changes he sees as so necessary for our arts culture, like Sanctuary on Butler Street and The Drift, a winner of a Seed Award last year.
Read more from him on a great subject that is near and dear to his heart on Pittsburgh Articulate here, and experience art in the city as well. Like Dan says: “Don’t wait for institutions. Just come to our openings, meet our supporters, introduce yourself to me, meet the visiting artists, and then build on all those connections.”