From Shanghai to Amsterdam, exhibitions created at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh draw
By Abby Mendelson
The room is dark, but the outsized
modules glow in brilliant pastels.
Giant lasers, endoscopes, ultrasound, gamma knife, cryosurgery – all
the latest surgical toys, all less invasive than traditional scalpels --
are figured in far-larger-than-life plastic displays. Over here, a giant retina is leaking
blood – but never fear! A tow-headed
eight-year-old in cargo pants uses his outsized, burping laser to gun down
those pesky spots.
this is science writ large and simple, but the exhibit is not for children
only. Just as the kid finishes, an older
gentleman muscles over, then does his best Clint Eastwood, shooting from
the hip, blasting the bad blood vessels out of the target eye. “This,” he chuckles in the dark, “is
And so it
is, and not only where it all originated on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. Carnegie Science Center’s Zap! Surgery Beyond the Cutting Edge,
which premiered in Pittsburgh in 2001, is now booked in four other cities,
and the Center is negotiating for more, including several cities in Canada.
is but one of many shows, specimens, and special events from all four
Carnegie Museums that travel far and
wide, on these shores and overseas, bringing fame, fees, and fertile ideas
to Carnegie Museums – and to Pittsburgh.
Carnegie Museums-created star shows to select specimens to scintillating
silk screens, “traveling exhibits serve as wonderful ambassadors to the
world,” comments president Ellsworth Brown, “allowing the four museums to
integrate with distant communities in a positive way.” Ellsworth points out
that sending out shows isn't something new for Carnegie Museums. Andrew Carnegie himself shared his early
dinosaur findings, sending casts of Diplodocus
carnegii to the British Museum and other great institutions. To this day, Dippy remains one of the
most viewed dinosaurs in the world.
And it has Carnegie’s name on it.
remains the Carnegie Museums' touchstone, the recent exports of The Andy
Warhol Museum may have reached more people, and reached them more
dramatically. Andy Warhol and The Prints of Andy Warhol (From A to B
and Back Again), are among the important exhibitions that have traveled
domestically and internationally between 1996 and 2001. Exhibitions from The Warhol have been seen
at no less than 86 venues, reached more than three million people, and
netted $700,000 in fees for The Warhol.
With help from the U.S. Department of State, The Warhol material
crisscrossed Eastern and Southern Europe, Riga to Moscow, Budapest to
to share as much with the world as we could,” says The Warhol director
Thomas Sokolowski. “Warhol just
bespeaks America, modernity, even commercialism that many countries would
like to have. That may be why his
work has been received with such excitement. An opening of one of our shows in Mexico
City, for example, drew 5,000 people – they’ve never had that kind of
opening there. In Istanbul, the
Warhol show was the biggest cultural project of the last 10 years.
more important,” Sokolowski adds, “is that in some places Carnegie Museums
creates a lasting legacy -- not so much from presenting a Warhol show, but
from teaching modern museum practices.
We passed on 100 pairs of muslin gloves, special tools, the
necessity of climate control for art preservation. These were wonderful gifts –Carnegie Museums
sharing practices all over the world.”
than practices, museums share science, often in the form of innumerable
specimens shipped overseas for scientific research. At the Natural History Museum,
educational loans are de rigueur,
from such programs as Museum on the
Move and Science on Stage to
the museum’s discovery of the world’s first bipedal animal, which went to
Chicago’s Dinofest in the year
2000. As mineral curator Mark Wilson
says, Natural History Museum materials are exhibited and studied all over
world – from thousands of the museum’s 15 million insects to Count Noble, a
display of a legendary Llewellin setter on loan to the National Bird Dog
Museum in Grand Junction, Tennessee.
“No matter the size,” Wilson says, “being a lending institution
gives the Natural History Museum great credibility and prestige.”
minerals, Wilson adds that even though they are quite fragile and extremely
valuable, the museum nevertheless sends them because “we want to promote
the knowledge of mineralogy and the importance of minerals to our modern
industrial society. The specific
benefit for us is that making them available dramatically boosts the
reputation of Carnegie Museum of Natural History generally, and Hillman
Hall of Gems specifically. A greater
reputation not only means that people come from all over the world to see
our exhibits, but also that friends and patrons are far more likely to
donate specimens or monies to advance our collections and programs. Furthermore, with a reputation of having
top-quality specimens, and of being growing and dynamic, we get early
offers of first-rate, purchasable materials. That helps our acquisition
program – and research efforts -- as well.”
As subtle as
are the Museum of Natural History’s small, sparkling gems loaned around the
world, that’s how bold and brassy are the headline-grabbing Museum of Art’s
traveling shows. Designed to attract
big crowds, and capture the hearts and minds of many continents, three
recent shows are indicative of the quality – and reach – of the Museum of
Aluminum by Design: Jewelry to Jets, the world’s first major museum
exhibition to explore aluminum’s impact on design, went to New York, Montreal,
and London. Tracing the smooth, shining stuff from its first use to a
current standard of daily life, Aluminum
by Design explored how aluminum inspired furniture, jewelry,
architecture, fashion, and consumer and industrial products. Light! The Industrial Age 1750-1900, Art
& Science, Technology & Society was another international
success. Created with Amsterdam’s
Van Gogh Museum, the exhibition brought together more than 300 works,
William Blake to James Whistler, William Turner to Winslow Homer, Claude
Monet to Vincent Van Gogh; Isaac Newton to Joseph Priestly, Thomas Edison
to George Westinghouse.
Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith’s
which runs through February 10, will then travel to New York and other
such exhibits, then send them on the road?
“Exposure,” offers Sarah Nichols, Carnegie Museum of Art chief
curator, curator of decorative arts, and organizer of Aluminum by Design.
“Traveling exhibitions get our name out there. There are other reasons, too,” she
adds. “With Light!, for example, we paired up with the Van Gogh Museum,
which gave us leverage to borrow artworks that we otherwise would not have
Nichols says, “the reviews of Aluminum,
for example, have been excellent.
And because it’s still traveling, those good reviews are
continuing. So traveling a show
keeps it alive as an international story.
I keep getting e-mail from people in Italy, Scandinavia, and
Germany, saying, ‘can we have the show?
We’d love it!’ That’s nice –
and very good for us.”
map on the wall is covered in red and green dots that indicate where shows
created by Buhl Planetarium at the Science Center have played. You can connect the dots from Spain to
Shanghai, Capetown to the Carolinas, Melbourne to Madrid. Translated into 14 languages, each sky
show is carefully adapted for individual theaters. To date, the Buhl Planetarium has
distributed nearly 400 shows to 18 foreign countries, including the
extraordinarily successful The Sky
Above Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
shows, along with large shows as Zap!
and Robotics (which ends its
seven year tour in 2005), showcase not only the Science Center’s abilities
to create high-tech, interactive exhibits, but also highlight Pittsburgh’s
accomplishments in such advanced fields as medicine and robotics. Both kinds of shows, says Planetarium
producer Jim Hughes, ”are great victories for our production skills.” After all, to compete against such
world-class institutions as the Smithsonian and the Ontario Science Center
for patron attention, gifts, and funding, any Science Center worth the name
must make and distribute shows that will defray the multi-million-dollar
costs of creating or bringing first-rate shows to town.
Back at Zap! a middle-aged man – standing
amidst the children gleefully running amok -- tries to play “Dixie” on the ultrasound’s
multi-colored dots. Failing
abysmally, he considers using the endoscope to cut a blood vessel to the
stomach. Figuring that’s too close
to home, he decides instead to watch two lads in brush cuts work in a
complex maze to try to remove a blockage represented by a black cube. Clearly, neither the aging gent, nor the
buckaroos wrasslin’ with their outsized tongs, care very much about how Zap! will play in San Jose or
Charlotte. They just like what they
see, and want more of it, which may just be the point.
travels internationally, the fun of Zap!
carries another message: for
robotics and leading edge
surgery, Pittsburgh is the place to
writer Abby Mendelson’s latest book is the forthcoming Pittsburgh: An Urban Tapestry.
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