Writer ‘crawls’ through blankets and sugar for art

By Sarah Simkin

Friday, Jan. 28, 2011: The Pitt News entrusts this intrepid journalist with braving the elements… Friday, Jan. 28, 2011: The Pitt News entrusts this intrepid journalist with braving the elements in the name of documenting art and exploring the depths of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s quarterly gallery crawl. I enlist the help and observational skills of an individual who, for the purposes of this article, shall be referred to as Schenley.

6:05: I catch the 61C, attempting to be fashionably late for the 5:30 start of the art crawl. The reading on the bus’s digital display, worrisomely, bears no correlation with our actual location. I notice a fingerless-glove- and beret-clad woman three rows ahead of me clutching a Cultural Trust brochure and resolve to simply get off the bus whenever she does.

6:32: Schenley and friends, whom I christen Argentina and Kentucky, are enjoying the legal privileges of being 21 at a happy hour. Lacking such rights, I am forced to wait on the sidewalk in the snow for them to finish their drinks, because the concierge won’t even let me stand in the lobby without valid ID. Fortunately, despite my age, I’m still allowed to attend the crawl.

6:38: Our first gallery is the 709 Penn Gallery, which houses an installation piece entitled “After the Sky has Fallen.” We’re not sure what we’re looking at. It appears to be an oblong cocoon made of pale woven scrap paper. Schenley is tipsy and her commentary is phallic and unhelpful. The walls are sprinkled with close-up photos of something organic and ominous.

6:44: Onward to Future Tenant, a gallery on Penn Avenue. A television monitor displays a recording of digital flowers. Metallic letters spell out “POINTLESS” on a wall display, a sentiment which resonates deeper than anything else in the exhibit. A Sega Genesis is on display, prompting Argentina to muse on how old we must be for our childhood toys to have become art.

v6:51: We spot the Goodie Truck, an elusive mobile peddler of hot chocolate and baked goods.

6:53: SPACE gallery on Liberty Avenue: A “trading blanket” display prompts visitors to take something from its selection of random pocket fillings and leave something else behind. We all rummage for something to participate with.

I am unable to discern any meaning from an awning covered with photographic prints; it’s impossible to tell art from detritus. There is literally a tumbleweed sitting in the corner from which I can divine no significance.

Another display, or maybe a continuation of the same exhibit, features a motley assemblage of slogans, advertisements and platitudes printed on posters and fliers — possibly a commentary on our disposable culture? We grapple with the potentially obscene meanings of W.T.S.H.T.F. scrawled on a sheet of butcher paper and stapled to the wall several feet above eye level. The blaring alt-rock that obscures any attempts at conversation might be background or might be its own art.

7:00: Another exhibit bills itself as a “playful investigation” of craigslist m4w (men for women) ads. A walk-in installation piece, possibly some sort of ode to the speakeasy, features the script “Be classy. Be discreet,” — words to live by.

7:05: Argentina, prompted by the projection of footage of what might be the process of constructing an outdoor rustic hot tub, explores the possibility of video art being the new generation of art.

7:10: Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts, also on Liberty Avenue, is packed. And those exquisite and colorful coral reefs are really made out of sugar. From what I know of sugar-tempering processes, they look like their creation was probably extremely dangerous. A queue forms around the display to purchase shrimp bisque and chocolate-chip cookies.

7:15: I tell Kentucky that I have to try her soup, for the sake of art — usually I do things for science, so that was a new excuse. She consents, and I also purchase a cookie. The former is marginally too salty and the later is fine, but unremarkable for a confection baked by people who specialize in such things.

7:36: An exhibit on photographs of invasive plant species in the basement of the Harris Theater, on the same street. Some of this just looks like poor lab technique, but it’s beautiful nonetheless, especially some color macro prints focusing on the intricacies of the veining in leaves and tendrils of vines.

7:50: A woman beckons us through a doorway. We walk through a metal detector which strikes me as suspect for an art gallery, only to discover we are actually in the Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania. Which has a gallery space why exactly? Several abstract and presumably Planned Parenthood-inspired or related paintings adorn the walls, interspersed with the organization’s informational posters.

t7:56: Mixed-media Marrakesh-inspired art is displayed at Tonic, also on Liberty Avenue. If I hadn’t known there was an art creep afoot I might have just thought the upstairs bar to be overly decorated — the walls are covered in brightly colored swirls and patterns of stones, oil paints and sand.

8:14: I am done with art forever.

9:37: Damn it! We never saw White Light/Black Light at the Wood Street Galleries!