We visited two unique museums at Pittsburgh, the Andy Warhol Museum and the Mattress Factory. The Andy Warhol Museum is the largest museum dedicated to a single artist Andy Warhol in the United States. Andy Warhol, 1928-1987, was an artist, film director and producer. He was a leading figure in what may be called pop art, painting imaginary from the popular or mass culture, which began around the late 1950s. This simply means painting the mundane everyday things in life.
Andy Warhol was given the idea of painting soup cans by the gallery owner and interior designer Muriel Latow. In the 1960s Andy Warhol painted the Campbell Soup Cans, Brillo Boxes and Coca Cola Bottes! We saw a lot of these paintings at the Andy Warhol museum at Pittsburg. He also painted the famous film star Marilyn Monroe. Was a bit taken aback by the mundane!
The Mattress Factory was a fascinating contemporary art museum created inside an old mattress factory and hence the name. In 1975, the artist founder Barbara Luderowski bought this property at first to live in and host artists. The artist community grew and in 1982 The Mattress Factory opened its first installation exhibition. My cousin, who I accompanied, was dabbling in ‘some’ art or at least had some artist friends. Me the poor Economist was absolutely taken by surprise!
This first installation we saw was a hole in the floor which turned out like a funnel in the lower floor and formed a window looking out. The installation by Sarah Oppenheimer, an American visual artist, was one of its kind.
The most fascinating installation was ‘Repetitive Vision’, or ‘Infinity Dots Mirror Room’, by Yayoi Kusuma, a Japanese painter and installation artist. According to her the mirror obliterates everything. The installation “explores obliteration of self where the viewer becomes part of the work reflected in mirrors”. My cousin and I felt like Alice in Wonderland! We spent quite some time in this wonderland, gazing in wonder and looking at ourselves from weird angles! We did feel part of the art work, the installation!
Ricardo Iamuuri Robinson is a singer, song writer and an audio-visual artist. His installation ‘In the Red: Never Mine’, 2018 appeared to be exploring class inequalities between the landlord and the workers in the cycle of production. “In the RED, Born in Debt, Less we Forget”. The installation was a wheelbarrow, red floor and a sound in the background. We stood gaping!
John Latham, 1921-2006, was an installation artist. Books, the keepers of knowledge, seemed to be a constant motif in his work. He is known as the ‘Man who Ate Art and Culture’. The story goes that Latham, who had a part-time job in a school of art in London, borrowed Clement Greenberg’s ‘Art and Culture’ from the library. He invited his students to chew the pages of the book, He dissolved, distilled and fermented the pulp and sealed in it several glass vials. When the book fell overdue in the library he returned the vials in a leather case like the book. As one can imagine the Librarian was not amused and he lost his job. There are several stories of his art creatives with books, rather bizarre ones.
At The Mattress Factory we saw this strange installation by Latham, a collection of books placed haphazardly. The next installation was the books falling down! Was not quite able to fathom this. For us academics, books are sacred, why would place them haphazardly and worse, let them fall? But now after reading about Latham’s other ‘event-based’ art objects, this one is definitely less weird!
Meg Webster is an installation artist whose theme of art is around concerns of the depleting environmental resources around us. She has been doing earth installations composed of nectar plants to support the bees who are affected by the depleted natural resources. We saw this amazing installation creating an artificial sunlight glow for the nectar plants. The Russian Sage is a conventionally lavender purple flowering plant. LED lights were powered by photovoltaic panels, fueled by solar energy.
So the life and works of artists are pretty incomprehensible to those who worry about material things, the economy and society. But we learnt a lot about life, art, culture and even the environmental crisis! Do visit both museums if you find your self in Pittsburgh.