Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 10/1-2/10.

c. David Grim (taken 9/25/10)


Once again events have conspired to line up all at once, like some sort of cultural eclipse. There is so much going on in the local arts scene that you are going to have difficulty seeing only a portion of it on Friday.

Downtown features its seasonal art crawl starting at 5:30PM. You can get an earful of cutting edge art at Wood Street Galleries with two separate sound installations called "Longplayer" and "Dark Matter". But if your predilections run more toward the visual (as many readers of this blog), you might enjoy the selection of new outdoor lighting installations along the streets and avenues of the Cultural District. They are part of the Pittsburgh Festival of Lights, and will be on display through the middle of October.

At SPACE Gallery (812 Liberty) they have an exhibition of "socially-engaged" printmaking including a cast of 200 international artists. This traveling show has been in the 'Burgh since August, but this month is your last chance to see it in this city. Additionally, if you head downtown you should make it a point to check out Eric Stern's piece(s) in the TXT group show at the 707/709 Penn Galleries. Also, the Pittsburgh Society of Artists has a group show called "Shelter" at the Society for Contemporary Craft – satellite gallery (One Mellon Center Gallery, 500 Grant Street in the lobby of the Steel Plaza T-Station). There's an emphasis on green and recycled materials in the included selections.

And stop in at Shaw Galleries (805 Liberty Ave.) for a fine assortment of Warhol photos and prints. After all, it's great to go look at his work at the museum... but it's another thing altogether to get the opportunity to actually purchase a piece of art history.

Unblurred October is upon us as well. The Irma Freeman Center (5006 Penn Ave.) is celebrating its anniversary with a selection of photographs from early-90's South Side hipster Brian Cummings. He seems to have captured the activities of a generation within the Pittsburgh urban underground. Check his images out along with performances by the Mud City Manglers and the Moodswingers.

Most Wanted Fine Art (5015 Penn Ave.) features the work of its proprietor Jason Sauer and tattoo artist Jason Angst (who toils at Tattoo Noir in Bloomfield) in a show called "Derby Cars and Skulls". I suspect that there is some truth in advertising with this title. Meanwhile Imagebox (4933 Penn) has paintings from the always-intriguing Susan Constance. Her work has evolved in unexpected and delightful ways over the years, so "Unreal Spaces" is a necessary stop in your nightly travels.

The Academy of the South Side returns to Penn Avenue for their second annual exhibition, entitled "Harvest 2". See paintings and video by participants in the programs at the International Children's Art Gallery (5020 Penn Avenue).


If you haven't had your fill of art yet, you can make a trip (5-8PM) to Squirrel Hill and the Christine Frechard Gallery (5871 Forbes Avenue). "Between Stillness and Movement" features the work of Carolyn Olbum & Ursula Neubauer.

Oh and lest I forget (because I actually did)- Millie Tersak has an opening at Panza Gallery (6-9PM). While it's pretty conventional stuff, this place is always worth the drive. See it at 115 Sedgwick Street in Millvale.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Vardøgers Among Us.

c. David Grim (taken 8/28/10)

To me there is something fascinating about concepts that have specific words attributed to them in other languages, but lack English equivalents. There are a lot of German terms that seem to describe very abstruse philosophical moods that are inflected by emotional states. Unfortunately I can't seem to remember examples all that well, and I doubt I could interject them into a discussion without achieving some sort of confused silence. When I try to translate them into my native language, they tend to come out sounding like Native American names (ex: "He-Who-Walks-Dourly-in-Complete-Frustration-Over-Inability-to-Truly-Connect").

So it is refreshing to discover a word that I can explain, but that still retains an intriguing hint of mystery. The Norwegians have a specific word to refer to the phenomena of a "warning soul". A "vardøger" is the appearance of a presence announcing the imminent arrival of another human being. It may present itself as footsteps that sound like your spouse coming home, or a smell that reminds you of someone, or the actual visual suggestion of a person you know. The rub is that the person that the vardøger represents is not yet in your presence, but is about to be. The vardøger is a premonition of contact with a living, breathing entity.

Apparently the Scandinavians experience this enough to have generated a one-word descriptor for it. That's amazing because I haven't really encountered many similar claims among my friends or family. Most of the people I know just show up without sending a virtual representative to announce their intentions. But that brings up a further point about the concept that I find interesting- evidently the vardøger will appear sometimes without being followed by a flesh-and-blood visitation. In some cases an individual may merely intend to show up somewhere, but will get distracted by something and not arrive. Still the vardøger will have shown itself, thus confusing the witness.

If this phenomenon does indeed exist, it's questionable as to whether it's an example of some sort of telepathy on the part of the viewer, or if it is an example of precognition (i.e. perceiving the future). The fact that intention is at issue suggests that it is the former, because sometimes the vardøger will not precede an actual appearance. It all makes me think that those Scandinavians are some pretty tricky folks.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Braddock Carnegie Library

c. David Grim (taken 9/25/10)

Let me just say this so as you have it completely and utterly clear in your mind... the Braddock Carnegie Library is an exceptional piece of still existing history. Perhaps you saw the Rick Sebak documentary that featured a story about the place? I can't imagine that you would have and NOT taken the opportunity to see it in person. I went last Saturday and brought my camera with me. The Warhol Museum decided to throw some of its significant resources behind publicizing the library, and the result was "fun and food" (which I'll describe in a moment, so be patient).

I don't know the backroom machinations that led to this happening, but I'm glad to see a venerable arts institution truly invest itself with concern for a local treasure. It's remarkable whenever anybody here actually gives a crap about the unique stuff that is sitting in relative neglect here in the 'Burgh. Of course the Braddock community has worked hard to keep the building a functional lending library, and they need to be commended for fighting for its continued existence. But it really needs substantial funding to reach its full restorative potential. Now hopefully the Carnegie will take an interest in the Maxo Vanka murals before they degrade beyond repair, and I'll be able to give them props here for that.

Anyway, there were projects located on different levels of the maze-like buildings that encouraged exploring. GF and I checked out the pool that will likely never be swam in again, but must have provided amusement for thousands of kids. In fact there were a couple of older guys staring wistfully at the cavernous room and talking about how they themselves used the pool decades ago. There is talk about transforming it into a sunken stage area, but it doesn't seem like a sure thing.

Fortunately the amazing concert auditorium (which is indeed the oldest "Carnegie Hall" around) still exists mostly in its original condition.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Enough Already.

c. David Grim (taken 9/25/10)

There should come a time in every man's life when he is no longer impressed by the tales of outlandish (and even wretched) excess that some of the last couple of generations' literary heroes seem to have employed to find fame and fortune. Apparently the yearning for vicarious experiences of debased debauchery runs pretty deep in our culture. That's why a memoir like Mike Edison's "I Have Fun Everywhere I Go" gets a number of positive reviews on Amazon, despite the fact that it is rehashing a lifestyle that has been overexamined throughout the last 50 (or so) years.

And who can we blame for such a situation? Was it William Blake, who first wrote accounts (fictional and otherwise) of his stumblings through the demimonde of drug use and nascent bohemia? Or should we pick on Henry Miller, who seems to have pioneered the Western tradition of extolling the sex-crazed preocuppations of the modern literary male? Perhaps the blame should instead fall squarely on the heads of the "Beat" writers, who appropriated the lifestyle and rhythms of the criminal underclass in order to stake out their legacies? Maybe Hunter S. Thompson or Charles Bukowski are to be held responsible for popularizing the modern day account of chemically-dependent hedonism?

Regardless of who we target as the scapegoats, it should be well understood by now that such ground is now well-trodden. The extent to which an individual must go to shock his readership nowadays within this tradition should reasonably kill him, and if the resultant lifestyle fails to do this then the chances that he can write a cogent, meaningful summary (with what is left of his brain) are no doubt minimal. Either there is a whole lot of hyperbole happening, or the work is ghost-written.

I'll readily admit that I'm guilty of playing in to this trend. I've actively sought out extreme tales of the underground for years now. There is something somehow appealing about tracking the decscent and inevitable degradation of another human being. It can be funny if the reader is cynical enough. And it can be comforting to realize that some have made mistakes so much more egregious that one's own. Still, this type of material must eventually lose its edge, and in the process it is likely to have dulled the senses of anyone who has regularly indulged in such "literature".

Believe me, I'm really not becoming a prude in my tastes. It's just that I find must of this stuff simply boring. No one is going to blaze new ground recapitulating their experiences with drug and alcohol binges. Their personal stories may provide temporarily amusing diversion, but very little of substance (other than ennui) is likely to stick with the reader.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Importance of Civility for Pessimists.

c. David Grim (taken 9/25/10)

Listening to NPR on the way to work the other day, I heard an interview with author David Rakoff. I believe I read one of his books within the last year or two, but I can't be counted on to remember which one it was or what it was about. That likely means that I neither loved nor hated it and I was therefore only mildly curious about what he might say on the radio. But it turns out that his perspective gave me something to think about. Because Rakoff contends that his "realistic" approach to life, while not making him "happy", can be considered beautiful.

Apparently the author has a new memoir out called "Half Full". The sense I get is that it makes the case for rejecting an optimistic viewpoint. It's standard issue to read unabashed accounts of how a budding philosopher has found a way to inject the brightness into an otherwise bleak existence. Readers may have a difficult time embracing the light, and critics may rally against the cheesy aesthetic that often accompanies such screeds, but it's rare anymore to hear an active reproach of positivity and its possible benefits for those that embrace it.

What makes Rakoff's take palatable is his civility. Obviously the man has a litany of worthwhile complaints. In his own words, he was born quite "diminutive". He's also gay. These qualities together made him the butt of many an adolescent joke. And he has also suffered recurring bouts of cancer- events that have been enough to (understandably) sour the lives of many throughout history. Yet somehow Rakoff comes off less as a whiny malcontent than can reasonably be expected. And he does it all without embracing religion. That's truly remarkable nowadays.

There's definitely something to be said for being fully engaged in the process of living, no matter what the universe provides you. Rakoff seems equally unimpressed by the benefits he has received throughout his life as he is unperturbed by the things that would serve to plow under most of us. Yet the thing I am most impressed by is that he seems to hold his beliefs without being an overt misanthrope. He actually sounds like a nice guy. I actually think that Rakoff would be an entertaining dinner guest. Sure he might focus on the negative... but maybe he'd manage to make it seem not half bad.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 9/24-25/10.

I certainly could be forgiven for eschewing my semi-regular posting of weekend events this go 'round. It's the end of the month, and truthfully... I'm not overly excited about anything in the listings. These posts take time anyway, and sometimes I wonder if anyone even considers checking them out when they are making plans. Sometimes this feels like screaming into a vaccuum. But I guess anyone who has ever kept a blog for more than a week has similar stories, so I'll quit whining before I expose myself as a 'net cliché.


I'll make an admission right off the bat- I've never attended an art crawl in Sewickley. I've considered it, but I've never made it an actual priority. Most of the time this swell little community schedules its events to coincide with "first friday", so it loses out to Unblurred. Now it's seasonal so I have no excuse besides the time it takes to get there from my house. I'm not going to provide a detailed rundown (that would make no sense because I don't know any details from personal experience), but Pittsburgh Art Blog has posted the schedule HERE.


The Andy Warhol Museum is sponsoring a field trip to Braddock! "Library Pop!" runs from 1-4PM, and offers a celebration of the Braddock Carnegie Libary (419 Library Street) that includes printmaking projects, an unveiling of some special Warhol wallpaper, and free food. Plus you'll finally have the opportunity to explore this wonderful historical building. The last time I saw the palce was at one of the very last Flux events several years ago. I don't know what condition the place is in nowadays... but I'm curious to find out how this local treasure is faring.

The second annual Pittsburgh Small Press Festival and Two-Day Expo will happen Saturday and Sunday (from 12-5PM) at Artists Image Resource (518 Foreland Street on the North Side). There will be vendors (books and food), literary word games, workshops, and free stuff for th efirst 500 attendees. Check it out. Who knows what else you'll find?

What I can tell you for certain is that opening receptions at the Michael Berger Gallery (30th South Sixth Street, South Side) are always worth the visit. The work is often stuff that wouldn't look out of place in a major international art museum. Recently the gallery seems to have a direct line to some of the best contemporary art from Asia I've ever seen. Check out Naijun Zhang: The Examiner and Heidi Taillefer from 4-6Pm. I hardly think you'll be disappointed.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dan Simmons, "The Terror".

c. David Grim (taken 8/6/10)

I make it a point to avoid most mainstream culture because, in my experience, it hews too closely to expectations that I find cliché and uninspiring. It just so happens that the average US citizen yearns for the comfort of formula. If (s)he can't place what (s)he is consuming into a previously defined category, (s)he is ill at ease. While I find that lamentable, I've now lived long enough not to let my desires for something different cloud my judgment about what is popular.

So when I see a book that is advertised as a "National Bestseller", I tend to discount it out of hand. I'm sure that means that I miss some of the quality exceptions, but there is only so much time within one single life, and there is so much to choose from that it would be silly not to establish some parameters. Still, once in while the buzz seems to suggest that something has made it through to the masses that is actually a quality read. I got that feeling reading reviews for Dan Simmon's "The Terror".

"The Terror" is a historical fiction account of a doomed arctic expedition in the mid 19th century. Several missteps cause two great wooden steamships to be trapped in the ice for a period of years. The tale of how the crew finds itself in increasing discomfort and danger is described in picturesque detail, and builds to a genuinely menacing denouncement. Despite being written entirely in the 3rd person, different chapters focus on the thoughts and perspectives of various crew members... notably a few of the expedition's lead officers and a surgeon. This technique keeps things moving and heightens the tension and mystique about the events in the story.

The sailors in Simmons' retelling of the stranding of the Franklin Expedition are put through the wringer, and their trials and tribulations are described in sometimes excruciating detail. Have you ever wondered what happens to the human body when afflicted with scurvy? To hear Simmons tell it, it's pretty damned disgusting. Starvation, mutiny, cold, and boredom all present challenges that are fairly fascinating. But remember the title of the book (SPOILER ALERT) - there is a monster stalking the crew upon the frozen wastelands, along with Eskimos that have some sort of weird relationship to "the thing" on the ice.

No doubt the true account of the Franklin Expedition would have been absorbing enough. The addition of a supernatural presence truly put this reader on edge. At least at first, until the author revealed more about the monster. I prefer my horror to lurk on the edge of consciousness, and Simmons achieves this for hundreds of pages. But by page 700 or so, I'm about done with the whole Eskimo folktale angle. Unfortunately that's what it all comes down to. The story of one officer "going native" ends up preoccupying Simmons at the story's conclusion. I could have done without that particular trajectory.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Technology and Imaging the Past.

c. David Grim (taken 6/22/09)

Taking a drive alongside one of the rivers in Pittsburgh, it suddenly struck me that a lot of the manufacturing and industry of the region was located right alongside the water. With just a hint of reflection, this shouldn't be any great surprise. A lot of the railroad tracks also skirt the banks, and it makes sense to have easy access to the boats that can haul a lot of the heavy materials required for industrial processes.

It is a bit difficult, however, to imagine what this all must have looked like when it was active. There was a time several decades ago when the buzz on the shorelines would have been palpable. Of course it would all be obscured by a sheen of pollution, but that would certainly reinforce its reality.

As someone that has made it a point to shoot lots of photography in the area, it's interesting to imagine traveling back in time to see those sights. But the funny thing is that when I do so, I tend to create a mental picture that displays the scenes through the technology of the time.

If I try to recreate how these crumbling buildings looked when they were new, I generally do it in black-and-white. I realize how silly this is, but I find it virtually unavoidable. After all, they were built before color photography. All of the footage and stills from that time used processes that are now obsolete. Strangely, if I picture how Pittsburgh looked around the time of the Civil War- I see it in sepia tones.

Similarly, documentation from the sixties and seventies is now washed out from aging. In my reformation of how things looked at that time, it's all colored that way. The 80's and early 90's saw the development of digital technology, but in its incipient form it had a pixellated quality. Not surprisingly, that's how that era appears in my mind.

All of this makes me think about how today is going to look in people's minds fifty years from now. Resolutions, inks, and printing techniques have made images clearer and more distinct. Will modern times be rendered boldly and without distortion? If so, it will fundamentally alter our conceptions of the "past".

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Quiet Evening.

c. David Grim (taken 8/6/10)

With an extremely busy week ahead of me, I figured I'd go out Saturday night and take in the sights. As always, I went through the local channels to find out what was available in the form of weekend entertainment. It usually takes me the better part of an hour to sort through the offerings. I check the local newspaper's events, the alternative newsweekly, my friend Rick's blog, and thisishappening (although that site seems to feature less listings over the past year or so). I'm not much interested in music or sports events, so that narrows the search dramatically.

Although there were a few things happening in the city's art scene last night, nothing was so compelling that I couldn't miss it. I was mildly tempted to go to an opening at Unsmoke Systems, but Braddock is a neighborhood that is such a pain to drive to (even though, as the crow flies, it's really not that far away) that I just ended up taking a pass. I went up to Lili Coffee*Shop instead, and got my standard iced Americano with caramel syrup.

On Friday night, the owners of the shop coordinated an impromptu barbecue to honor PARKing Day. They were grilling up burgers and sausages and there was a flatbed on Dobson with bands performing out in the open air. It was a festive atmosphere, even if I did arrive too late for the free food. So I guess I wasn't that surprised (or disheartened) to find the place completely empty the next night. In fact, I was selfishly pleased to have it all to myself. Rob was slinging coffee, and he had a chance to sit down and chat for awhile.

Usually I am only at Lili during the day, so it was novel to see the place all clean and lit up at night, with the streetlights outside shining through the high, expansive windows. The slats of the original hard wood floor were gorgeous in their beat-up grace. The chairs and tables looked elegantly old-fashioned, and the old-timey instrumentals playing quietly in the background enhanced the out-of-time ambiance which I was gloatingly soaking in. I kept hoping that no one would come in to break the spell, and I wasn't disappointed.

I really felt like I could be in another city, having stumbled on a quiet, pleasant spot to spend a couple of unhurried hours. Once again, I recommend you stop in for a bit... this time at night.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pittsburgh Art Events: 9/17-18/10.

c. David Grim (8/6/10)


It seems like a couple of downtown art venues are getting a head start on the seasonal art crawl by rolling out their shows now. The 707/709 Gallery (Penn Avenue) has a collection of work by a number of artists inspired by text. Naturally the exhibition is called "TXT", and the accompanying reception begins at 6PM. And Future Tenant (819 Penn) has its own opening for "Eat Me", a group show put together by the former curator of Fe Gallery, Jill Larson. This too seems to have assumed a more literally descriptive title to suggest its content. Apparently the participants are somehow concerned with "exploring food, art, and desire." Who said that all artists have to be enigmatic?

Meanwhile a new venue on the North Side (605 East Ohio St.) called "Keep the Change Shop" appears to be offering a selection of stuff by Janet Pazzynski. I can't find much info about the place (or the artist) online, so a visit in person seems to be in order (from 6-9PM).

And PARK(ing) Day Pittsburgh is Friday, so metered spaces throughout the city will be transformed into temporary public parks. This annual global event was initiated in San Francisco, and has spread as a non-commercial celebration of imagination and creativity within the temporarily appropriated commons. For a full listing of participants, check out the local site or Pittsburgh Art Blog's write-up.


Persad's Red Tag Studio Sale will be held at Imagebox (4933 Penn) from 6-10PM. It benefits the counseling center for the region's gay, lesbian, bi and transgendered community. Show up, drink some wine, and put a bid on some quality art to help those in need.

Over in Braddock, Unsmoke Systems is hosting an opening for "Fool's Gold", which includes some rather involved works representing collaborations between five different artists (Agnes Bolt, Julie Leidner, Daniel Luchman, Jennifer Myers & Michelle Gratacos-Arill). If you want to see it, you have to make your way there between 8-11PM.

Also, if you want to take a short drive away from the city to Lower Burrell... you can go see "Open Call" at the Artform Gallery and Tattoo (2603 Leechburg Road). The opening for the show (for which i can find no details whatsoever) runs from 6-11PM.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Literature of Male Aging.

c. David Grim (taken 4/4/10)

A couple of days ago I finished my reading of Richard Ford's "Independence Day", an installment in a trilogy concerning a middle-aged man named Frank Bascombe. Ford's book won the Pulitzer Prize- a fact that helped me finally overcome my resistance to reading his work. The author just didn't seem to jive with my interests. He'd written about (and actually been) a sports writer, and set much of his output in the suburbs. It wasn't so much that I believed that Ford had nothing valuable to say, but rather that I had plenty of other stuff on my list that demanded my attention. Eventually I found a copy of "Independence Day" on a shelf at Half-Priced Books for a dollar, and that circumstance pretty much ensured that I would get around to working my way through it.

The timing of all of this makes more sense in retrospect. Bascombe may be a wealthy man listlessly making his way through his 40's in a second career in real estate, but he does share a few commonalities with my life. He lives in New Jersey, which is an environment very close to (and with much in common with) the area in which I was raised. And he is divorced from his wife, and trying to forge a relationship with his teenaged son.

While my own son is not even three years old yet, I can anticipate negotiating some of the same types of issues that Frank Bascombe must contend with. How does a father contribute to the growth of his offspring if he lives separate from them? What arrangements work best in forging a parenting partnership with someone one was once intimately involved with, but who now exists as a virtual stranger? And how does a man in the second half of his life find satisfaction through a career that he may be stuck with, while balancing his energies in such a way that he can pursue meaningful relationships outside of it?

It's too easy to be cynical when one realizes his major life decisions have yielded less than the desired results. And at the gateway to middle age, there's a risk of becoming seriously disheartened at the prospect of several decades of steady decline. We live in a culture that's obsessed with youth and its possibilities. Perhaps it is too easy to fall into the traps of self-pity and regret, even if one can count achievements in a reckoning of the past. How do we avoid a weary resignation and/or the malaise that accompanies a close analysis of ones's own record of action?

While Ford (and his proxy Bascombe) may actively be searching for some answers, this reader was largely left discouraged by his conclusions. That's not an indictment of the author's style or ability, but IS an indication that I'll likely avoid delving further into his work. Ford is a bit too disjointed for me to overlook his flippant despair. Maybe if he was as funny as Richard Russo, I'd feel different. But I don't think I'll be returning to this particular emotional well.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.

c. David Grim (taken 8/28/10)

If you've ever watched Abel Ferrara's 1992 feature "Bad Lieutenant", you'd likely agree that a re-make would be silly, and a sequel gratuitous. If you came across a DVD case advertising "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" that featured Nicholas Cage and Eva Mendes on the cover, there's a good chance you'd probably assume that it was unnecessary hackery... and continue your search for some foreign art house or indie title. Or alternatively you might assume that an action-packed night with such a cast met your requirements for thoughtless entertainment. You'd be wrong to base your actions on any of these preconceptions.

Against all proper expectations, one of the world's greatest living film directors made "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans". Werner Herzog has made some of the most challenging and high-concept films of the last half-century. Indeed he has built a reputation employing the most intense actors (such as the infamous Klaus Kinski), and achieving the most incredible cinematic feats (such as building an apparatus to carry a steamship over a tropical mountain). Why would he muss about with the legend of a B-movie cult hit centered around the hammy performance of a barely-contained Harvey Keitel? I guess the best answer to that is that old chestnut- Because He Can!

Sure, Herzog does concern himself with matters of great import. Man vs. nature, obsession, delusions of grandeur, and something called "ecstatic truth". But that doesn't mean that he can't do it with an American cast and setting (including such luminaries as Brad Dourif, Michael Shannon, Val Kilmer, and Shea Whigham) . In fact, the post-Katrina landscape makes sense as a Herzog locale. And the increasingly disconnected Cage seems an obvious choice for a Herzog "protagonist". Ultimately the story of a cop becoming increasingly unhinged and singlemindedly pursuing his goals without concern for conventional morality or methods is absolutely within the purview of this distinguished auteur. Just have a look at his earlier films for the proper context.

But what is surprising about Herzog's depiction of a man unravelling is the eventual outcome. As modern day movie-watchers we have been trained to expect a specific set of consequences when a character's decisions become more and more erratic. Herzog has never shied away from thwarting expectations. The awful beauty of his cinematic choices delivers exactly what we might seek when we choose to watch one of his films. Yet we are never on firm ground when we assume that we can anticipate the destination. That's what makes viewing a Herzog product so damned scintillating. And this one is certainly no exception.

Monday, September 13, 2010


c. David Grim (taken 8/6/10)

On Thursday evening I drove out to Bellevue to have a look at a book sale at a small community library. It was $5 to get in for a sneak preview, and when I arrived there fifteen minutes early there were already several people lined up waiting to get in. They were all almost identical- out-of-shape and looking older than they probably were, and either marginally or "self-employed". And they seemed to know each other, as the banter they were exchanging featured their first names. Each one of them had a large tote bag (or empty box) and a portable bar-code scanner.

I've mentioned previously how much I resent having to compete with these "semi-professionals" for treasures. I'm not particularly looking for items to resell, but rather just trying to add to my "to-read" pile. And these jokers rush in with their flaccid bulk and block my access to the non-fiction table almost immediately. I guess that's where the best prospects for profit lie. Who would have thunk it?

One thing I did get first crack at was the kids' section, which I guess is fortuitous because I am indeed looking to supplement little E.'s library. I got a bunch of older classics and a Blue's Clues DVD (and I must note that Steve and his little cartoon friend get annoying a lot more quickly than a lot of my son's other favorites). I had a few words with a fellow traveler who was looking for reading material for her mixed-gendered pair of whelps. Not surprisingly my tastes ran to the strange when compared to hers, so we weren't fighting over our selections.

Ultimately I withdrew with armfuls of books that justified the early admission fee. I spent ten bucks total, and scanning over my finds I knew I got my money's worth. And I still had the weekend and a neighborhood sale in the misleadingly titled Edgewood Acres housing plan (it's actually in Forest Hills, if you ever have call to visit). It was a good diverting early start to a weekend I hoped would distract me from my troubles. In retrospect, I guess it served that function adequately.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pittsburgh Art Events: 9/10-11/10.

c. David Grim (taken 8/6/10)


It's turnover time at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and that means there are several new galleries worth of material to check out. The highlight of this cycle is a collection of work by Maxo Vanko, the internationally-famous Croatian muralist who created some amazing imagery in the first half of the Twentieth Century. Perhaps you've been to St. Nicholas Church in Millvale to see his stuff there? I recommend the trip. Also, while you are over at PCA... you can see five other exhibitions, including the latest Group A show, and Context Ingeminate- presented by the Philadelphia-based Center for Emerging Visual Artists. It all gets underway at 5:30, and costs $5.

Society for Contemporary Craft (2100 Smallman St., Strip District) is opening DIY: A Revolution in Handicrafts. English-speaking artists from three different countries weigh in on issues like politics, environmentalism, community and a redefining of a producer/consumer relationship. This runs from 5:30-8PM.

At the Spinning Plate Artist Lofts (5720 Friendship Ave.), you can find glass work by Jason Forck from 6-9PM... and something called Stevo's Studio in Squirrel Hill (corner of Forward and Murray) is listing an opening for "three artists from vastly different walks of life" (7-11PM).


If you are interested in discovering the state of abstract photography in the modern age, head over to Silver Eye Center for Photography (1015 Carson Street) for "Spectra: New Abstract Photography". The show is guest curated by Lisa Kurzner, a photo historian based in Cleveland, Ohio. The reception runs from 6:30-8:30PM.

There's also an opening (6-9PM) for Michael Walter's "Man and Nature" at the Panza Gallery (115 Sedgwick St.). His paintings give the viewer much to ruminate on.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Shirley Jackson and a sense of "dis-ease".

c. David Grim (8/28/10)

Do you remember the short story, "The Lottery"? You probably had to read it in school. Written by American author Shirley Jackson, it concerns a village of approximately 300 inhabitants that gathers once a year in the town square to randomly select one of its members for a truly special fate. For most of its length, the reader gets a glimpse of what the process entails without any knowledge of the ultimate purpose of the lottery. People mill about and engage in the typical small talk that one associates with the "small-town" milieu. Everyone knows each other, and passively engages in a tradition without really questioning whether or not its function is still appropriate in the modern age.

I just finished reading a collection of Jackson's short stories that I picked up based upon my memory of reading "The Lottery". Some years ago I had a dream to which I (perhaps mistakenly) attributed the inspiration of this tale. In my vision, a pack of semi-feral children were pursuing me through a placid little villa. I had been chosen to be the prey, and I desperately tried to escape whatever ugly fate awaited me. The feeling of being singled out and chased for some unidentifiable reason was palpable. Truth be told, I guess I have that sensation more often than I care to admit... especially when I am well outside my element (i.e. away from the city).

While I expected there to be more outright horror in Jackson's oeuvre, I was struck by the subtle tones of unsettled existence running through most of her stories. There is a seeming preoccupation with being observed by one's neighbors and found wanting. Her characters are obsessed by the feeling that they themselves are the aliens, and once identified, they will be ostracized from the communities they live in... or perhaps they are in for a far worse fate than that. There is the sense that they could be torn to pieces gradually without realizing that it is happening... until there is no longer any possibility of escape. Somehow this image resonates with me right now. It's strange just how often what we read seems to uncannily mirror our internal states. Do you suppose we come about this eerie sympathy with the external through some unconscious process?


c. David Grim (taken 8/6/10)

There's no getting around the fact that general perspective and attitude affect mood. Or maybe it works in reverse. I guess it's a chicken-and-egg situation. Either way, once depression sets in, it's difficult to find your way out. And it doesn't help that hassles are virtually omnipresent in our environment. For reasons I'd really rather not get into on this blog, I feel like I'm walking around with a dark cloud in my head. It's obscuring my ability to see any kind of positivity, or have any real hope for the future. I know it defies reason, but perhaps that's the whole point.

The truth is that if I force myself into an objective stance, it's not hard to see that my problems are really kind of minor compared to most everyone else on earth. I live in a nation that is extremely self-indulgent, and of course I benefit from that posture all the time. We take more than our share of pleasures and are offered a disproportionate amount of protection. And within my country, my income level falls into the "above average" category. That means that my standard of living (assessed by a common and consensual measurement) is better than at least 50% of the population, even here in the US. So many folks would be glad to trade their lot in life for mine. What right do I have to be unhappy?

Unfortunately that's not the way it works. You can't just work out the numbers and decide to be content (or discontent) based upon where you come out on the distribution curve. Maybe that's a shame, or perhaps we are fortunate that's the case. What if there was no way to NOT be depressed if we weren't blessed in comparison to others? It would certainly alter the entire dialog about how we organize society. We'd definitely have to rethink our concepts of social justice. Imagine that.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Smethport, PA.

c. David Grim (taken 8/6/10)

I really wish that I would have found the time to blog about my trip to Smethport, PA while it was still super-fresh in my mind. There are plenty of details that I am certain will already have been edged out of my conscious memory. It's a shame certainly, but there is nothing to be done but accept the fact and move forward.

GF and I ended up in this little town in central Northern PA mostly by happenstance. I did plenty of research into regional bed and breakfasts over the last year and a half, and so when I realized I could get outside the 'Burgh for a bit, it was simply a matter of revisiting some of the sites for accommodations that looked intriguing. We ended up agreeing on THIS. It had something to do with how the shots representing the place on the web resonated with my personal aesthetic. And it had something else to do with the fact that they had a two-person jacuzzi and were offering two nights at a very reasonable price. When we arrived there after a leisurely summer drive we realized immediately that we had been right to choose Mansion District Inn.

Upon entering the house, it's eminently clear that the proprietors have some serious interests in design and history. There are works of art and fascinating antiques everywhere on the ground floor. The impression of having entered a personal museum is palpable. And the vast amount of visual stimulation on display represents the collective obsessions of Ross and Jovanna Porter, who transformed their residence into a B & B about a year-and-a-half ago.

If the decor is fascinating, it's only a prelude to the magic and mystery encased in the minds of the Porters. Ross is the mayor of Smethport, and he and his wife are both retired public school teachers. In fact, while in Wisconsin three decades ago, Ross put together a grant-funded program introducing green technology and sensibilities to his students. And now he's trying to get a bio-mass plant started to power his town. That is, whenever he is not doing one of his many alternate activities- like designing a board game, restoring sculptures, or adding to (what I believe is probably) the largest municipal historical website in existence.

All of this and the grandeur of the "Pennsylvania Wilds" adds value to what can easily be a weekend trip away from our fair city. And that's not to mention the sight of crazy devastation that the ruins of the nearby Kinzua Bridge presents, or the stories to be unearthed at the McKean County Historical Society and Old Jail Museum. Sometimes the most worthwhile destinations are in locations that you would never even think to visit.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

And yet another excuse-making opportunity...

c. David Grim (taken 8/29/10)

Sometimes the clichés that we learn when we are young become more and more problematic as we age. For example, I remember receiving the impression as a teen that internal conflict and strife are necessary stimuli for creating quality art. While this idea may hold a kernel of truth at its very core, I think it's important to point out that individuals within our reality are NEVER completely free of trouble beneath the surface. Therefore the belief that we need to be specifically challenged by emotional tumult seems rather gratuitous.

Furthermore, I would submit that a certain level of stability and peace is absolutely necessary to find the commitment and focus to actually sit down and create something. I know that I'm never quite so productive as when I can establish the healthy patterns in my life that enable me to put aside the time to work on the things I am passionate about. Too often the exigencies of day-to-day life preclude me from mustering the requisite energy to pursue my muse.

Look, I don't want to come across as a whiner... but the last six weeks (or so) have been trying in ways that I haven't experienced in some time. So this is yet ANOTHER post explaining why I have been so inactive here on the Crown. I always seem to be one challenge overburdened, and thus incapable of contributing here. That sucks- particularly because my July show created a momentum I could have better exploited had I been able to keep my shit together. I'm not making any promises, but I'd really like to get back to the joys of pure creation.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pittsburgh Art Events: 9/3-4/10


I realize that this post may come a little too late for you to incorporate the information into your weekend plans, but I thought I'd give it a shot anyhow. September Unblurred should be worth attending, so it would be a shame if I let it come and go unmentioned.

Sam Thorp and Eric Luden will be on display at Most Wanted Fine Art (5015 Penn). If past shows are any indication, there should be images of smokin' babes rendered in clean lines and vibrant colors. And Dean Cercone has been popping up around town with his announcements of a solo at Garfield Artworks (4931 Penn). Not only is this wunderkind mightily prolific, but he is also consistently entertaining. Of course that means that having a look-see is mandatory.

Meanwhile Crystala Armagost and Ashley Andrykovitch are sharing their sense of loss with the opening of "Deaf and Death" at Modern Formations (4919 Penn). Anyone who has caught rumors lately of this much-esteemed venue's closing over the last few months will be more than excited by the prospect of a new show. Make sure that you stop by to let Jen Q. know how much you appreciate all her efforts.

The proprietors of Boxheart and Moxie Dada are once again bringing Mox Box to Penn Avenue with a party at the Glass Lofts (5491 Penn). The folks have focused their energies toward directing local artwork to interior designers, corporate offices, and home-makers... and the results are on display for you to walk through.

Check out the Pittsburgh Beautification Project's garage (4810 Penn Ave), and participate in the making of cooperative public art to benefit the Kullu Valley Bike Project, which is raising funds for a bike shop run by children in orphanages in India. Get on one of the bipedal machines provided, and spread paint on to large sheets of paper. The results will be cut up and sold via auction at the Shadow Lounge in October.

And I realize that one doesn't usually consider Bloomfield as within the purview of Unblurred, but apparently Tattoo Noir (4514 Liberty) is piggy-backing on the event. Kati Zmenkowski and Michael Galone are sharing their ink-inspired works there from 7-9PM.


Come by Zombo Gallery (4900 Hatfield St., Lawrenceville) for the second night of a weekend-only show featuring custom-made vinyl toys, curated by Nat Chamberlin and Brian "Bullets" Holton. There are 23 participating artists, and DJ Keebs will be on hand providing musical accompaniment.