CMOA ‘Working Thought’ exhibit creates conversation about economic disparity, labor


Romita Das | Senior Staff Photographer

A patron visits the “Working Thought” exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art on Monday.

By Ananya Pathapadu, Staff Writer

A massive floor-to-ceiling collage fills a wall with newspaper clippings and images of working women. The collage by artist Carmen Winant, titled “Pictures of Women Working,” features women from different time periods, parts of the world and ages. The artwork urges viewers to think more deeply about what a working woman is.

Winant is one of the 35 contemporary artists whose work is featured in the new “Working Thought” exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art, which is open until June 26. The exhibit highlights art that explores how economic disparity and labor have shaped American life past and present.

The exhibit also includes a film series that features five independent films by Frederick Wiseman, Barbara Kopple, Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, Charles Burnett and Tony Buba. According to Eric Crosby, the museum’s director, they will be screened in the CMOA Theater.

“Historically, film has been a vital medium for recording timely and relevant social issues,” Crosby said. “There’s a directness to film that expresses our lived experiences and human emotion.”

Crosby organized the “Working Thought” exhibit. He said the idea for this exhibit came to him when he first moved to Pittsburgh and learned the history of the Carnegie Steel Company.

“We started planning this exhibition over three years ago, but it really originates from when I first moved to Pittsburgh and joined Carnegie Museum of Art in 2015,” Crosby said. “The legacy of Andrew Carnegie and his steel empire was fascinating to me, and I wanted to capture that history through a contemporary artistic lens.”

Eliot Kennedy, who works as a CMOA docent, said the City’s industrial background makes the exhibit’s Pittsburgh location even more relevant.

“The reason that this exhibit is happening in Pittsburgh is because Pittsburgh is a place where Carnegie, industrialists built with all the industry he had, he was able to build and give the City this museum,” Kennedy said. “This was built out of steelworkers, his wealth came from that.”

Artwork on display in the “Working Thought” exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art on Monday.
(Romita Das | Senior Staff Photographer )

Kennedy added that artists are showing how labor and economy play into our lives on both a local and national scale.

“And now in 2022, these artists are looking at how art and labor impact us and our economy but in a very local way,” Kennedy said. “And also talking about many different things in other places in the United States.”

Winant’s “Pictures of Women Working,” located in the museum’s Forum Gallery, explores working women and the different roles they take in communities. Winant said the piece has also been continually evolving as the world changes and different roles women take on become highlighted with recent events, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve been continually adding to this work since I started making it in 2016. As a result, the newspaper stories beneath reflect that trajectory, shifting from stories about Hillary Clinton’s campaign to the women leading the Black Lives Matter movement to the care workers, so many of them women, that were called to work throughout the pandemic,” Winant said. 

Ashlee Wolowic, a Pitt graduate student, said she felt Winant depicted how women and their femininity come in various forms.

“I kind of get the vibe that it’s supposed to be like a representation of women throughout the years and the struggle that goes through with the different aspects of having femininity in an ultimately patriarchal world,” Wolowic said.

Winant said she believes her work poses questions to the viewer, and urges them to think more deeply about working women and how the role can look so different.

“In asking the questions, ‘What is women’s work?’ and ‘What does it look like?’ I hope to be posing a question to viewers, as I am to myself, about the nature of women’s fatigue, women’s pleasure, women’s performance in relation to capitalism and patriarchy,” Winant said.

Crosby said the exhibit has something for everyone, because the theme is “universal.” He also said the exhibit also has diversity in its art mediums, which range from photography to film and painting.

“There is something for everyone to identify within the show. ‘Working Thought’ includes contemporary artwork across media, including photography, painting, film and sculpture, and viewpoints from mid-career to established artists,” Crosby said.

Since the exhibit has opened, Kennedy said the museumgoers she’s interacted with feel invited to have a conversation when looking at the pieces in the exhibit.

“I think it’s a type of artwork that really invites to have a conversation. To look deeper into it and why this artist is doing this and what is behind it. We can look at what craft they used and how they put things together but also what is behind it,” Kennedy said. “So it’s a type of art that really encourages a conversation.”