about townWinter 2013
“I feel very lucky that great art is accessible.”

- Lindsey Scherloum, Pittsburgh artist

Art for all

A unique component of this year’s Carnegie International puts world-class art in the hands—and homes— of Pittsburghers.

By Cristina Rouvalis

In early October, a 10-year-old boy walked into Braddock Carnegie Library and flipped through a row of tall pegboards displaying artwork by some of the world’s well-known artists. His eyes widened when he came across a layered scene of Africa. This was the one. His mother loved Africa, so the boy whipped out his library card and checked out the cardboard collage to surprise her with a three-week gift of fine art.

Library patrons browse the Art Lending Collection on opening day.
Photo: Renee Rosensteel

There was just one problem. The framed artwork was too heavy for him to carry up the hill to his house in North Braddock. So he called his teenage sister, and together the two hauled it home.

The young boy’s discovery was one of many poignant moments in the first days of the library’s Art Lending Collection, which opened October 6 as part of Carnegie Museum of Art’s 2013 Carnegie International. “It was a moment of connection for this young person, getting excited about the art and extending it to his mother,” says Dana Bishop-Root, who together with Ruthie Stringer and Leslie Stem is at the helm of the massive lending project. “It had never occurred to me to check out a piece of art as a gift.”

Collectively the trio is known as Transformazium, a North Braddock-based artist group that created and operates the collection in partnership with the Braddock Carnegie Library Association with support from The Heinz Endowments, The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Sprout Fund, and various individuals. While museum-goers flock to the Museum of Art to soak in the work of some of the world’s most celebrated contemporary artists inside pristine galleries, the lending collection democratizes the process by sending works by the same artists into homes of all sizes and income levels.

Anyone with an Allegheny County library card can check out one of the nearly 100 artworks—including paintings, etchings, screen prints, photographs, poster reproductions, and even a large metal stencil—for up to three weeks, with one renewal provided there’s no waiting list. The late fees for art are the same as for a DVD: $1 a day.

Almost all of the 35 artists from 19 countries participating in this year’s International have donated work to the lending collection, which will have a life well beyond the run of the exhibition as a permanent part of the library. “It serves as a mirror to the International,” Bishop-Root says. “It is a different way to look at the artists’ work.”

Among those works by International artists available to borrow: an etched portrait by Carnegie Prize winner Nicole Eisenman; a threedimensional collage made from photographs, wood, and paint by San Francisco sculptor Vincent Fecteau; an ink and watercolor drawing by Iranian painter and animator Rokni Haerizadeh; and a small, spray-painted abstract painting made in 2012 by Sadie Benning.

Photo: Renee Rosensteel
The very first artwork to be checked out was a painting by British sculptor Phyllida Barlow, who for the International created the towering, nest-like concrete, wood, and mesh sculpture that appears to be growing out of the front entrance of the Oakland museum. For the art lending library, she donated a small, black-and-yellow watercolor of an old-fashioned movie projector dubbed Untitled: Defunct Projector, 12, part of a series she made as an homage to Swiss artist Dieter Roth.

Other well-known names that are not part of the International but have inspired Transformazium’s practice also donated works, including multimedia artists Cory Arcangel and Nancy Brooks Brody. Three local art insiders—collector and former gallerist Ray Henderson, writer and critic Regis Welsh, and artist Jim Kidd, all of whom live in the Braddock Library service area—also donated works by various artists from their own collections.

One-of-a-kind works by Pittsburgh-based artists are also among those circulating from home to home. Alisha Wormsley, a multimedia artist, photographer, and teaching artist working in Pittsburgh, donated a white window frame with the phrase “There are Black People in the Future” spray painted onto its glass.

A handful of the artwork, selected each month by library patrons, rotates in a small but prominent display at the Museum of Art to help spread the word about the project.

Transformazium, after studying other art lending libraries, put an arbitrary value of $100 on each work. “We don’t want anyone to leave here and be responsible for anything valued at $15,000,” Bishop-Root says. In fact, she had to reassure jittery visitors that it was fine to take home the artwork, which travels in protective bags fashioned from moving blankets. In the first week, library patrons borrowed or put on hold 40 works.

Lindsey Scherloum, an artist who lives in North Braddock, was immediately drawn to a metal-onmetal work by New York artist Chris Stain, titled When You Walk Through the Storm. It features a man in working clothes and boots in the foreground and a house in the midst of a storm in the background. “It’s very striking,” Scherloum says. “It’s in line with what I’m doing now. I thought it would be a nice inspiration.”

Indeed, Scherloum hung Stain’s work on a wood-paneled wall in her living room studio. “I designated it the wall where random pieces will come and go,” she says. “I feel very lucky that great art is accessible.”

Patrons can learn about the art from three part-time facilitators, all of whom are residents of Braddock. Mary Carey is thrilled by how her new job has expanded her world. “I used to think art was just a picture, just a paintbrush and paint,” she says. “It seems like artists put so many secrets and stories in art.”

She’s particularly gratified when she tells a borrower a story about a painting and then later overhears them telling the same narrative to a friend they bring back to the library. “It’s a chain reaction,” she says.

This fact was not lost on Curt Roemele, a 76-year-old retired maintenance carpenter from Edgewood who recently borrowed Ebony 7, a painting of three women in African dress. He hung it on the mantel of his living room. “I think this is a great opportunity to have nice stuff in your house without spending a lot of money,” he says. “It’s a great act of trust to let people take things like this out.”




Also in this issue:

What's Your Energy IQ?  ·  A Playful, Soulful Spectacle  ·  Energy in Human Form  ·  For the Love of Bugs  ·  Directors' Note  ·  NewsWorthy  ·  Face Time: Donald Warhola  ·  Artistic License: Girl Power  ·  Field Trip: Pop goes China  ·  The Big Picture