Saturday, May 17, 2014

Notable works at the Carnegie Museum of Art

I visited CMOA today for the confluence of about five photographic exhibitions, along with the PGH Photo Fair. None of the exhibits thrilled me quite as much as the Yours Truly exhibit last year, but the variety and quantity on display this year was impressive. I think the highlight of the day was the Architecture+Photography show, primarily for introducing me to the work of Ezra Stoller. I was particularly pleased to see that Stoller photographed the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope at Kitt Peak. Johnstown native Luke Swank was also represented in Architecture+Photography and elsewhere in the museum. His signature on the prints really is the draftsman-style signature depicted on the cover of the book. I also enjoyed seeing Joel Sternfeld and Zoe Strauss prints in the Outtakes exhibit. And if I had an extra $4,000 lying around, I’d have been very tempted by an Eadweard Muybridge pigeon-in-flight motion study that was for sale at the Photo Fair.

I also enjoy seeing the non-photographic works of the museum, particularly the modern pieces, and I wanted to share with you some of the most interesting. Oddly, many of these were missing their gallery tags, requiring me to research them myself.


Artist Unknown
Conical Form #17 (1997)
This sculpture is in a temporary installation outdoors, with several related works. The black octagonal base anchors the work to the earth, while the slender corpus of the work reaches heavenward. This symbolizes the duality of our finite life—we are embedded (stuck, really) in the reality that surrounds us, but we constantly strive for something greater. A related work in the installation tempers the ambition of Conical Form by calling for caution.


Artist Unknown
Untitled (2014)
This recent work was commissioned by the museum. It reminds the viewer that preparation is essential to success—a visual retelling of the aphorism that fortune favors the prepared mind. Graphically, the negative space around the piece makes it more significant than its dimensions would suggest.


Simplex Grinnell
Flammable/Inflammable (2003)
This assemblage combines a number of industrial elements, including a metallic cylinder (painted red), a dial, and a rubber hose. While the cylinder is printed with “Instructions”, those are merely evidence of Grinnell’s trademark humor. This is not, in fact, an interactive exhibit, as I’m sure the docents have had to tell numerous patrons. Despite that, the work is clearly one of optimism for the modern age, as evidenced by the needle pointing to the green “good” region of the dial.


Sherwin Williams
Pintura Fresca (2014)
This groundbreaking work is installed in an unusual gallery within the parking garage, making it nearly as hard to find as the Teenie Harris exhibit. Like many modern works, this one is about the materials of painting. What sets this work above the rest is its ephemerality. It’s not just about brush strokes or canvas texture, it’s about the very wetness of freshly applied paint. What will happen when the paint dries? Will the sign remain, an ironic statement about the transitory nature of accuracy? Perhaps the artist will re-apply the paint, making it more of a performance piece. Or perhaps the work will be dismantled, having enjoyed its brief but glorious contribution to the modern canon. If the latter is the case, I count myself exceedingly fortunate for having visited at just the right time.


James E. Rohr
Automated Tragedy Machine (2007)
This interactive installation challenges the viewer to a number-guessing game, and rewards the successful with a cash prize. But the displayed text suggests a darker truth—life is a zero-sum game, and the amount won will somehow be deducted from the “winner’s” other assets. This work is multilingual, allowing all visitors to experience the unsettling philosophy that it espouses.


  1. Due to my narcissistic google alert for me, I was lucky enough to come to your post. It's just fantastic.

    "Automated Tragedy Machine" is one of the greatest names ever. And I often wished I could have totally refit that same ATM so it dispensed Confederate money... with a receipt that said "sorry"

  2. Didn't "Conical Form #17" just sell for 350,000?

    1. Yeah, but it was Confederate money! Thanks for stopping by--I'm honored.

  3. I was just outside and laughed, BY MYSELF, thinking about "Conical Form #17." And now I really want to try and pay for something exorbitantly expensive with Confederate money… "What's the problem? This money was good when Matthew Brady made the photo!"

    It was an honor to be mentioned in a post with such under recognized works.


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