Friday, April 29, 2011

The Art Connection 82nd Annual Exhibition, Sunday, May 1 Hall of Sculpture

The Art Connection 82nd Annual Exhibition

Justin Hopper

Opening event: 3–5 p.m. Sunday, May 1
Hall of Sculpture

The earmuffs on her head, a clutch of hair pushed aside, those big, plaintive eyes—there is certainly a story in Tiara Hurt’s self-portrait. But that story is obscured by the swirl that surrounds her: sweeping washes of green and brown paint; halos of earth tones making Hurt’s portrait a fragmented image of the time and place in which the artist lives.

Tiara Hurt’s time is the eighth grade. Her place is The Art Connection (TAC), the venerable Saturday art classes at Carnegie Museum of Art through which have passed generations of Pittsburgh fifth through ninth graders. More specifically, the portrait’s place is The Art Connection’s 82nd Annual Exhibition, including work by all of TAC’s 2010–2011 classes and on view through May 4 in the museum’s Hall of Sculpture. (From 3 to 5 p.m. this Sunday, May 1, friends, families, and the general public are invited to join the student artists for the official opening of this year’s exhibition.)

Despite their ages, these under-16s have, in many cases, been through as much as a decade of art classes. Classes are open to any students from Pittsburgh and its surrounding suburbs, and many students from Pittsburgh Public Schools are accepted on full merit-based scholarships based on teacher recommendations.

So it’s no surprise that the work in The Art Connection’s Annual Exhibition is good. But while technical skill is one thing, the rigorous thoughtfulness behind so many of these young artists’ work is another. Besides the different themes with which each class worked—“Time and Place” was one for the eighth graders, for example—the student artists used their assiduous study of Carnegie Museum of Art’s exhibitions to make work that truly complements some of the world’s great artwork.

Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective is one of the most important art shows that Pittsburgh has seen since the last Carnegie International. And its influence on these young artists is clear—from the Andy Warhol–style “Screen Test” videos done by the Grade 5 students, to the complexly reassembled chairs made by Grade 7 students, such as Marianna Barroso’s distinctly Thek-like assemblage.

“The chairs are something TAC students look forward to right from Grade 5,” says Juliet Pusateri, lead educator for children’s and family programs. “They learn how to see something—in this case, a chair—not just for its original function, but as something entirely new. It’s inspired by what’s going on in the galleries: the Thek show has had an impact, as has the reopening of the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Galleries [of decorative arts and design].”

Thanks to the CREATE (Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment) Lab at Carnegie Mellon University, we can hear what the student artists think of their artistic selves. Through CREATE’s “Hear Me” project, Pusateri and assistant curator of education Ashley Andrykovitch learned how to record the students’ artist statements. Some of the statements were then installed as listening posts (designed to look like Americana-style can-on-a-string “phones”) in the exhibition, offering us a glimpse at the importance of TAC to these students.

“I’m able to apply everything I’ve learned over four years [in The Art Connection] to my final project,” says Aysha Salt-Volz, Grade 9. “Every project is an opportunity to create a reflection of myself.”

Listening to another “Hear Me” installation is how I learned that Tiara Hurt’s earthy self-portrait was inspired by Danish artist Sergej Jensen’s brown-on-brown cloth piece Untitled. Jensen’s minimalist work is as powerful as it is subtle—but I’d never seen it that way before. Now I’ll look at it differently in the galleries, not because of an Artforum write-up or London White Cube exhibition, but because of an eighth-grade student from The Art Connection.

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The Pittsburgh Art Blog

The Pittsburgh Art Blog features selected pittsburgh artists and upcoming exhibits with photos from the artists and galleries. since the major press outlets do not go beyond a directory listing of exhibits, blogs are needed to promote pittsburgh artists and their work. the blog also calls attention to the inferiority complex of pittsburgh art and how it's perpetuated by the major players in town. Started on August 20,2007. pittsburgh area galleries and art venues are listed at the sister site www.PghGalleries.com.

the blog and website are volunteer projects from fine art photographer and pittsburgh artist advocate rick byerly.