Art Reviews: Works dream of beds where there is no sleep
Saturday, February 13, 1999
By Mary Thomas, Post-Gazette Arts Writer
The use of the bed as something beyond a piece of furniture is not new
in art. From the spiritually symbolic wedding bower of Jan van Eyck's
15th-century "Giovanni Arnolfini and His Bride" to the skewed arrangement
of Vincent Van Gogh's late 19th-century bedroom and Robert Rauschenberg's
1955 "combine painting" with actual quilt, artists have engaged a
shorthand of associations to speak to the viewer.
|The cruciform "Jilava Prison Bed for
Father Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa" by artist Mel Chin is part of the
exhibition "Embedded Metaphor," at the Pittsburgh Center for the
Arts through March 21. It was originally conceived for a 1982
Amnesty International exhibition that called attention to the plight
of political prisoners.
Contemporary sculpture and photographs in a novel exhibition at the
Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, "Embedded Metaphor," continue this
pattern, drawing on the bed form to tease, warn, pontificate and
Two excellent works share the gallery at stair top. Lauren Lesko's
"Coifed" blends humor with more serious undertones and exudes ambivalent
sensuality: There's confusion as to whether one wants to roll on it or pet
it. It's no coincidence that comparisons may be made between curly clipped
black poodle fur and the salon look that accompanies a woman of pedigree.
Across the room, Rona Pondick's simple, abstract "Black Bed" is so
oppressive that it stops breath. Slug-like black satin bags effectively
connote degradation. A small bronze shape that is at once embryonic,
phallic and fecal adds final weight.
Scale is used by several artists to make their points.
stilted "Crib" within a ring of stuffed animals reminds that childhood is
a place of fantasy, and one that is not always protected. The carefully
crafted cast iron Lilliputian "Bed" by Ann Messner, with megaphone and
military demeanor, is surreal and dream-like.
Mel Chin's wrenching "Jilava Prison Bed," designed to call attention to
the plight of an imprisoned Romanian priest, is inherently powerful. But
in this venue, where the empty bed is often surrogate for the experience
of the implied body, a life-sized scale that immediately paired with the
viewer's space would have better drawn him into a visceral relationship.
It's reduced size allows an easier escape into an intellectual reading.
Some of the best works are photographic. Ton Zwerver's 1955
site-specific "Sculpture for the Moment" makes a successful transition to
two dimensions and lives on as a color print. Lorie Novak's unsettling
"Mirror Image" considers the influence of youthful experiences as does
Dale Kistemaker's playful installation "His Bedroom," but her
point-of-focus makes a more captivating statement.
Especially compelling is Perry Bard's photographic series of cardboard
"Shelters" erected by the homeless in New York City. Their straightforward
depiction says it all, a reality reinforced by his inclusion of the street
address in the titles. Rirkrit Tiravanija, whose "cooking piece" was in
the 1995 Carnegie International, is not as successful with the similarly
themed "Untitled (Sleep/Winter)," which is too sanitized and coordinated
to convey a nomadic space. Recognition relies heavily on the viewer's
everyday familiarity with these structures and, while Bard's adjacent work
may clue in some, this tussled pile in the corner as easily suggests a
teen's overnight bedroll.
This is a touring exhibition and some of the early works have begun to
show their age; however, the flip side is that the issues are still with
us, so each speaks in some way. A thoughtful essay by the curator, and
statements by the above and other artists in the exhibition, makes the
well-illustrated catalog an informative supplement.
At 6300 Fifth Ave., Shadyside, through March 21. The Center is open
Mon. through Sat., 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Sun., noon to 5 p.m.