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Contemporary Directions

Glass from the Maxine and William Block Collection

April 6 – July 7

            Maxine and William Block, of the Block family that owns Block Communications, the parent company of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade newspaper in Toledo, purchased their first work of contemporary glass in 1988 to decorate their home in Toledo, and that modest beginning quickly into a passion.  Throughout the 1990s, the Blocks bought enthusiastically.  They amassed a collection that now provides a perspective on the emergence of this art form and, while reflecting their own taste, includes many important glass artists.

The studio glass movement in the United States was born at the Toledo Museum of Art in 1962.  A series of workshops and classes there brought glass out of the factory into the studio, promoting the material as a medium for contemporary artists. 

Throughout the last decade, the boundaries between art and craft have blurred, and the cause of studio glass has been advanced by this less dogmatic, more inclusive approach.  Similarly, studio glass has benefited by technological achievements during the last forty years, and by the contributions of numerous artists from diverse backgrounds who have explored the medium.

“Initially, we were interested in the collection as a specific product of the 1990s,” explains Sarah Nichols, curator of decorative art at Carnegie Museum of Art.  “Ends and beginnings of centuries provide obvious points for reflection and assessment.  

“Within the last decade, contemporary art has returned to formal issues, such as a concern with the relationships of shape, color, and proportion,” Nichols adds.  “These issues have motivated certain American artists working in glass over the years, such as Sonja Blomdahl, whose fascination with the bulbous vase form with juxtaposed bands of color is fully realized in Fuschia/Violet.   Within the international studio glass movement, formal concerns have always dominated the contemporary Eastern European glass aesthetic, as Pavel Hlava’s sculpture Erise II demonstrates.”

This exhibition contains 62 works by 49 artists from a collection of more than 180 pieces by 110 artists.  The installation, by Paul Rosenblatt of Springboard draws, appropriately, on the elements of light and sand to celebrate the natural qualities of glass.

The exhibition is being organized in conjunction with the Toledo Museum of Art, where it will be shown in 2003. 

Designing Oakland       

June 22 - September 22

Oakland, a city within a city, is one of the most diverse areas in Pittsburgh.  Not only is the neighborhood demographically diverse, it contains residential, commercial, cultural, educational, and medical areas.  In addition, recent studies have concluded that Oakland may even become a magnet for young technology workers, who would provide economic stability and vitality to the entire region. 

"It is in the city’s interest to provide an environment that attracts these so-called ‘knowledge workers,’” explains Tracy Myers, associate curator of architecture at Carnegie Museum of Art’s Heinz Architectural Center.  "In the last two or three years, there have been a host of plans ranging from single buildings to institutional master plans." There is a lot of activity and a lot of potential right now."  This exhibition surveys the area’s history and then considers some of those plans, both recent and not so recent. 

Oakland was born out of a desire to establish a civic center away from the stifling smoke of downtown Pittsburgh.  A national movement in the early 20th century, the "City Beautiful," focused on consciously designing cities to bring order to what was perceived as urban chaos, and included monumental architectural elements such as the Pittsburgh Athletic Association, the Masonic Temple, and the Syria Mosque. 

"Andrew Carnegie was prescient in siting this institute in Oakland," says Myers, as the building of Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History predated the movement by several years.  The real driver of Pittsburgh’s own "City Beautiful" movement was Franklin Nicola, says Myers.  It was his Schenley Land Company that bought what was left of the Schenley estate in 1905 and established the residential area Schenley Farms, as well as space for the University of Pittsburgh and monuments, such as Soldier’s and Sailor’s Memorial Hall.

 As building density was established, the growth and development of the neighborhood and the associated economic benefits had some unintended consequences.  The infrastructure deteriorated, and traffic congestion proliferated.  The University of Pittsburgh became less of a commuter school and housing, never plentiful, fell into disrepair.

Current planners focusing on the future of Oakland see this as an opportunity to address these problems and create an attractive urban center that will function well in the future.  By considering the history of the neighborhood as well as the potential, and looking at plans proposed by a range of entities from local community groups to large institutions, it is possible to understand the area as a whole.

 "A good master plan is a guide for future development," says Myers.  "It’s not written in stone.  Participatory design, in which the people most affected have a say in what happens, is becoming the norm now; but it wasn’t always that way.  There are consequences to lack of participation, to top-down planning. This exhibition suggests how planning can work, why the public should care about it, and what promises it might offer."

  It is the second in the "Pittsburgh Neighborhoods Project" series of exhibitions initiated by the Heinz Architectural Center.

New to the Collection: Christopher Dresser cabinet, 1870    

“All decorated objects should appear to be what they are,” said Christopher Dresser, a British pioneer of the modern movement in decorative arts.  “They should not pretend to be what they are not.”  This cabinet by Dresser relates stylistically to his 1870 refurbishmet of Allangate House in Halifax, which is the best documented of his interior design schemes.

“Dresser was an admirer of Japanese art and design,” says Sarah Nichols, curator of decorative arts at Carnegie Museum of Art, “and this cabinet is a great and early example of Anglo-Japanese taste.”  In 1877, Dresser became the first European designer to visit Japan after it was opened to foreigners in the mid-19th century.  His experience there became a vital source for all his designs, which included ceramics, glass, metalwork, furniture, carpets, wallpapers, and textiles. 






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