The bleak 58th International Center of the Carnegie Museum of Art sparkles with humanism, compassion and breadth
Pittsburgh, Pa. – It’s big, sprawling, uncompromising, and at times irritating, outrageous, irritating, and often exhausting in the anti-American politics its artists espouse.
Forget it all. Go see the 58th International Carnegie Exposition at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The flaws and shortcomings of the show are compensated for by the joyful sweep of the work shown, the breadth of the views offered, and the decency inherent in its human spirit.
Founded in 1895 by industrial tycoon Andrew Carnegie, the museum aimed to put Pittsburgh on the map of world art as well as steel. He envisioned Carnegie International, which opened in 1896, as an annual survey from which the museum could acquire works and build up its collection.
Held every three to five years since 1982, the fair is the longest-running international contemporary art fair in North America.
This year’s edition, the first since 2018, is titled “Is It Your Time Yet?” – a clever way to convey the idea of a decentralized world where all points of view are essentially local.
Organized by a team led Sohrab Moheddi, an Iranian national who was chosen last year as director of the Sculpture Center in New York, the exhibition surveys the work of more than 100 artists from around the world. An exact count is difficult because the exhibition includes large groups of works from several outside groups and collections, each of which constitutes an exhibition within the gallery. It is like an open geode with sides within sides.
These indoor shows include a collection of Iranian artwork produced by artists working under the country’s oppressive Islamic regime, and selections from the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Chilean Art which was launched in 1971 when Salvador Allende was elected as the country’s first socialist president.
The main thrust of this year’s International is to overthrow the United States and Europe as the centers of culture and to raise and strengthen the views of countries negatively affected by American power, or by world power in general.
In general, the mood is somber and somber, particularly in the major installations for the exhibition, all of which were commissioned for the exhibition.
The large centerpiece, which is installed in the museum’s neoclassical sculpture square, was made by a Turkish artist Banu Cennetoglu It consists of groups of shiny and gold balloons in the shape of letters that make up the words contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, adopted by the United Nations in the aftermath of World War II.
Scrambled in unreadable heaps, like a loose code, tethered clumps of helium-filled balloons float above the ground when the show opens in September, but as they slowly deflate, they sink to the marble floor and gradually deteriorate into squash.
It is a visual metaphor for the international community’s inability to live up to the declaration. The work also seems to be a nod to Andy Warhol, the Pittsburgh native of pop art, whose airborne pillows, titled Silver Clouds, are on display in his eponymous museum across town. Cinetoglu’s adaptation of a term adjacent to Warhol is a reflection of the broad reach of America’s cultural soft power, evident in the arts as well as in Hollywood films, television shows, and music.
Lest viewers miss the essential point about human rights in Cennetoglu’s glossy installation, the walls around it are hung with stark black-and-white portraits of a Japanese photographer. Hiromi Tsuchida This catalog excavated clothing and other personal items recovered from civilians after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima to persuade Japan to surrender in World War II.
Even when the show delivers moments of outwardly transcendent beauty, there’s usually an underlying political point. A series of wide abstract murals painted on the walls of the upper floor of the sculpture square in gradient shades of blue-gray by a Vietnamese artist Thursday Van Transeeming to parody Claude Monet’s serene frescoes and water lily paintings.
But, no: They were inspired by the colors of the “herbicide rainbow” that U.S. forces dropped on 4.5 million acres of forests, rivers, and rice fields during the Vietnam War, including orange, white, pink, green, blue, and purple agents. Mix them all together, and you get the beautiful tones of Courage Tran’s paintings.
Rely on labels
The Achilles’ heel of such works is that, without reading the gallery posters, gallery guide, or catalog, you have no way of knowing that Tran’s beautiful murals, specially commissioned for International, are an indictment of American war-making. As mere ideas, they do not convey such content. They need a substrate of written messages that frame the show, shape the viewer’s perspective, and define the political messages it contains.
Another example: the floor of a gallery is covered with a giant model of the bombed-out areas of Aleppo in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, cast in polyester resin by a London-based artist Dia al-AzzawiBorn in Baghdad.
One might suspect that like Tran’s murals, Al-Azzawi’s piece is critical of American imperial expansion or nation-building. But this is not the case. As stated in the label, al-Azzawi’s target is the “fanatic factions” that, according to his words, recruited young people in Aleppo and Mosul to engage in an “endless political and sectarian struggle.”
In other words, it’s attacking the Russian-backed forces of Bashar al-Assad, who bombed civilians and rebel forces in Aleppo in 2016. It’s also talking about the ISIS forces that controlled Mosul for three years until they were driven out in 2017 by the Iraqi army, various militias, and the Peshmerga. Kurdish, and international allies led by the United States.
What is not said here is that Al-Azzawi’s image of a Middle Eastern hell – fascinated by the massive destruction it causes – is a call to sympathy for the people who once lived in the earthen dwellings reduced to rubble that he depicts.
Moments of beauty
It’s not all bleak. The show includes lush abstractions lacquered on wood by a Vietnamese artist Trung Kong TongSurreal, cartoon-like, and delightfully lewd depictions of the sexual pleasures of an Indonesian artist I’m Gusti Ayo Cadec Morneasiebetter known as Morney (1966-2006).
Gates word In Kampala, Uganda, it is represented by a series of colorful and vibrantly patterned wall hangings made of paper beads on a fabric of fruit peels. One of them is appropriately called “Seeds of Joy.”
Amidst these and other high-profile works, there are some truly disturbing moments. One is a machine-like installation created by a Korean artist Mary LeeHeadquartered in Amsterdam and Seoul.
Their construction resembles agricultural reaper blades slowly grinding distilled entrails from slaughtered animals, or perhaps humans. In fact, the messy ‘organs’ at work are made of silicone, glycerin, and resins.
The work can be read as a condemnation of meat-based diets, or perhaps the danger that machines will explode and kill us all. Mostly, though, the carving is repellent and hard to look at.
Running throughout the show is a sense of defense for the oppressed, the neglected, the disenfranchised, and the overlooked, and an insistence that these people should be heard, respected, and valued.
For example, one of the gallery’s interior exhibitions focuses on dozens of works from before Costee, (1935-2012) a native of Java in Indonesia little known in the West. Kustiyah’s beautifully painted portraits, still lifes, and landscapes punctuate softly lyrical expression. The show epitomizes the major international trend, opening the viewer’s eye – and heart – to perspectives beyond the Euro-American focus.
sense of place
Critics have noted that the International has nothing to do with Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. Despite its global scope, it does not bring its perspective back home to show how the directions it explores relate to the United States
The only notable exception is an installation done by a Chicago photographer Latoya Robbie Fraziera native of the industrial Pittsburgh suburb of Braddock, located upstream along the Monongahela River.
Commissioned by International, Frazier made a “monument” in 2021 consisting of photographs and written interviews depicting Baltimore community health workers, clergy, and physicians who provided outreach services across the city during a critical phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Produced in collaboration with Frazier’s subjects, the images are permeated with sympathy for essential workers on the front lines. Accompanying interviews give composition weight and personal impact.
Unfortunately, the sheer amount of text in the accompanying interviews makes it difficult to comprehend the entire work in two or even three hours, given the large amount of artwork on display throughout the show’s run. Frazier’s piece should be published in book form.
Given its height, it’s no surprise that the installation earned Frazier a Carnegie Award, the show’s highest award. Her work connects the global with the local, giving the 58th International a solid focal point between the show’s broader themes and an American community similar to Pittsburgh’s.
It’s a shame there aren’t more similar works on show. The international broadband is exciting. He would have benefited from having a little sense of place to anchor himself more firmly in the community he hosts.
what’s up: “Is it morning for you yet?” 58 Carnegie International.
Place: Carnegie Museum of Art.
where: 4400 Forbes Street, Pittsburgh.
when: through Saturday, April 2nd.
admission: Adult tickets $25. Call 412-622-3131 or go to cmoa.org.