Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 8/5-6/11.

c. David Grim (taken 7/9/11)


This month's Unblurred features an installation of found material art by Rust Belt insiders Joseph Close, Ron Copeland, Dana Depew, and Dave Desimone. They are at assemble (5125 Penn Ave). Gina Favano has "mixed media" work at the Irma Freeman Center (5006 Penn), and Garfield Artworks (4931 Penn) hosts VOLUTION IN ARTS XIV with Adia, Dennis Warner, Jesse Harris, Bradley Sizemore, Caroline Cratsley, and Tobi Makinde. Also check out ink drawings by Rebecca Spitler at Imagebox (4933 Penn) and "new work" by Greg Kamerdze at Mr. Roboto's rapidly developing new space (5106 Penn).

The Brew House (2100 Mary Street) in the South Side is shaking things up with a retrospective of Cuban-based artist Jorge Luis Santana. There's a little bit of everything to see including installations, videos, paintings and photographs. That gets underway at 6PM.


Go learn about the "Lost Pittsburgh School" in Braddock at Unsmoke Systems Artspace (1137 Braddock Avenue), starting at 7PM. No... I've never heard of it before either. Apparently it was a local movement in the 70's featuring the work of creators Joseph Barkoczi, Gil Dugita and Wilem Smithammer, who focused on Earthworks and other conceptual outdoor art. Show up and hear noted author Stewart O'Nan pontificate on what it all meant.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 7/15-17/11.

c. David Grim (taken 6/21/11)

The seasonal Downtown Art Crawl has come around again, and I don't see any rain in the forecast. That gives me reason to believe it's going to be crowded.


Robert Raczka is "guest-curating" Drawn in a Day at Space Gallery. For this, Raczka has chosen 12 artists (or teams of same) to create works directly on the walls, right through the opening reception. With the crowds that these crawls attract, this has the potential to get a bit chaotic.

Garfield staple Jason Sauer is poised to roll out new work at 929 Liberty Avenue. The promotional notice I've read says that instead of demolition car parts, Jason has used bicycles to make this latest batch of mixed media works. It's being put together by the Moxie Dada folks, and it's good to see them active once again in the local scene.

Meanwhile the August Wilson Center for African American Culture has print works by dead local hero Romare Bearden and Wood Street Galleries has a collection of work by Icelandic artists. Stephanie Armbruster's paintings are at the 709 Penn Gallery. Plus you can still catch the journalistic work of one-time Pittsburgh Press photographer Alan F. Reiland (1927-96) at the Shaw Galleries (805 Liberty Ave.).

In Lawrenceville at Wildcard (4209 Butler St.), you can visit the opening reception for Insert Coin To Play: Pinball Life (6-9pm). A new neighborhood-themed pinball machine created by Andy Scott will anchor the display of a collection of pinball-themed art. There's supposed to be some kind of tournament too. Proceeds (improbably) benefit Bike Pittsburgh.

Y'now, last time they came around I missed the Pretty Things Peep Show at the Rex Theater. My general aversion to all things South Side kicked in, and I couldn't bring myself to make the trip on a Friday evening... when things in that part of town get as close to unbearable as seems possible. Still this tempts me, especially when I look at these... Anyway, it starts at 9PM and costs $15 to attend. And if you make the effort to brave Carson Street, stop in at the Brew House (2100 Mary Street) too for the opening (7PM) of a show by Jorge Luis Santana.

Or if you love birds (which I don't), go to the Mattress Factory for the "Stray Birds Sunset Full Moon Performance", with "bird musician" Michael Pestel and Butoh dancer Taketeru Kudo. It's almost guaranteed to be better and less silly than it sounds. Or it could be gruelingly pretentious. That would be a shame. I don't know when it starts because the listing I saw omitted that crucial info.

And then, of course, there's always Braddock... with its shabby-chic art offerings. A collective called BrokenDayton Art Machine appears at Unsmoke Systems. Nicholaus Arnold, Ian Breidenbach and Ashley Jonas are included, and the group plans to bury a time capsule at the closing, to be held on July 22... and if you go, you're supposed to bring something to put in there. The Opening Reception is this Friday from 6-10PM.


Stop by at Lili Cafe in Polish Hill (3138 Dobson Street) for a rare late night (6-8PM) at the shop, and a reception for "Low Key", featuring the works of a talented pair of local artists, Victoria Cessna and Laura Jean McLaughlin.


The Polish Hill Arts festival begins at NOON. There will be authentic Polish food, kids activities, artist tables, and bands... this year they include Timbeleeza (Brazillian samba drumming), The Panther Hollow String Band (old-timey country), Bridgette Perdue (singer-songwriter), Lungs Face Feet (Cumbrian-influenced brass band), FOOD (rock), and Moldies and Monsters (oldies covers).

And if you have the time, you should stop by at Morose & Macabre's House of Oddities and Miss Hush Present: The Return Of Subculture Vulture Counterculture Flea Market (Whew!). This event runs from 2-10PM at 4013 Butler Street. Its organizers are advertising "New & Used clothing and wares, art, crafts, and food from the underground". Plus there will be DJ's.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Fair Play

c. David Grim (taken 7/4/11)

I don't have any specific overnight trips on my itinerary this summer, I've certainly made the effort to make the most of my leisure time. Yesterday I made my second visit to the Big Butler Fair in two days. Advertised as the largest in Western Pennsylvania, the fair provides an assortment of traditional offerings.

I really wanted my son to experience this phenomenon before it's gone forever. Certainly these shindigs are still well-attended, but in this fast-changing world nothing is a certainty. Kids today seem much more interested in playing video games online against their friends than milling about the fairgrounds on the edge of town. And I do think that E. enjoyed himself. In the petting zoo, he'd run up and touch the animals and shrink back. I don't think that he particularly loves animals, but he does like to challenge himself.

He also likes the duck pond, pizza, and ice cream, and he sampled all of those. But I hope the highlight of his trip (besides riding on Daddy's shoulders, of course) was the sideshow. I was "shocked and amazed" to find this attraction off the midway, with its large banners advertising the wonders inside the tent. There was a bally platform, a talker, and a gathering tip. Awesome!- even more so because it was unexpected. This show is owned by Ward Hall, and is one of the last traveling side shows in the United States. I was positively pleased to discover it so close to home.

Upon entrance, the onlooker encounters a series of museum style cases (looking a bit rough from the road, no doubt) with wax mock-ups of some of the coolest human oddities ever displayed- Grace McDaniels the "Mule-faced woman", Percilla the Monkey Girl, Johnny Eck, and (of course) John Merrick. There was also an assortment of furry-friend freaks including an array of two-headed mammals.

Obviously the main draw would be the performing acts, of which there were a number of in this particular grind show. The fire-eating hottie, the "elderly" sword swallower clad in a kilt, and the buxom broad with a bullwhip were all featured. It was good wholesome fun for me and my son. And the BEST part of all? They let me take LOTS of pictures, and even catered their performances to my camera. You just can't ask for that type of individualized attention from a Playstation (OK... well maybe that's not quite accurate, but you know what I mean).

Finally there wasn't just one, BUT TWO (!) Bozos to knock into their tanks. One was apparently on the AAA circuit, but the provocateur just inside the entrance of the West Gate (where we entered) was definitely a professional. He was more low-key than the one I saw as a kid (and the one Gary Busey seemed to model in Carny), but he had a great goofy little laugh, and a bit more edge than the young guy down the midway.

I enjoyed everything so much with E. that I felt compelled to return the next day with a friend for the Demolition Derby. While seating was less than desirable in the hot sun, it was an essential piece of Americana not to be missed and I wouldn't have been able to resist its pull, even if I had meant to.

Friday, July 1, 2011

My Day Among the "Madding Crowds".

c. David Grim (taken 6/26/11)

Even though I have little to no interest in baseball, my friends recently talked me into going to a Pirates game. I grew up with a father and brother that venerated sports, and I spent time collecting baseball cards and following the exploits of my favorite players. But after college I lost any interest in spectator sports that I had once had. Although I'm generally aware of updates to The Philadelphia Flyers (hockey), I find watching the stuff tiresome.

But my friends were going to PNC park with "Standing Room Only" tickets. This prospect appealed to me because I'd get the chance to walk around and explore the stadium with my camera. And the added benefit of this option was the price ($12 after fees). For awhile I tried to help claim the space in front of a rail in Section 130 with my physical presence, but I got bored and didn't really want to watch the game. I took a few action shots of the players and moved on in search of interesting ballpark food. Good luck with that.

There are lots of concessions throughout the stadium, but most of them offer conventional fare that you'd expect, and thus it's not very enticing. I selected one of the contenders for the "hometown sandwich"-- pulled pork on a roll with two boiled pierogies situated on top. There was some brown substance adhering to the top bun in the hands of the consumer in front of me, and I requested mine without the mystery sauce (I later found out it was a "mushroom marmalade", and discovered that I'm not nearly as adventurous as I believe myself to be).

I spent more than an hour wandering around snapping photos. The crowd was extremely homogenous- white, suburban, and wearing the trappings of athletic activity. When I got tired I sat out in an open air concrete section with picnic tables overlooking the river and the bike path that runs along the north bank of the Allegheny. The lax security guy (middle aged and slumped) was keeping an eye on me. I guess it's not so common to see a man sitting out there taking the sun alone.

My friends wanted to stay until the last pitch was thrown. I prayed to avoid extra innings (Ok... that's an exaggeration- I don't pray, I beseech the fates). And then it was over and things were as they should be. I was walking in the city with the anticipation of seeing my shots from the day, and enjoying being away from the madding crowds.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 7/1-2/11.

c. David Grim (taken 6/29/11)

I completely forgot that June only had 30 days. Did I ever really know that? Anyway, Unblurred pops up abruptly this weekend.


Ariela Steif apparently makes large sculptures which she will unveil at Garfield Artworks (4931 Penn Avenue), along with her drawings. Meanwhile Ashley Andrykovitch returns to the walk at Imagebox with a new series of paintings. And it looks like the figures in her work have sprouted flesh! Tommy Bones appears at Studio 5013 (you can figure out the address for this venue). Seth Liebowitz (proprietor of Artform Tattoo and Gallery in Lower Burrell) and Katie Moran come together for a show at Most Wanted Fine Art (5015 PENN).

Eat food, get a drink, do yoga, take a dance class, etc. Unblurred has it all.

And the latest feature at "Blurred" (Dean Cercone's inversion of First Friday) is Seth LeDonne. You don't have to wander far from the other galleries to visit, either. The space is located at 4810 Penn.


Full disclosure requires that I disclose my revulsion for the Three Rivers Regatta and its crowds. BUT I'm a bit tormented by the fact that there are indeed a couple of attractions this year which interest me (and no, the inevitably lame Jimmy Buffett cover band is not among them). This year "World Champion Sand Sculptor" Thomas Koet is creating a mystery work, AND a small acrobatic troupe (Circus Orange) from Canada will be appearing. Of course these enticements don't make up for the lost bastion at the point... but I try to support any form of creative public amusement, especially when it's a bit odd.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

2011 Pittsburgh Biennial.

The big event this weekend is the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts Biennial. In addition to its main location (Shady and Fifth Avenue), additional work will be presented at the Carnegie Museum of Art (reception June 16), Pittburgh Filmmakers, The Warhol (reception Sept. 17) , and the Miller Gallery (CMU, reception Sept. 16).The opening reception at the PCA runs this Friday from 5:30 to 9PM, and Filmmakers picks it up from 8- 11PM. The curatorial staff for this is impressive- Eric Shiner, Astria Suparak, Dan Byers, and Adam Welch. The roster of artists includes Jacob Ciocci (Paper Rad), Paul LeRoy, Chris Kardambikis, Ben Hermstrom, Kim Beck and others. I'm certain it costs money.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pittsburgh Weekend Arts Events: 6/3-4/11.


It should be a nice night to stroll along Penn Avenue and take in the sights and sounds of Unblurred. The highlight of this month's event is SURE to be Modern Formations' Retrospective, featuring a selection of work from some of the many outstanding artists that have appeared at the gallery (4919 Penn)over the last ten years. They include Mike Budai, Andy Kehoe, Ben Kehoe, Rick Byerly, and Masha Vereshchenko.

David Matthews appears at Garfield Artworks with an exhibit documenting his performance art project (1995-2002) whereby he posted advertisements in which he claimed to be seeking a girlfriend. Alongside this work are a collection of his drawings called "Profitable Cute Kid".

Erick Brockmeyer and Kuan Ju are at work with low level electronbics at Assemble (5125 Penn), and Brian James Gonnella shows his paintings at ImageBox (4933 Penn). You can also see a decade of drawings by Cameron Clayton at The Shop (4312 Main Street, Bloomfield) from 7-11PM. Gabe Felice opens up the "Blurred Series" (curated by Dean Cercone) at 4810 Penn. Weekly installments follow throughout the summer. And as always, there is plenty of other stuff to discover just by showing up and walking up and down the street.

If you want to venture to another part of town, you can stop by Silver Eye (1015 East Carson Street, South Side) for their first annual Pennsylvania Photography Biennial, Keystone.1. There will be 16 photographers from all over the state participating, and the reception runs from 6:30-8:30PM. And it's FREE.

Also- check out the release (finally) of Black Forest. The Andy Warhol Museum will be officially rolling out the third collection of Unicorn Mountain artists with a bit of fanfare, as a part of their Good Friday series 96-10PM).


Gallery 4 (206 S. Highland, Shadyside) is featuring "Wunderball", an exhibition of sculpture and paintings by Anthony Purcell. The opening reception starts at 7PM.

AND don't forget the Three Rivers Arts Festival starts this weekend. I'm not going to point out any highlights... just check out their site HERE for your favorites.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 5//6-7/11.


Unblurred again, already?! Yes. Time is slipping by quickly, and another installment of the monthly art event has come. This month we have a big opening at the Glass Center (5472 Penn), where artists from all over the world are particpating in "10 x 10 x 10". And it will all be hanging "salon style". That means plenty to look at.

Over at Modern Formations (4919 Penn Ave) you can see "Smitten", featuring the work of Shar Yarnal, and "Viral" by Chad Knapik. You can see "digital illustrations" by Jordan Wong at Imagebox (4933 Penn), and a "happening" at the newest Unblurred venue- assemble (5125 Penn). Meanwhile, the Eastside Gallery (6401 Penn Ave) and Garfield Artworks (4931 Penn) both host group shows.


Fleeting Pages, Day 1 starts at 10AM and runs until 9PM. Check out this "pop-up" book store, with all the trimmings, at the former Border's Location in East Liberty. There should be events throughout the day, even if I couldn't find much online information about it.

If you feel like a bit of a drive, head out to Artform Gallery & Tattoo in Lower Burrell (2603 Leechburg Road) for "Through the Looking Glass", a "Global infusion of art & technology". Proprietor Seth Leibowitz promises that this will be a very special show, and has expanded his hours (2PM-11PM) to demonstrate that fact.

I've never been to the Jeffrey Smith Studio (3801 Butler St, Lawrenceville), but apparently the venue is hosting a show of digital landscapes by Noël Kennard from 7-10PM.

Patrick Lee's classically-styled paintings will be on display at the Panza Gallery in Millvale (115 Sedgwick Street). The reception for "Into the Light" runs from 6-9PM.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 4/29-30.


The seasonal Downtown Gallery Crawl is once again upon us. If you missed the openings at 707/709 Gallery, you can check out the exemplary work of Katherine Young and Bovey Lee. Jesse Hulcher's "Straight Outta CompUSA" is still at Space Gallery, and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council hosts the photographic work of Brian Sesack at 707 Penn. There's a show to benefit BikePGH at 805-807 Liberty (featuring the work of 30 artists) and Urbanic 3, a group show, will be at Future Tenant. Everything (and more!) gets underway at 5:30PM.

If you wonder what the kids from CMU are up to (besides Future Tenant), check out the seniors exhibition at the Miller Gallery in the Purnell Center for the Arts (5000 Forbes Avenue). The reception runs from 6-8PM.


It's time once again for Art All Night, Lawrenceville's overnight art celebration. Just like last year, it's slated to be held at the former Iron City Brewing facility at 3340 Liberty Ave. It gets underway at 4PM and stays open until 2PM Sunday. Last year 12,000 people came by to see one piece of work each by 1200 artists. If you want to participate in this "no censorship" show, you must drop off your work between 10AM and 2PM and be ready to pick up your work when everything comes down the next day.

Felicia Feaster is guest-curating at the Fe Gallery (4102 Butler St.) in Lawrenceville. "Homebound" stars artists Meg Aubrey, Anna Watson, Mary Turnipseed, Patrick Heagney, Nate Kamp and Seth Clark. The reception runs from 7-9PM.

Meanwhile, relative newcomer Gallery 4 (206 South Highland, Shadyside) keeps rolling out the openings. This week it's for "Gamma Gods", featuring the work of Jesse Best. Grab some refreshments between 7-10PM.

And Boxheart Gallery in Bloomfield just keeps plugging its way through the years. This weekend they have a reception for Jason Mann's "acrylic collage paintings". Show up between 5-8PM.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 4/15-16/11.

c. David Grim (taken 3/19/11)

It's surprising just how much stuff there is to do in the arts scene this mid-April.


Start out by going down to the Society for Contemporary Craft (2100 Smallman Street in the Strip) for Bridge 11, a collection of work by Lia Cook, Mariko Kusumoto, and Anne Drew Potter- three artists who "are creating exceptional works that express progressive and unconventional points of view around social, political and philosophical themes have been selected for the 2011 Bridge Exhibition Series." This gets underway at 5:30PM and lasts until 8PM.

And the Brew House (2100 Mary Street, South Side) has once again opened its doors to the public with the Big Urban Photo Project. This is a display of images put together by the organizers of the website The reception runs from 6-9PM.

The Michael Berger Gallery is always worth a stop, and this season they are having a show of contemporary Islamic art in America called Dis[Locating] Culture. Check out some of the amazing pieces included on their website. The reception runs from 5-7:30PM.

Meanwhile, if moving pictures is more your style, you must stop by the Warhol (8PM) for the screening of several short films from the collection of local oddball Tentatively a Convenience. I've seen a few things associated with this former acolyte of the Subgenius Church, and if the past is a guide- then you definitely won't be bored.

And finally... despite my general hesitation to ever venture downtown on a Friday night, the work of two artists I have really appreciated over the last several years will be featured at the 707/709 Penn Gallery. Bovey Lee's paper cuts are meticulously detailed and mesmerizing to stare at, and Katherine Young's finely-wrought drawings are always fantastically inspiring. The opening reception runs from 6-9PM, but if you miss it, make sure to visit during the Downtown Gallery Crawl later this month.


If you have a hankering to buy some locally-made crafty goods, you have two options. The I Made It! Market will be in the South Side Works at noon, and the David Lawrence Convention Center is hosting the Handmade Arcade.

There's a benefit for the victims of the recent events in Japan at the Mendelson Gallery in Shady Side (5874 Ellsworth Avenue). On exhibit will be a series of "Water Babies" works, inspired by a children's cemetery in Okunoin, and created by Tara Zalewsky. Show up from 4-7PM (one day only).

Artists Image Resource on the North Side (518 Foreland Street) is having a symposium, (with an accompanying exhibition) entitled Rethinking Pittsburgh's Industrial Legacy: Prints as Catalyst for Change (4:30-8PM). What's it all about? Here's their description- "The artists in this exhibit, many with ties to Western Pennsylvania, explore the ways in which industry and deindustrialization inform our sense of place and our sense of possibility."

And as if that were not enough, there is a benefit/fundraiser for the Animal Rescue League of Western PA at Modern Formations (4919 Penn Ave.). The 3rd Annual Art Auction in Memory of Cara Gasper runs from 7-10PM. Apparently cash, credit cards, and checks will be accepted, and they winners of items will be announced at 9:30PM.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 4/1-2/11.

c. David Grim (taken 3/19/11)

I almost can't believe that we've made it to another First Friday this fast. Naturally Unblurred is the focus of art-related activity this weekend, but as always during this time of the month- there is a lot to see and do.


The Geek Art/Green Innovators Festival will be held for the second time ever. One destination among many is the Union Project in Highland Park, and the open house they are holding all weekend to highlight the potential of its physical facilities. Check out their site for a full schedule of events.

The aforementioned festival is apparently a big part of Unblurred this go round. Visit the various venues up-and-down Penn to see all kinds of works and events. As far as Unblurrred is concerned, Steve Ehret has "Buried by Daisies" at Modern Formations (4919 Penn), and he is joined by assemblage artist Ron Copeland. Unfortunately I couldn't find any listings for the rest of the venues.

Meanwhile, if you find yourself downtown, stop by to see the Shaw Galleries' "Beauty-Strength-Reflection" (805 Liberty Ave.). The show features "five perspectives on the female form", and its reception runs from 5:30-9PM. And Jim Shearer is presenting his Pirates-themed work with "Opening Day: Yinz Luv 'Da Buccos", and a reception at Wildcard (4209 Butler St) from 8-10PM.


Shervin Iranshahr, an iranian-born artist born in Pittsburgh, will have a reception for his gothic realist paintings at Gallery 4 in Shadyside (206 South Highland Ave). "Demons and Deities" will start at 7PM.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Of True Sacrifice.

c. David Grim (taken 3/19/11)

Earthquakes. Tsunamis. Rioting in the streets. Oil spills. Escalating national debt. A continuing assault on the Middle Class. Welcome to 21st Century life... and the big question is how to deal with it all. If you don't already have kids, you might want to think about forgoing the pleasure. Personally I'm grateful for the my son's presence in my life. But it keeps things simpler if you don't have any dependents. Pure hedonism is only an ethical option if you have not forged close relationships that you aren't willing to sacrifice.

Apparently though, there are lots of folks willing to hunker down and look after their own at the expense of everyone else. That seems to be the predominant strategy among our nation's wealthy and corporate class. I suspect that if you could see into the minds of the people that have benefited most from the political organization of our country (and by extension, the world), you would learn that they have no hope (and really, little desire) that things can get better for the "masses". And that's just the type of impersonal outlook they have cultivated to justify their lack of concern for the plight of their fellow man.

Most of us are too busy trying to figure out how to ensure the continued existence of ourselves and our loved ones to have a choice. We don't have the option of quietly blaming the inherited system as we luxuriate among our many possessions. So many of us seek to direct our resentments and bitterness toward individuals, whether they be Wall Street manipulators, oil barons, CEO's of media conglomerates, or simply the very rich. After all it's a natural impulse to try to find the responsible parties and seek redress from them. Unfortunately the law is not on the side of the victims when the gears of society are co-opted by moneyed interests.

So here we are, post-Citizens United, and things are looking increasingly bleak. It's easy to see how the millenarians are divining the "end of the world" as they look around and see the current state of affairs. At least the faithful have the reassurance of a heaven, whatever that entails. For those without the received confidence inherent in divine intervention, our path is less clear. What we have is what we get. We have to make the best of it as we stumble along. We are minuscule in the face of large, impersonal forces, perpetuated by specific individuals who would never accept credit for the current conditions. Whatever we contribute, in the face of such adversity, is true sacrifice.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 3/25-26/11.

c. David Grim (taken 3/19/11)

Sure. You could be forgiven for hibernating at home for one more weekend. After all, it is going to be unseasonably cold. But that's just the thing- it's "unseasonable" because it is indeed officially Spring! So get into the spirit and see what the local arts scene has to offer...


The Mattress Factory has had Gestures shows for years now. The North Side museum gives over space to mostly local artists and their installations. The 15th exhibition in this series (7-10PM) includes work by Will Giannotti, Wendy Osher, Garry Pyles, and others. It does cost $10 to get in, but likely includes access to a free beer or two.

Meanwhile, Melwood Filmmakers (4700 Melwood Avenue, Oakland) is showing the photography of Annie O'Neill from 6-8PM. Her series of 30 images documents folks who have worked in their profession for at least 50 years, and presents them in uniform. This reception is free (and recommended).

If you have a strong taste for photography, you can check out Silver Eye's very first Juried Member Exhibition (6:30-8PM). Curator Darren Ching looked at 1000 images from 100 artists working all over the world and chose work from six of them- Susan A. Barnett (New York, NY); Hope Guzzo (Laurel, MD); Nic Lyons (San Francisco, CA); Leigh Merrill (Dallas, TX); Monika Merva (Brooklyn, NY); and Stephen Strom (Sonoita, AZ). The gallery is located at 1015 East Carson Street.

And stop by Modern Formations (4919 Penn Ave.) on either Friday (7-10PM) or Saturday (8-11PM) to see the creative work of artisans from Specter Studios (located in Sharpsburg) . They were given raw latex masks and invited to come up with original designs.


"Ladies' Choice" is opening at Artform Gallery & Tattoo (2603 Leechburg Rd., Lower Burrell). The show is meant to celebrate "Support Women Artist Now Day", and features female creators from all over Western PA, including Terri Perpich, Vanessa German, Lauren Toohey, Steph Scullio, Laura Petrilla, Lauren Musulin, Sam Thorp, Tamra Jutting, Tiffany Babinsack, Mia Donna Maneer, Christiane D, Jen Spisak, Mahala McWilliams, Anne Michelle Lyons, Masha Fikhman, Katie Moran. Stop in between 7 and 11PM.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Charles McNair, "Land O' Goshen".

c. David Grim (taken 2/19/11)

So you're wondering what it's going to look like when the Christian Reformation is established in the United States? For one possible depiction of this possibility you need look no further than Charles McNair's "Land O' Goshen". The author has created a world where roadhouses serve tall glasses of milk instead of alcohol, and women learn their place once again. It's every Christian fundamentalist's dream, wherein all individuality is finally stripped away and compulsion is utilized to get everyone ready for the Kingdom of God.

Fourteen-year old Budd, is our tour guide through this nightmarish milieu. He's an orphan who has decided to shake up the new order by donning an outfit made out of roadkill fur in order to scare the living daylights out of the bullies that have taken over. Obviously McNair is not overly preoccupied with realism. If you are going to be put off by demands for suspension of disbelief, then you should give this a pass.

But if you are looking for a surprisingly lively romp through a hellish, fanatically-inspired, dystopia, look no further than "Land O' Goshen". It certainly delivers. McNair's descriptions of life on the margins during truly trying times are both entertaining and fascinating. Buddy spends a lot of his time off the beaten path in the wilderness, hoping to avoid confrontation with the hyper-violent Christian Soldiers who actively seek to cleanse their Earthly domain of non-believers. Still the fervor and repression of the new regime seeks him out, and eventually find him. I guess it's inevitable that our narrator finds and loses paradise, but Buddy's time in the woods with a new girlfriend sparkles with with wonder and sweet light.

This is a short, fast-paced ride, and regardless of how you respond to the author's philosophical outlook- you are not going to be bored. McNair's power of description invites the reader into this dangerous environment, and his skills as a storyteller enable a genuinely immersive experience. While it's true that at the end of it all I had a slightly unfulfilled feeling, I do believe that's it's preferable to leave 'em wanting more, rather than bludgeoning the audience with tedious exposition that aims to edify at the expense of entertainment. After all, this is a form of fantasy, no matter how bleak its surface.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 3/4/5/11.

c. David Grim (2/18/11)


Yay. Not only is Unblurred this weekend, but it's the last one of the cold season. That makes me happy.

"Worlds Away" is billed as a photographic series featuring Robert Eisenberg and Lindy Hazel. It's at Modern Formations (4919 Penn) starting at 7PM. Eisenberg offers photojournalism, while Hazel makes Gothic-inspired imagery.

ImageBox (4933 Penn) has the collage work of Richard Schnapp, while Lauren Toohey & Steph Scullio show their bird images at Most Wanted Fine Art (5015 Penn), and are accompanied by music courtesy of Grand Snafu. And if you are in the mood for a reading, stop in (6PM) at Awesome Books (5111 Penn) to hear Amir Rashidd read from his book "Blood Call".

Or if music is more your thing, you can catch the Celtic-inspired Sgt. Early's Dream at the Pittsburgh Beautification Project (7-9PM), while you see artwork by Dean Cercone, Bob Ziller, and James Shipman. At 9PM, you'll hear the acoustic stylings of Ivory Weeds.

Meanwhile Gallery Chiz (5831 Ellsworth Ave.) will show a retrospective of the work of Shadyside-based artist Peter Calaboyias. Apparently he has a notorious wall sculpture at the Pittsburgh International Airport. I don't recall it, however, as I haven't flown in an airplane since 2000. Check out the full range of his work from 5:30-8:30 PM.

And some of the galleries downtown (Future Tenant, Space Gallery, and 709 Penn) are once again scheduling their openings to compete with Unblurred. Go down there and struggle for parking, if you will.


I always have the best intentions to go to the Annual Black Maria Film Festival at Melwood Filmmakers. But every year I find a good excuse not to attend. This year is no different. I'm going to see the Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Kelly Strayhorn (it's sold out, so don't get any ideas). Well, this cutting edge traveling film series is in its 30th year, so won't someone please plan to show up on my behalf? It starts at 7:30PM.

And the Brew House in the South Side (2100 Mary Street) is having its first opening in many moons from 6-9PM. It has been shut down for awhile due to building code violations. But thanks to a small grant it will be featuring an opening for participants in the Distillery 5 program. The work of Aimee Manion, Meghan Olson, Jaci Rice, Kara Skylling and Ryan Woodring will be included.

Oldtime Digging Pitt alumnus Deanna Mance is having an exhibition of her work at Boxheart (4523 Liberty Ave.) in Bloomfield. Show up for "The Dead Engineer" between 5 and 8PM for the reception. And if you find yourself in Squirrell Hill during that time slot instead, stop by the Christina Frechard Gallery (5871 Forbes Ave.) for the work of Annette Poitau.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thinking Out Loud.

c. David Grim (taken 2/12/11)

I've been relatively inactive on here lately. But I have a good reason to be down to only a few updates a week... I'm addressing professional continuing education requirements. I found myself about sixty hours short of where I need to be, so I enrolled in a cyber course. I'm taking a class in storytelling. By that I mean "the oral tradition". In other words I'm learning how to tell a tale out loud in an engaging way. It seems counter-intuitive to believe this could be taught effectively online, but what are you going to do? I was very curious, so I paid the $250 and got underway.

So far... so good. I'm actually having fun with the writing prompts. That was one of my positive expectations for this course, so I'm glad I haven't been disappointed. It's been both extremely easy and entertaining. I guess I have been exercising the parts of my mind that the material requires to be done well. Sure, it feels good to know that I've developed a skill.

Perhaps I'll post some of my work here. I'll just have to review it first and determine how well it stands up online, and do any editing that needs to be done. As I've said, I enjoy this kind of work. I wish I had a clear idea of what that meant for any potential career I might choose to pursue. Because if I did, I'd have started that particular journey. I'm ready to do a lot more writing. It would certainly be motivating to be able to figure out a way to get paid in the process.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What's the Matter with Wisconsin?

c. David Grim (taken 2/12/11)

Is it just me, or are the Tea Party minions overreaching ever since the 2010 elections? You'd think that they comprised a simple majority of the voting public. What's really telling is that they have now finally dropped the pretext of being anything other than an extreme wing of the Republican Party (and even that is a bit of a redundancy nowadays). At least truth in advertising is prevailing at last. Unfortunately the "liberally-biased" mainstream media hasn't caught on yet. Too bad, really.

The events in Wisconsin are certainly worrying. Apparently the newly-elected governor, Scott Walker, has discovered the panacea to all the state government's budget woes. He's moving to outlaw collective bargaining on behalf of public employees. That ought to solve the problem. And Tea Party operatives from all over the country are serving as the shock troops for this attack on unions. It's becoming more and more obvious that the Tea party is merely a front for corporate interests. This is an ideological crusade... not simply harsh measures for tough economic times. And it's an assault on labor rights in general.

Despite the fact that support for Walker is pouring in from representatives of the "free market" from all over the nation, Wisconsin legislators in the GOP-controlled State House have already warned the Obama administration not to get involved in local events. That's an interesting precedent for a group whose forebears lauded Reagan's decision to involve himself in labor disputes throughout the nation. Apparently an active president is only acceptable if he is aligned with the so-called conservative movement.

A quick internet search provides numerous examples of right-leaning mouthpieces pronouncing the irrelevancy of labor unions. If these sources were to be trusted, one would have to come to the conclusion that Walker is just enacting the will of "Real America". Meanwhile the reality is that 61% of those consulted in a recent USA Today poll would oppose similar attacks upon government workers' unions in their respective states. But that's not a study likely to get a lot of traction with folks who fancy themselves "populists". Anti-government sentiment is out of control, and as a result civil servants are being tarred as greedy and selfish.

The historical truth is that government has always been on the vanguard of labor reform and worker's rights. If these protections are chipped away at the municipal level, it's only a matter of time before they are lost altogether. A lot of folks will say that unions were once important but have outlasted their utility. But that will only approach the truth as long as unions retain what little power they have left. Once their example is gone, we'll be returning once again to the glorious Gilded Age. That's sure to please our newly-enfranchised corporate citizens.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

David Simon's "Treme".

c. David Grim (taken 2/12/10)

Well, I finally completed my viewing of the first season of the HBO series "Treme". I can't say I was particularly thrilled to sign up for cable at my house, but I am trying to make the best of it (and the On Demand feature). Anyway I loved 'The Wire" and learned to admire its creator David Simon, who has moved on to this love letter to post-Katrina New Orleans. Right out front I'll profess my deep satisfaction with "Treme". I am looking forward to the airing of its second season. Unfortunately I don't know when that's going to start, or if it will be available in my home. Currently I get HBO as part of some trial package.

Despite my overwhelming appreciation for this show, I have to warn readers of this blog that "Treme" has received ample criticism for "lacking plot". If you do a quick internet search for commentary on the first season, you'll see quickly that there were a lot of viewers who want more to happen in this story. I find that lamentable, if not surprising. There are too many folks who have become too dependent on twists-and-turns and big drama to enjoy the nuanced art of something like "Treme". How anyone can come away from this show without being overwhelmed by the detail and nuance of the writing, cinematography, and performances of the cast is simply beyond me. The cries for additional plotting and accelerated pacing seem like the hysterical outbursts of ADHD-afflicted children.

Why are so many Americans addicted to contrivances? Why must their art be overproduced and packaged as a neverending series of over-the-top, show-stopping, set-pieces? Have my fellow media consumers lost their ability to digest lovingly-crafted mood pieces, or has the viewing public here in the United States always been too immature to receive visual poetry with the necessary patience and attention? I'd hate to admit that the latter suspicion is the truest one.

If you don't need to be led by the hand from big moment to tragic incident to big catharsis in every hour-long episode of television, then you might have what it takes to enjoy "Treme". It is anchored by performances of New Orleans musicians, and examines how the city's inhabitants weave its unique culture throughout their lives to help them overcome the almost unbearable tragedy of the hurricane that changed their lives forever. If you have watched "The Wire", you will note the presence of a lot of familiar actors. But the cast is rounded out by otherwise recognizable faces and cameos by genuine NOLA performers from many fascinatingly underexamined corners. Their contributions form the heart of "Treme", and (at least for me) keep the drama beating and the blood flowing throughout the first season.

Now I eagerly anticipate more great things to come.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sun and Air.

c. David Grim (taken 2/12/11)

I guess I'm going to have to make this one quick... as it appears I'm quickly running out of juice. I'm at the coffee house, and although they were generous with the power outlets when they designed the interior, I've somehow managed to come out this evening without my power cord. So when I'm prompted to hook up to another energy source, or to save my work, I'm going to simply publish whatever I have.

I would have never guessed that I'd be sitting here and drinking espresso with the front of the shop completely open to the elements in the middle of February. And I'm wearing short sleeves. This is just a spectacular bonus, and I'm feeling a bit of pressure to make the absolute most out of it. I've actually taken extended walks on five of the last six days. That's making a huge difference in the way I feel. Yes, I still feel fat. But I feel several steps closer to remedying that condition.

Walking around my neighborhood I discovered that lots of other folks were taking the opportunity to combat their seasonally-appropriate cabin fever. I also noticed how many really ugly people there are where I live. I guess you might think I'm shallow for writing that. But if you saw the creatures I'm talking about, you'd agree... despite your better nature. Perhaps you wouldn't point it out. Who knows? The thing is that I don't consider myself particularly attractive. But in comparison to those I see on my local streets, I feel like an Adonis.

By no means do I intend to suggest that there aren't plenty of beautiful people throughout Pittsburgh. I feel like we have a surplus of "lookers" in this city. Unfortunately they just don't seem to live in my 'hood. My neighbors all seem to look decades older than they are. Maybe it's the water. Or maybe there are just a lot of meth addicts living near me. At least it's relatively safe and clean (and has a great public school district).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Grab a Handful of the New McFreaks.

c. David Grim (taken 2/12/11)

Over the last one hundred and fifty years the focus of science has shifted from taxonomy (the classification of natural phenomena) to experimentation. This reflects modern-day man's desire to go beyond an understanding of the mysteries of life. Now man wants to take the place of "God" rather than assume a subservient position toward fate. While the drive for self-direction can be seen as a noble pursuit, it has often proved to be the impetus for atrocity. The Twentieth Century contained many examples of the hubris of humanity whereupon man created more severe problems than those he was trying to solve.

There are way too many factors in modern life to support the illusion of control. If anything the continuing discoveries that have been made regarding the machinery of the universe have conclusively proven that the controls ultimately lie outside the reach of the grasping minds of man. That's not to say that I'm ready to give up the many comforts and opportunities that this futile quest has allowed. Despite the fact that the consequences of such modern privileges are often severe... I still enjoy the benefits of cars, computers, televsion, and cell phones. I'm no Luddite.

Still I can be accused of a certain nostalgic yearning for a time before my birth. Of necessity, whatever impressions I have developed about the vast expanse of years preceding me have been illusory at best. But that doesn't stop my imagination from conjuring a sense of wonder that must have found its place in the minds of our forebears when confronted by mysteries of dysfunction, oddity, and the alien. Nowadays we have multimedia documentation of almost everything that has occurred in recorded history. Nothing seems beyond the comprehension of the pedestrian mind for very long. The Google search has replaced the Freak Show.

Now we create our own freaks... or at least our masters do so for us. Check out the antics of the participants of the latest round of reality television shows. The creators of these spectacles do not limit themselves to mere classification. Like the 21st Century versions of Mary Shelley, they mold their own monsters for our edification. But what is so miraculous about these contrivances? They have not evolved organically over time. They have not earned their places in the pantheon of freaks. They are only pale imitations of the transient whims of their creators. And they will be discarded with less fanfare than any curiosity from history's midway.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Off My Ass and ON the Streets.

c. David Grim (taken 2/12/11)

Who could have guessed that we'd be looking at a warm spell smack in the middle of February? Believe me, I'm not complaining. In fact I am enthralled by the change. I actually took the time to take two extended walks over the weekend, and that's exactly what I needed. The relative lack of physical activity is really getting to me. I've put on weight. I feel sluggish and my clothes don't fit me the way I want them to. I knew that quitting smoking was going to exacerbate the problem, but that doesn't make me feel any better now that the potential has been realized.

So now I have an alternative to laying on my couch and watching television. It's been too easy to get sucked into the winter routine, especially with all the goodies I've recently acquired to keep me interested. I just started watching David Simon's "Treme" via On Demand, and it has already hooked me. Sure, the temptation is there to just hole up, order some food for delivery, and take in a new masterpiece. But you know what? I feel slightly less pathetic when I make the effort to get out and about. While it's inevitable that I leave the house when I'm with my son, or at work, I could easily get pulled into the sucking maw of my comfort space whenever I have "free time". Still, it's more difficulty to justify when it is nice outside.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 2/11-13/11.

c. David Grim (taken 1/1/11)


I know A LOT of people work during the day (me included). But if you can find the opportunity to stop in at the University of Pittsburgh for the "I Made It!" market, you will probably be pleased and astonished by what local crafters have to sell in the 'Burgh. Check it out in the Student Union starting at 11:30AM. If you can't make it, show up on Saturday at the Glass Lofts (5491 Penn Avenue), where the crafty folk make another appearance starting at noon.

Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is unveiling multiple exhibits, and 5 bucks gains you entry into each and every one of them. CMU prof Golan Levin has audio-visual work, Heidi Bender shares her installation art, and Seth Clark is (once again) displaying his decaying Pittsburgh paintings. Aaron Henderson will share his video presentations examining state and county fairs, and Anna E. Mikolay, Ian Page, Henry Simonds and Gerald Van Scyoc round out the evening with a variety of pieces using a range of media. Hours are from 5:30-8PM. For more info... Rick has a nice write-up at the Pittsburgh Art Blog.

And Wild Card in Lawrenceville (4209 Butler Street) is celebrating the work of Ryder Henry with "4 Lydia Was…was, is, and will be a great space nation". Henry is noted for his meticulous creation of space age imagery in paintings and sculpture, so why not join him (6-9PM) in a virtual interplanetary migration characterized by vibrant colors and fine detail?


My first inclination is to completely avoid any event that features "speed dating", but I am curious how that concept gets translated in an "arts environment". Fe Gallery (4102 Butler) brings whatever pleasures that forced small talk within specific time constraints can deliver starting at 7PM. File this one under "holiday spirit". The 5$ admission fee covers refreshments.


This weekend marks the opening of a show inspired by noted local educator and artist Samuel Rosenberg at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill (5738 Forbes Ave.). The former Carnegie Tech professor's students have contributed a host of pieces for this group exhibition documenting Rosenberg's vast influence. Show up (SUNDAY) between 1PM and 3PM for the reception.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Unintended Benefits of the Super Bowl.

c. David Grim (taken 4/5/08)

Today on the way to work I heard a bit on NPR news about the donation of "mislabelled" Super Bowl gear to refugees in impoverished areas throughout the world. Apparently this is a tradition that the NFL has carried out for the last fifteen years. Obviously this year a bunch of starving kids are about to join Steeler Nation by sporting the colors featured on their Steeler Super Bowl XLV Championship tees. Y'now- "Seven is Heaven!" and all that sort of thing. That's certainly one way to ensure that the scope of Pittsburgh fandom is ever-expanding.

On one hand this is simply the right thing to do with a lot of specially-printed apparel that very few in the states would even consider purchasing at any price. After all, who wants to wear the proof of a revisionist interpretation of history? It would be like sporting the image of the World Trade Center with the caption "Made in America AND Still Standing!" But there are poor folks throughout the world that would rather advertise misinformation than be running around naked.

Still there is something unsettling about this entire scenario. Why must companies manufacture items in great quantities that have a 50% probability of being rendered "worthless" almost immediately after being produced? Do football fans really require the material manifestation of an event as soon as it has occurred? Whose enjoyment really needs to be validated by a damned t-shirt? And why can't Americans wait a day or two to get their wearable record of vicarious achievement? These are questions that might shed light on the true spirit and character of this nation.

I'm glad that children in places as diverse as Zambia, Armenia, Nicaragua, and Romania will get some brand new clothing to wear. But it's a bit of a shame that they are forced to advertise something that never happened, due to the excessive waste the US perpetuates without even being conscious of it. There's something a bit pathetic in all of this business.

Monday, February 7, 2011

More Fron the White Family.

c. David Grim (taken 4/5/08)

I've written before about my appreciation for West Virginia doumentray filmmaker Jacob Young. His almost-famous examination of "Dancing Outlaw" Jesco White led me to explore all of his works. I've been back to the well many times since. Over the last decade-and-a-half I've periodically wondered just what the last king of the mountain dancers and his clan have been up to. I always thought I'd have to run into Young again to get the scoop. I was shocked recently to learn of the existence of a follow-up documentary released in 2009, and produced by "Jackass" star Johnny Knoxville. Naturally I had to own a copy.

Sadly, "The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia" was made without the participation of Jacob Young. Instead it was directed by one-time collaborator Julian Nitzberg. Apparently Nitzberg learned about Jesco when he was making a film about Hasil Adkins. While at a bar in Boone County in the late-80's, he witnessed Mamie White breaking up a fight. After making it a point to meet this woman (who continually insisted that she was on acid), he was persuaded to bring in Young for a look at her brother Jessie. And that's how Jesco became a living cult figure.

Twenty years later, the entire family seemed ripe for a revisit. Nitzberg and his crew received funding from MTV to spend a year in Boone County, catching up with the latest shenanigans of the Whites. Would the events surrounding these people be film-worthy? I guess that's a matter of opinion. But it turns out that trouble is never that far away from these folks. Instead of a focus on Jessie, Nitzberg concentrated on his siblings, nephews, nieces, and cousins. Sue Bob, Mousie, Kirk, and the little boy Tylor figure heavily in the ongoing drama.

The Whites all seem more than willing to share the details of their sordid collective existence. There are many sequences of family members snorting, popping, and smoking various drugs. They pull no punches and withhold very few sentiments about the people that surround them. They are in and (sometimes) out of jail for all manner of offenses. And they don't seem to ever truly learn from the mostly awful consequences of their behavior. The legacy of mischief and outlaw behavior runs deep in their blood.

Yet it's not as if people like the Whites are confined to West Virginia. The stuff they get into can be found a half hour outside of most cities in the country. Meanwhile city-dwellers exhibit their own particular brand of madness. And it is obvious that the filmmakers have some level of affection for their subjects, despite the glaring elements of exploitation running through their document. After all the Whites know they are on camera and seem to have no compunction about doing what they do for the public eye. Conversely they seem quite proud to run wild while avoiding work on the taxpayer's dime.

The problem is that (ultimately) the Whites are not that shocking in this day and age. While there are moments where the impact of their actions seems to strike them, it's difficult to muster any lasting symapthy. We must come to the inescapable conclusion that they know what they are doing. If that makes this a modern-day horror tale, then so be it. But the exploitation of this family is only a microcosmic example of what happens to the poor in our society. And that is truly horrifying.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pittsburgh Weekeend Art Events: 2/4-5/11.

c. David Grim (taken 10/17/10)

Because the Cultural Trust had the foresight (finally) not to compete with the regular onslaught of art events that occurs on every first Friday of the month, you have an outside chance of seeing most of what is worthwhile on the local arts scene this weekend.


The long-anticipated "Surface and Rigor" show is opening (6PM) at the Mendelson Gallery (5874 Ellsworth Avenue) in Shadyside. It features the abstract works of painter Mark Gualtieri, photographer Rick Byerly, and painter Will Giannotti. These three artists are long-time staples of the 'Burgh arts scene, and it's been awhile since any of them have exhibited in town. Stop by and exchange some words with them before heading over to Unblurred.

And while we are on the subject of the monthly Penn Avenue Corridor extravaganza- make sure to stop by the Pittsburgh Glass Center for 'TENacity", its tenth anniversary show. There will be 31 glass artists presenting their work. Meanwhile there is a mother/daughter show featuring the namesake and progeny of the Irma Freeman Center (5006 Penn), new work by Brad Heiple and Katie Watson at Modern Formations (4919 Penn), and collages by Seth LeDonne at ImageBox (4933 Penn). Most Wanted (5015 Penn) has Chatham University students, and the latest addition to Unblurred is My Place on Penn (4900 Penn)- a venue selling "art furniture".

Listen... I think it's important to recognize the achievements of young local artists. Unblurred has always fulfilled the function of providing venues for unknown creators to get their work out in front of many viewers. CAPA seniors Kimi Hanauer and Emily Hutchings are getting that opportunity this month at the misleadingly-named International Children's Art Gallery (5020 Penn Ave). Give the youngsters some love.

Additionally, if you somehow find yourself with available hours during the workday (from 12-6PM specifically) and easy access to the South Side, stop by at the "Historic Home of Phillip Benz" (2112 Sarah Street) to see the figure paintings of Mahalah McWilliams and Sam Thorpe. Similar hours will be extended throughout the weekend. The artists will be on hand for discourse at 1PM and 5PM.


For years now, Bloomfield gallery Boxheart (4523 Liberty Avenue) has been (rather quietly) attracting artists from all over the world to show on its walls. This month it is bringing the work of Hong Kong-native Chung Fanky Chak to Western PA. His series "The Boxes" are photo collages examining visual stereotypes about urban environments. Stop in for a reception starting at 5PM.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Robert Kaylor, "Carny" (1980).

c. David Grim (taken 5/11/08)

So I've finally gotten to do something I've waited more than five years for- I've seen the movie "Carny". Starring Robbie Robertson (lead singer/guitarist for The band) and Gary Busey, "Carny" exposes the secret world of the carnival worker of the 70's. Recognizable character actors such as Elisha Cook, Jr., Meg Foster, and Craig Wasson pad out the rest of the cast. And yes... just in case you want to stop reading right here- it is awesome.

But why would I have waited so long to see this treat? Because it was just recently made available in the DVD format. If you wanted to see it before its 2009 release, you had to track down a pre-viewed copy (probably from some small, super-hip independent video store which would likely gouge you if indeed it was even willing to part with its sacred treasure). I was able to do that once, but I popped it into my VHS player only to discover it was irretrievably worn beyond the point of watching.

Director Robert Kaylor had a remarkably brief career as a filmmaker. Over a period of twenty years he helmed a total of four movies. From the evidence of "Carny", and the reviews of one of his other flicks ("Derby"), the man had talent. It's easy to speculate as to why a guy like Kaylor never produced more work, but the truth is that there is sometimes no easy or accessible answer. The man toiled before the age of the Internet, and there is very little to be found with a short Google search of his name.

Anyway, why should you be interested? Well... do you know that carny slang is some of the hippest argot in all of Western culture? You know all that "izzy and bizzat" stuff that the rap community started laying out in the 90's? You guessed it... that originated on the midway. AND there is a patch, flat stores, stick joints, a hootchie-cootchie tent, and a 10-in-1 (with genuine, alive-on-the-inside, human oddities like "Percilla the Monkey Girl" and her husband Emmitt Bejano, the Alligator-Skinned Man ). Mmm-hmmm. I could eat up all that flash like candy. And Jodie Foster looks alright in her burlesque outfit as well.

But what really blows me away is Busey as the Bozo in the dunk tank. It's the role that he was born to play. He is absolutely maniacal and brings me right back to the Great Allentown Fair where I saw that act as a kid every year. That alone is worth the time and effort I invested in owning this.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 1/28-29/11.

c. David Grim (taken 11/21/10)


Yay. Someone had the forethought not to schedule the Downtown Gallery Crawl on a First Friday! That means that art-lovers don't have to make some ridiculous decisions about what they "don't have to see" thisd weekend. This can only be a good thing.

Will there be multi-media installations at Wood Street (601 Wood St.)? Why yes, of course. This season features the transormative powers of Czech-born Jan Tichy. Apparently he's into shadows and light. You can take the time, do the research, and find out what it all means... or (like most people) just go and see whether or not it "looks cool".

You can see Jill Larson's work at 709 Penn Avenue. She has put together a site-specific installation meant to comment on her divorce. Larson was the founder and driving force (until quite recently) behind the Fe Gallery in Lawrenceville. Now it seems she's finally finding time for the purely personal. Ian Brill has a light installation next door.

There's a group show at Future Tenant (819 Penn), curated by Jersten Crosby. One-time Pittsburgh art stars Thad Kellstadt and Jesse McLean are participating. Jill Lena Ford displays her work above Tonic (971 Liberty, 2nd fl.). Meanwhile "Keepsake from the Cloud" at Kurt Shaw's gallery (805 Liberty Ave.) features reproductions from the British Library's album (China, 1750) of the same name.

Handmade Arcade will be set up at 939 Liberty where you'll have the opportunity to turn your old t-shirts into totes (whatever they are). And it's not too late to see the Ally Reeves's-curated group show SCALE at SPACE. Heidi Tucker is among the stand-out artists in that show.

Finally... if you really want to light up your night, check out Steel Town Fire at the Katz Plaza (7th and Penn). You'll see choreographed fire art utilizing props as diverse as poi, snakes, swords & other burning items. Performances will be underway at 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 pm.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Malcolm Braly, "On The Yard" (1967).

c. David Grim (taken 7/14/08)

It's remarkable just how contemporary prison slang from the late-60's actually sounds. I just finished reading Malcom Braly's "On the Yard" (1967), and the experience really reinforced my sense that criminals precede hipsters in identifying the smoothest and coolest idioms and mannerisms. I guess it shouldn't come as any surprise. The demimonde was formed and presided over by criminals, first and foremost. The Beat Generation only presented one more group of social malcontents inspired by the truest ne'er-do-wells. They are merely cogs in the chain of wannabes parroting those who flout convention with actions rather than words.

Reading Braly's book can be a bit puzzling, given the fact that there are so many words used in unfamiliar ways that can only be sussed out by considering the context surrounding them. of course that's half the fun with a book like "On the Yard". What terms you do recognize serve to flatter your own vanity, with your pretensions of being "with it". Naturally I'm speaking from experience. Part of the reason I'm willing to subject myself to the nastiness of prison novels and nonfiction accounts is for the feeling of being in on something that others have no clue about.

The truth is that I have no idea whether what I've read is indeed an accurate representation of what being incarcerated is like. Certainly I can surmise that the reality is often a whole hell of a lot more boring than it's depicted in the texts. After all, it seems like prison life consists of long stretches of mundane routine punctuated by short bursts of intense violence. It's kind of like war when you think about it in those terms. That doesn't take away anything from the intense pangs of dread that must be inescapable in an environment characterized by just barely repressed tensions and brooding menace.

Regardless, it's pretty obvious why Braly's story is considered a classic by those in the know. The author spent decades locked up in correctional institutions. When he describes the tone of the yard where the general population whiles away the days, or when he spells out the unspoken rules of prison politics, the details he includes suggest that he has spent much time finding just the right way to convey what it must be like to be a convict. And along the way we learn about the relationships between inmates, guards, and the institutional administrators. It's a mother lode of information.

"On the Yard" has been called the "Great American Prison Novel", and I can understand why. Braly builds this insular world brick-by-brick without treating the reader like a student in a literature class. If you read his book, you are more likely to feel like a "fish"- a first-timer who has to learn the rules by the careful observation of those who have formed and inherited them for years. Even though populated by law-breakers, prison contains an inherent logic that, while maybe not obvious, can be fatal if ignored or misapprehended. And the first requirement for survival is learning the language.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Boys and Their Friends.

c. David Grim (taken 5/11/08)

The relationships between boys can be fraught with barely restrained tensions, even when the individuals involved claim to be "best friends". While girls grow up without the need to fully separate emotionally from their mothers, boys are expected to put a rather quick end to any close symbiotic ties they have with their parents. It's simply not acceptable for young males to continue honoring "emotional interdependency", even if the reality is that no one can ever be truly free of those around themselves. Naturally this attitude of resistance extends beyond immediate family members to others that surround the boy.

What happens when an adolescent has difficulty negotiating the separation that's demanded of him in this society? Often he ends up acting out in strange ways, in lieu of finding healthy ways to express his attachment. That's just the way it works, and provides a ready explanation for much of what ails us. Extreme examples of this phenomenon are often unsightly. A lot of folks tend to shy away from engaging in this sort of emotional psychological analysis, but they do so at their own risk. Ignorance of these forces can result in tragic consequences.

Certainly the medium of film has several distinct examples of what I'm referring to. One of my favorite movies, Larry Clark's "Bully", is a great case-in-point. Brad Renfro's character is perpetually being abused by his better-looking and more confident friend, played by Nick Stahl. Still, Stahl's sense of self-assurance is predicated in being the alpha male and abusing Renfro at will. This is often how the need for connection among young adolescent males is articulated. The seeming homoeroticism that is implied by such behavior is explored in detail in "Bully". Because it presents such an extreme example of dysfunction, it is no surprise when the story escalates to the point of tragedy.

"Best Friends" (directed by Noel Nosseck, and released in 1975) follows a different trajectory. When young Pat comes back from Vietnam and reunites with his long-time best friend Jesse (played by Richard Hatch), he is increasingly chagrinned by Jesse's plans to settle down and get married to his girlfriend. The idea of losing his partner-in-crime, who he looks up to and relies on for his social identity, is too much for him to handle. He decides to pull out all the stops to end his pal's relationship. Although he commits some absolutely hateful acts, he comes off as crazy and desperately pathetic. That the viewer ends up feeling sorry for Pat is a tribute to the insight of the filmmakers.

While taking the time to understand this issue can be helpful in dealing with young folks, it's extraordinarily difficult to do anything to ameliorate it. The emphasis on competition in our society will continue to exacerbate the situation, and people will continue to display twisted strategies while working through what should be recognized as very difficult emotional manoeuvres without the training, expectation or language to do so.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ugh, again.

c. David Grim (taken 7/19/10)

If I remember correctly, it wasn't too long ago that I wrote about how difficult it gets to write and post regularly when life gets complicated. When I was just a kid I was convinced that an artist or writer had to suffer in order to get good work done. In retrospect that belief almost sounds quaint. I find it increasingly difficult to find the time, focus, and motivation to honor my need for creative output whenever the fates are throwing me curveballs. I can only compartmentalize up to a certain point... and then the stream of challenges starts to get overwhelming.

Not only has my personal life been trying (and I could be accused of crafting a whopper of an understatement here), but my domestic arrangements are constantly presenting one problem after another. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what kicked off the latest series of tribulations. There was standing water in the tub after my new roommate took a shower. That had to be snaked and remediated with Liquid Plumber. Then my only television went on the fritz. Then, after buying a replacement, the cable and (more importantly) the internet stopped working. My camera continues to malfunction (even after having it sent away for repair once). Light switches have gone bad. And finally, the shut-off valve on the radiator on the third floor is leaking, draining all of the water through the floor and into the hallway downstairs.

None of these things in isolation would seem too severe. But in combination, they constitute a burden. All of this is happening right after I had to shell out money to replace tires I've only had for a single year. What makes this particularly galling is that I'm scared to tempt the fates by complaining too much. Compared to the vast majority of human beings on planet Earth, I have it inordinately easy. I haven't forgotten that. I'm grateful for what I have. Still I'd appreciate a run of good luck. I just have to plow through until the winds change, I guess.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hikmet Avedis, "The Teacher" (1974).

c. David Grim (taken 5/24/08)

... there's a lunatic driving a hearse, running around spying on pretty girls, and keeping his belongings in a coffin on the floor of an abandoned factory. But wait... over here is a stunning 28-year old teacher seducing an 18-year old ex-student (and son of her best friend). These two threads converge in the 1974-drive-in classic, "The Teacher". Fun and games is had by all.

Anthony James, the actor who plays the aforementioned pervert (who has recently returned from soldiering in Vietnam) is truly deranged looking. In the opening shots his character is seen running around gleefully stalking his object-of-obsession. His presence right from the beginning foreshadows some obvious nastiness, and the resulting anticipation drives the viewer's interest throughout the movie. Still, the prospect of seeing lead female Angel Tomkins sans her hip 70's wardrobe is just as enticing, if in an entirely different way. In fact it's her qualities that ultimately make this film work. Had the filmmakers chosen a less desirable actress, this would not have been nearly as fun.

And watching this type of thing (when it contains all the necessary exploitative elements) is certainly fun. Add in a recognizable face (child actor Jay North of "Dennis the Menace" fame, who spends the majority of his spare time paneling the inside of his van), and now you have amusement AND context. The acting and dialog sometimes fail to rise to professional standards, but the opportunity to see situations presented in a manner well outside the cinematic mainstream, along with some well-placed nudity, makes it all seem somehow worthwhile.

I'm not going to fully summarize the plot here, mostly because with this kind of affair that kind of analysis is fully beside the point. Suffice it to say that there is some romance, creepiness, violence, and humor thrown into the blender. What makes this so worthwhile is the glimpse into an era that is now long-past and is in no danger of being replicated. If you want to develop some perspective about how our country has changed in the last 40 years (and much of it decidedly NOT for the better), then sit down with "The Teacher". After all, it's not just teenage boys who need this kind of guidance.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Joseph Ruben, "The Sister-In-Law" (1974).

c. David Grim (taken 5/4/08)

Here's something to get your mind off of whatever particular brand of winter blues you suffer from- "The Sister-In-Law". This flick gives you just about everything you could ask for. It's got a couple of fine looking, groovy 70's chicks with sass and style. Settings range from tree-lined country roads, to a swank Manhattan walk-up, to a truly opulent suburban McMansion in West Chester. There is plenty to marvel at including a lot of very odd artwork interspersed throughout.

The basic story includes the rivalry between a struggling writer and his castabout amateur philosopher brother (played well by John Savage, the only truly recognizable actor in the cast), and the inevitably tragic consequences. Savage comes home from his travels to find the titular character living with his parents during a time of marital separation. That would be cause enough for mild scandal, even if she did not intend on getting revenge on her wayward husband by sleepng with his younger sibling.

When the older brother makes the scene he eventually brings by his mistress, who promptly finds herself attacked in the pool by the wife. This follows a water-basketball match between the brothers that devolves into violence. Its good stuff, and sets off a series of events that results in the ultimate treachery. I won't spoil that by going into too many details, but if you are truly interested in seeing this due to my bare sketch of an outline, then you might not want to read any further.

What really distinguishes this potboiler from its B-grade kin is its script. It includes some delightfully quotable witticisms and rejoinders. At one point, the young buck is in a phone conversation with his brother and says, "I've had your wife and your mistress and I threw your heroin in a mountain stream". It's a defining moment and one that instantly elevates "The Sister-In-law" to classic status. Naturally there's a price to pay... but really, for that kind of cold dis, no price is too high.

Additionally, Savage's competence as an actor is overshadowed by his work on the score. His singing and composing efforts add something indelible to the proceedings. Listen carefully to the lyrics to get some insight into the thought process of the screenwriters, as well as a laugh or two. Throw in a cast of colorfully cheesy mobsters, and all the ingredients are in place for a well-spent hour-and-a-half in front of the tube.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Daniel Woodrell, 'Winter's Bone".

c. David Grim (taken 1/1/11)

I recently succumbed to the hype, and picked up a copy of Daniel Woodrell's "Winter's Bone". The author's eighth novel tracks the progress of teenager Ree Dolly as she simultaneously tries to contend with the raising of her two younger brothers, the caretaking of her addled mother, and the disappearance of her meth-cooking father. "Winter's Bone" was recently adapted as a film, and received The Best Picture award at Sundance. Ordinarily that fact wouldn't compel me to pick up a copy, but it was on my radar due to Amazon recommendations and I came across it cheap at Half Priced Books.

My overall impression of the work is that it is competently written, but ultimately slight. Its less than 200 pages seemed insufficient for a substantial examination of the forces that have led young Ree to her desperate plight. She is tasked with tramping throughout the hollers of the Ozarks in order to clear the mystery of her absentee Dad, and in the process must confront a rogue's gallery of menacing distant cousins and other unsavory characters.

No doubt the reader is supposed to feel a large amount of sympathy for this young woman in her struggles. She does indeed have to face a gauntlet of troubling, and sometimes loathsome, encounters with the living embodiments of redneck stereotypes. And if you weren't completely aware of the type of havoc that the consumption and trafficking of crystal meth can wreak, you surely must be by the time you finish this book. However Woodrell doesn't quite go deep enough into any of the characters to leave a lasting emotional response. I finished the book rapidly, but felt fairly empty at its conclusion.

My experience with "Winter's Bone" is not enough to forever put me off of Woodrells' future output. I can definitely discern a potential for exposing the true terror of the horrid conditions when you mix brain-scrambling drugs with poverty in isolated circumstances. When you add in a Hatfield vs. McCoy mentality... you surely create an untenable (and highly dramatic) situation. Woodrell certainly has the talent to make stories from such settings come alive. I just want a little more from this type of read.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pittsburgh Weekend Art Events: 1/7-8/11.

c. David Grim (taken 1/1/11)


Technically, Unblurred lies dormant during January. But this "First Friday" is far enough away from New Year's Eve to leave room for a few events along the Penn Avenue corridor. Garfield Artworks (4931 Penn) features the work of photographer Lexi Shapiro, who concerns herself with images inspired by some of the greatest cults of all time. This content is right up my alley, so I have some amount of expectations for this, even if I've never seen Shapiro's work. Like most Unblurred events it runs from 7PM to about 10PM.

Meanwhile Most Wanted Fine Art (5015 Penn Ave) offers up a selection of stuff from artists it plans to show throughout 2011. Some might call it a "preview" (7-10PM). Grand Snafu is providing musical accompaniment. Come out and show your gratitude for this gallery's year-round commitment to the arts.

In Lawrenceville, Wild Card is hosting an exhibition of rock show promotional art with the work of sixteen different artists- Andre Costello, Andy Scott, Ben Stewart, Christian Breitkreutz, David Pokrivnak, Gian Romagnoli, Jes Lavecchia, Jon Hemmis, Katie Gould, Maggie Negrete, Matt Ketchum, Megan Herwig, Nate McDonough, Ron Copeland, Seth Ledonne, Steph Neary. It runs from 7-9PM. Appropriately, there will be live music from Trash Knight and Means To An End (if you're into that sort of thing).

Laurie Mancuso's The Shop (4314 Main St., Bloomfield) will be having a reception for the photographic work of Brooklyn-based artist Akil Harris from 7-11PM. He's apparently obsessed with trees and leaves.


Is it really THAT difficult to make it over to Homestead for an art opening? Well, it has been for me. Will this weekend be marked by my inaugural trip to Artspace 105 (105 East 8th St.) for the opening (7PM) of "Manufacturing Identity"? The work of Chris McGinnis, Aaron Miller and Daniel Kuhn "reveals the interrelated nature of mechanized society through industrial petroglyphs and images of popular culture, raw materials and assembly line production." Or so their press kit suggests.

If you did plan on staying on the East End, you could still see art at Boxheart's 10th Annual Inter/National Exhibition from 5-8PM. The gallery is located at 4523 Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield.

And because I personally like the venue and the people involved in running it- I think you should check out the paintings of John Frevyogel & Johnny Fry at Artforum Gallery and Tattoo in Lower Burrell (2603 Leechburg Rd.). I know it's a lot to ask to suggest you go see the work of some guys I'm not even familiar with... but really, it's not that far and you are BOUND to have a good time (6-9PM). Besides, there is a drive-through espresso joint right down the road to get you fortified for your drive back to the city.