Summer 2013
Left to right: Raymond Simboli, Allegheny-Ludlum Steel Mill, Pittsburgh, 1948, Gift of Daniel McFadden and Beverlee Tito Simboli McFadden; Haegue Yang, Series of Vulnerable Arrangements — Domestics of Community, 2009, A. W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund © 2009 Haegue Yang. Photo: Tom Little; Joachim Koester, Tarantism, 2007, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftal, New York
Past Meets Present

Thanks in part to the Carnegie International, the Museum of Art has been building an enviable collection of contemporary art since 1896. In a nod to that history, the museum is set to reopen its modern and contemporary galleries, rehung with works from Internationals past as a first phase of the 2013 Carnegie International, coming this October.

By Jenelle Pifer

Perhaps one of the simplest ways to understand the project undertaken by the curators of the 2013 Carnegie International is to consider the arrangement of their bookshelf. Tina Kukielski and Dan Byers share a modest office on the first floor of Carnegie Museum of Art, cozy in its clutter and flooded with natural light. Along one wall run five thick shelves, heavy with art books of inconsistent sizes and colorful spines. In recent decades, the volumes had been passed down from one Carnegie International curator to the next. Not long ago, they could have been deciphered, by a trained eye, as arranged in a type of chronology.

“When I first got here these books were arranged by curator,” explains Byers, who arrived at the museum in 2009 as the assistant curator of contemporary art and last year was promoted to the Richard Armstrong Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. In going through the shelves, Byers recognized that each new Carnegie International curator had entered the office and shifted the texts upward to make space for his or her own additions. “It was like this geological striation,” he says, with the oldest books on top. “It just seemed very symbolic of the way the institution worked and the way this exhibition has functioned as a layering, cumulative process. There it was, physically represented right next to me.”

Founded in 1896, the Carnegie International is one of the most significant and longest-held surveys of international contemporary art in existence. It’s the oldest in North America and, next to the Venice Biennale, the second oldest in the world. Its mission is ambitious: to discover and present the most relevant and cutting-edge works of contemporary art from artists around the world. While for decades only a handful of international surveys existed, the number of competing shows today is substantial, as digital technologies have made research and communication faster and less costly. Still, there is no show that replicates the unique relationship between museum and exhibition held by Carnegie Museum of Art and its Carnegie International.

“Of all of the many exhibitions in the world now that are like this, ours is the only one that’s attached to a museum and the only that has helped to build a collection,” says Lynn Zelevansky, The Henry J. Heinz II Director of Carnegie Museum of Art.

When Pittsburgh steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie founded the Carnegie Institute in 1895 and the following year held the first Carnegie International, his intent was to use the series not only to inspire and educate audiences, but above all to build a collection through the purchase of “the Old Masters of tomorrow,” as Carnegie famously enjoined. Put simply, the show was Carnegie’s way of beating the curve—of leading the discovery of new artists and strategically acquiring important works early.

Scenes from Internationals past: 1896, 1961, and 1991.

And so it goes that from each International, now held every four or five years, the museum chooses numerous works from the exhibition or its artists and adds them to its permanent collection. Each new show then forms a distinct layer in the knowledge gathered and preserved by the museum.

“We talk a lot in the show about mixing the global with the local, and that’s a combination that I think is important because that’s where you get soul.”
- Lynn Zelevansky, The Henry J. Heinz II Director of Carnegie Museum of Art

What could be perceived as a drawback of such a system, however, is the density of such a history. Again, it helps to imagine the overburdened bookshelf. When Byers first entered his curatorial office, the books were stacked in piles, some obscuring others. “I started thinking about actually making it a useful resource, rather than just an impenetrable mass of knowledge,” he says. So, he promptly sorted the volumes, keeping only the most relevant and arranging them alphabetically by artist’s last name.

Robert Gwathmey, Hoeing, 1943, Patrons Art Fund © Estate of Robert Gwathmey/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Imagine now the contemporary art collection in storage at Carnegie Museum of Art. Through a total of 55 International exhibitions, the institution has acquired some 400 works. Not only do these works mark important milestones in the unfolding narrative of contemporary art, they also tell thousands of individual stories about the history of the museum, its decision makers, its artists, and the International’s interaction with what today might seem like its unlikely home in Pittsburgh.

“Maybe it sounds corny, but it’s a little bit about giving something to our local audience. To those people who know these shows like the back of their hand.”
- Tina Kukielski, Co-curator of the 2013 Carnegie International

David Hockney, Divine, 1979, Purchase: gift of Richard M. Scaife © 1979 David Hockney
When considered together, their meaning is immense, indigestible. But this year, as a unique component of the 2013 Carnegie International, Byers and Kukielski— with co-curator Daniel Baumann—have reinstalled the museum’s contemporary galleries with a sampling of 300 works from the collection that they consider a unique component of the 2013 Carnegie International. They have included objects from past Internationals and other important moments in the museum’s history, as well as major works that resonate with the themes of the upcoming International. They are not intended to tell a full or continuous narrative, but to offer glimpses and share compelling tales of one of the most storied art exhibitions in history.

The masterminds of the 2013 Carnegie International: Daniel Baumann, Tina Kukielski, and Dan Byers. Photo: Renee Rosensteel

Local Lore

Twenty years ago when Colombian artist Doris Salcedo shipped her sculptures to the Museum of Art for inclusion in the 1995 Carnegie International, her country was experiencing the effects of a sustained and violent drug trade. The government had enacted tougher anti-drug policies, but trafficking remained rampant. At the time, “people assumed everything coming out of Bogotá had cocaine in it,” Byers says. So when Salcedo’s works crossed the border, customs agents destroyed them under the suspicion that drugs were inside. She arrived in Pittsburgh without any art to show, and the museum’s exhibition staff undertook the project of helping her re-make the work. “That’s something they remember like it was yesterday,” says Byers, who spoke to some of the same workers who remain on staff today. It’s one of many stories, which the curators refer to as “moments,” told through the reinstallation.

Louise Bourgeois, Cell II, 1991, Heinz Family Fund © Louise Bourgeois/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
The fact that Pittsburgh is a city of many long-term residents offers Byers and Kukielski a unique opportunity to retell history through anecdote. “Maybe it sounds corny, but it’s a little bit about giving something to our local audience. To those people who know these shows like the back of their hand,” says Kukielski, herself new to the city. Two years ago, she relocated from New York City, where she had been working with emerging artists and producing largescale exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art. When she arrived in Pittsburgh, she was immediately struck by the number of stories people wanted to share.

For instance, one week in April a Carnegie Mellon University theater professor described to her a 1988 exhibition, curated by Bill Judson, in meticulous detail. The exhibition of video art exploring themes of time and technology, he said, was the first contemporary art show that made sense to him, and it inspired him to work in theater arts. “I thought it was amazing. Not being from here, I haven’t had those experiences [here] myself,” she says. “Because people stick around in Pittsburgh, we get those stories more often.”

Doris Salcedo, Untitled (armoire), 1992, A. W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund © 1992 Doris Salcedo

More than highlighting its strong local ties, the reinstalled contemporary galleries call attention to works that put the museum in context with much larger social dynamics. There was, for instance, the moment when Abstract Expressionist sculptor David Smith famously rejected the $1,000 that came with his 1961 third prize. Until that point, the International had bestowed prizes for selected works considered of the highest quality, but a growing dissatisfaction with such a system had rumbled through the minds of many participating artists for years. They objected to the idea that works so dissimilar in medium and intent could be compared and assigned a rank. So in 1961, Smith wrote a letter to the museum rejecting the money and requesting it be used instead to purchase new works. The letter was published in The New York Times and set about a shift in ideology that would remake the tiered prize system permanently. Several Smith sculptures will be exhibited to mark this occasion. (The Carnegie Prize was reinstituted in 1985, awarding $10,000 for outstanding achievement in the exhibition in the context of a lifetime of work; and in 2008, the Fine Prize was introduced to reward an emerging artist.)

Julie Mehretu, Stadia II, 2004, Gift of Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and Nicolas Rohatyn and A. W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund © 2004 Julie Mehretu

While the day-to-day details of the reinstallation were undertaken by Byers and Kukielski—with help from assistant curator of contemporary art Amanda Donnan and input from their co-curator Daniel Baumann—it was museum director Lynn Zelevansky who, for several reasons, initially wanted to pursue the project. Primarily, she regretted that for previous Internationals the contemporary galleries were closed to provide additional exhibition space. New visitors for the International therefore never saw the permanent collection, as these works were temporarily reassigned to storage. “I felt that it was important that the collection remain up so that people would understand that history,” she says.

She also felt that the project was in keeping with the effort undertaken by many institutions worldwide to increase transparency. In this case, both the strengths and weaknesses of the collection are on display. “In other words, there are times when we didn’t buy from the International and you’ll see that the collection suffered because of it,” Zelevansky says (see “International Negotiations” sidebar below). “We are showing you all of it, with all its warts.”

Nam June Paik, TV Rodin, 1976–1978, A. W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund. Photo: Richard Stoner

Reinterpreting History

The 300 works ultimately selected, displayed chronologically, originate from the early 20th century to present day and demonstrate mediums including painting, sculpture, photography, installation, and film. Most were exhibited in past Internationals, though there are some moments of deviation. Byers and Kukielski have taken it upon themselves to fill in gaps or complicate works by exhibiting International selections with, on occasion, important works emerging from the Pittsburgh art scene.

“We talk a lot in the show about mixing the global with the local, and that’s a combination that I think is important because that’s where you get soul,” says Zelevansky.

Phyllida Barlow, untitled: upturnedhouse, 2012 , private collection
If you ask Kukielski and Byers how it was, exactly, that they chose the works, they will look to each other as though slightly mystified. There was no overarching metric. Some pieces were obvious choices; others were selected only after deep research; a handful was rediscovered through word of mouth. Perhaps their most consistent impulse, though, was to create experiences: to cause new encounters with old works and invite viewers to reinterpret history as they did. They approached the project with the full knowledge that whenever artworks are gathered for an exhibition, there is always a lens. “It’s the history as we see it,” says Byers. “It is definitely still one story of many.”

Visiting Kukielski and Byers in the office just days before their chosen works were to be installed, a visitor is greeted by the sight of that slightly cluttered bookshelf. Volumes are stacked sideways, some lean precariously above Byers’ desk. The act of “taking stock,” it becomes clear, is not one of finality but rather one that takes place in the context of a forward-moving momentum.

David Smith, Cubi XXIV, 1964, Howard Heinz Endowment Fund © Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
While the reinstallation will become a long-lasting aspect of the museum, it’s also meant to be consumed in tandem with the other components of the 2013 Carnegie International, which include a major exhibition of new international art, a playground unveiled this April (see sidebar), and lectures and other projects meant to spark engagement with the city.

Perhaps nowhere is this overlapping intent more evident than in the reinstallation itself. Nestled among works by previous Internationals are those by three of this year’s artists. “It kind of creates an interesting slippage between the present and the past,” says Byers. When a visitor enters the gallery of Abstract Expressionism, for instance, the 1960s steel sculptures of David Smith will be steps away from the monumental new work of British sculptor Phyllida Barlow, who began her career in the 1960s but has only recently gained widespread acclaim. Her large-scale installations make use of recycled construction materials.

These interactions between works—between present and past—are meant to create what Byers and Kukielski agree is a sort of “productive confusion,” to spark an individual’s comparison between what happened and what is.

The Art of Play

Photo: Josh Franzos

When Daniel Baumann interviewed for his job as co-curator of the 2013 Carnegie International, he made an offhand comment that would ultimately spark a new and unprecedented project for the museum.

It was Baumann’s first time at the Museum of Art. To enter, he walked past the striking steel sculpture by Richard Serra. He took in the building’s strong, Brutalist façade. He passed through heavy glass doors partially concealed by an overhang. Once inside he remarked, half jokingly, This building needs something. Maybe a playground?

To his surprise, the panel of interviewers was immediately enthusiastic. Among them was Marilyn Russell, the museum’s curator of education. “For years I have looked at the landscape around the museum and thought that we could use it in a more lively, more active way as part of the museum experience,” she says. “So when Daniel mentioned his idea, I loved it.”

Today, Baumann’s vision is reality. Set against the neutral tones and angular lines of the museum’s exterior is a “Lozziwurm,” a play sculpture that looks like a gigantic and colorful earthworm, striped in bright red, yellow, and orange.

More than offering a youthful touch and a colorful facelift to the museum’s Forbes Avenue entrance, the Lozziwurm invites an attitude adjustment that the Carnegie International curators hope will inspire a new and more approachable interaction between the public and contemporary art. “People almost are intimidated by contemporary art or by art in general,” says Baumann. “We don’t think that should be the case.”

A native of Switzerland, Baumann is one of a three-person curatorial team, along with Tina Kukielski and Dan Byers, working on this year’s intentionally playful Carnegie International, which is unrolling along a staggered timeline to more closely mimic the pattern of an ongoing conversation. The Lozziwurm, which opened for play at the end of April, was soon considered by the curators to be a microcosm of the museum itself.

“The museum is a playground, too. It’s basically a frame where objects are put into relationships to space and people,” says Baumann, “where education meets aesthetics meets public space.” Both spaces are invitations to experience, he says, and the Lozziwurm is meant to remind visitors when entering the museum to be active discoverers and to keep an open, playful mind.

Originally designed by Swiss sculptor Yvan Pestalozzi in 1972, the Lozziwurm—which Baumann remembers fondly from his childhood—was one of many innovative playground designs that began popping up in the mid-20th century. After World War II, the availability of free time, the increasing use of cars, and the prominence of terms like “creativity” were among the factors leading to an explosion in the number and types of play structures designed and installed around the world.

“If you look at the history, it is extremely interesting,” says Baumann, whose wife, Gabriela Burkhalter, an expert on the subject, has curated a show about the history of playground architecture that opens June 10 in the museum’s Heinz Architectural Center (HAC). Designed to correlate with the museum’s summer architecture camps, the exhibition includes photographs of the playgrounds’ most curious incarnations—including adventure, DIY, and landscape playgrounds.

“As an educator, I have known that play is like the ‘work’ of children— something important, worth spending some time on,” says Russell. And this early “work,” to be sure, has a lasting impact. With that in mind, students will consider concepts of play and playground design during the museum’s summer architecture camps. Then in October, two projects by Carnegie International artists will launch in HAC alongside a resource lounge and display space that will include some of the most inspired designs by campers marking the first time students will contribute to the Carnegie International, no small feat for an aspiring designer.

At their core, Baumann says, good play structures and good art invite you, for a moment, to lose your sense of direction. He can still recall with clarity the moments of childlike excitement he experienced inside the Lozziwurm—the curiosity of wanting to know what’s around the next bend and the small shock of re-emerging into the light, a bit disoriented. He still seeks these moments actively in his work.

“In front of good artworks, I lose orientation for a moment,” he says. “They allow me to think of things differently, to regain my own orientation by reevaluating. What did I see? What did I go through? Where am I standing now?”

Throughout the 2013 Carnegie International, these questions, he says, will be very much at the heart of the fun.

International Negotiations

When Louise Lippincott, curator of fine arts at Carnegie Museum of Art, flips through old catalogues from past Carnegie Internationals, she occasionally catches a glimpse of an artwork and thinks, Damn, I wish we had that. “I try not to torture myself,” she says, “but there’s a category called ‘the ones that got away’ that every curator thinks about. It’s a long list from the Internationals.”

Throughout its 117-year history, the International has been subject to a multitude of forces—internal and external, artistic, political, and financial—that skewed the way curators chose works for the show and, consequently, the way museum staff selected pieces to acquire. In the depths of the Depression years, in 1931, the International hit record attendance but was cancelled the following year due to economic stress. Then, World War II made collecting from Europe nearly impossible. In 1940, the war cut off access to Europe and the museum held a survey exclusively of American art.

“Collecting art is a series of difficult choices, often constrained by things like international wars or lack of funds or donor preferences—all kinds of peculiar things that have very little to do with the intrinsic quality of the art,” says Lippincott. Moreover, there is the inherent bias of personal taste held by each and every curator.

“The fact that we never bought a major Picasso or Matisse is a really good example,” says Lippincott. In fact, when the European committee sent works by Matisse for consideration in the 1912 show, the museum’s conservative leadership team relegated the work to the basement. Less-known works by Picasso and Matisse were acquired by the museum in later years, but the weakness is still felt, Lippincott says.

Strengths, similarly, also developed. For instance, in the early 20th century, when it was almost impossible to bring European art to the United States, the museum strengthened its holdings of American regionalists, many self-taught. Among them was John Kane, a steelworker and Scottish immigrant in Pittsburgh who at age 67 appeared in the 1927 Carnegie International and then launched into national fame.

John Kane, Panther Hollow, Pittsburgh, c. 1930–1934 Purchase: gift of Mr. and Mrs. James F. Hillman

All considered, Lippincott says, the museum benefits from two different types of collecting. “I compare our contemporary art collectors to venture capitalists,” she says. “There’s a whole bunch of exciting new things popping up on the scene and they’re trying desperately to keep up with them.” The curators of the Carnegie International are among the tastemakers in this group, helping to create the pool from which the museum selects its permanent contemporary collection.

“I’m more of what I would call a blue-chip investor,” says Lippincott. She works with fine art collections up to 1945, studying long-established artists—some of whom exhibited in past Internationals—and steadily growing the museum’s portfolio. And there’s always the opportunity to reconsider past oversights, she adds.

The two collecting strategies are largely independent, but often prove complementary. One success story is John Sloan’s The Coffee Line, a surprisingly political choice for the 1905 Carnegie International. The painting depicts a frigid night in Madison Square, where a group of hungry men gathered for complimentary coffee. It received honorable mention in the exhibition, but the museum passed on its permanent acquisition in favor of less politically problematic works. By 1983, however, an opportunity presented itself for acquisition. Time marches on. The painting now hangs in gallery 6.




Also in this issue:

Lost Kingdoms Found  ·  Family Matters  ·  Celebrating a Great Ride  ·  Special Section: A Tribute to Our Donors  ·  Chairman's Note  ·  NewsWorthy  ·  Face Time: Nick Bubash  ·  Artistic License: Pop Cabaret  ·  Field Trip: “Shocking Success” in Libya  ·  Science & Nature: Building for Bees  ·  The Big Picture