Our son was born last summer via emergency Caesarean after 32 hours of labor. When his cries hit the cool, electric air, I sobbed uncontrollably, joining billions of parents across millennia who have loved their offspring instantly with a ferocity that makes the mouth speechless with awe and wonder. At 22 1/2 inches, his legs were uncommonly spindly for a newborn, and he had two dimples, like my mother and my husband’s father. His skin was the color of toffee kissed by the sun. His hands were wide, and his fingers were so long, thin, and perfectly sculpted that friends and acquaintances on social media declared he would be a piano player. He is nearly one year old now, and the boy stuns us each day with his determination, sense of humor, laughter, and keen thoughtfulness and smarts. He is beautiful.
I’m standing alongside a life-sized photograph of police in riot gear. The image has obviously been enlarged, stretching body-length along the wall of an incline intimately holding 25 of Teenie Harris’s civil rights images. I’m jolted standing near the police like this—maybe what the curator intended? How not think of Ferguson, Missouri and Sanford, Florida? The inevitable moments of unrest that bind us? Whenever I view Harris’s photographs feelings of familiarity, uncertainty, and great curiosity surface. I recognize beloved icons like Louis Armstrong, Mary Lou Williams, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many more who were hosted and supported by Pittsburgh’s black residents—laboring, posing, and protesting across time. Traversing the city, I look for their footprints at every moment. I am assembling the missing pieces of my adopted home.
With its high-key, high-contrast palette and jagged lines, Pierre Alechinsky’s Savage State (1968) carries on the look, feeling, and approach of CoBrA, a vibrant Paris-based artist collective that came together in the years following World War II. Taking their name from the first letters of the three northern European cities the artists hailed from—COpenhagen, BRussels, Amsterdam—CoBrA was an intense, if brief, coalition of radical artists and poets who were interested in recharging art with the sensual experience of the world. Their paintings and drawings share some aesthetic qualities like brilliantly saturated colors and playfully distorted human forms, but what really linked these artists was their intention—create a new art for a new postwar society. Against the intellectualism and cool aesthetic of Surrealism, CoBrA attempted to initiate a new “art of the people” out of artistic experimentation, emotional expression, and spontaneity.
Wilmerding is an ongoing photo project documenting the postindustrial town of Wilmerding, Pennsylvania, which is located 12 miles southeast of Pittsburgh in the Turtle Creek Valley. Established in 1890 by industrialist George Westinghouse (known for the invention of alternating electrical current and a revolutionary air brake system for trains), this suburban enclave is a planned company town originally intended to house the workforce and families of the Westinghouse Air Brake Company.
My grandfather was born and raised in Wilmerding. It’s where he spent his entire life—not only as a resident, but like so many men in the area, as an employee at Westinghouse Air Brake. My introduction to the town was through his stories, which included growing up through the Great Depression, leaving home to fight in World War II, working at the Air Brake for 35 years, and his displeasure when the plant was downsized in the mid-1990s.
In May 1961, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York presented an exhibition titled One Hundred Paintings from the G. David Thompson Collection. A few older artists (Cezanne, Monet, Degas) were represented in the exhibition, but the impressive check list, though not comprehensive, was a veritable who-is-who of artists whose main activity was or continued to be in the 20th century. From Josef Albers to Adja Yunkers, the exhibition offered one-man’s viewpoint of contemporary western painting. Artists especially dear to the collector were represented by multiple works: Braque, Klee, Legér, Matisse, Miró, Mondrian, Picasso, Schwitters, and Wols accounted for more than half of the total, with Picasso’s 12 listed works the most by any artist. Mr. Thompson, in his own introduction to the exhibition catalogue, expressed his thoughts on collectors and collecting, emphasizing his preference for exploring in depth the work of selected artists instead of aiming at a comprehensive survey. Indeed, in several cases, he had acquired more than 40-50 and in a few cases more than 100 works by a single artist. He attributed this to personal taste and individual preferences but also offered more pragmatic considerations as explanation, such as market availability.
By the time of the Guggenheim exhibition, Mr. Thompson of Pittsburgh was not only a nationally but also an internationally known art collector, whose profile had been featured in Life and Time and in several European publications. What was less well known is that by the time the exhibition came to New York after several European venues, Mr. Thompson had already sold nearly all the art to a Swiss dealer, as the New York Times reported just days before the exhibition’s opening. But we’ll have more on this later.