The Spittin’ Image of Architecture


I was recently looking at some of the photographs in the exhibition Architecture + Photography with curatorial assistant Alyssum Skjeie, who co-organized the show with me, when I saw an image that was so familiar it felt like I’d been transported back to an art history class. The photograph shows the vestibule and staircase of the Laurentian Library (or Biblioteca Laurenziana) in Florence, which was designed by Michelangelo and constructed by him and others in several “campaigns” between 1524 and 1559. The staircase is dramatic and idiosyncratic—it’s been described as looking like a lava flow—and the photograph here is a version of the “money shot” that’s shown in virtually every source on Renaissance architecture. Seeing that image again evoked the same kind of feeling I experience when looking at photographs from trips I’ve taken.

Michelangelo (1475–1564) and Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), Laurentian Library vestibule and stairway (1525–1571), gelatin silver print

Michelangelo (1475–1564) and Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), Laurentian Library vestibule and stairway (1524–1559), gelatin silver print

My reaction isn’t unique or remarkable: a great deal of what we know or remember about the world is what’s been captured by us or for us through images. It’s fair to say that this is especially true of the constructed environment—the buildings and other structures we humans build for ourselves. Most of us don’t get to literally travel the world to see its architectural wonders, and not even the highest-resolution, largest-scale photograph can provide the physical experience of space that’s so crucial to truly understanding a building or site. So we rely on pictures—and have done so ever since photography was invented. Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, one of the medium’s two principal founders, originally trained as an architect, and buildings were a favorite subject for experimentation in the field’s early days.

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, Boulevard du Temple, 1838. This image possibly shows the first people to be photographed in the lower left (a customer having his shoes polished by a bootblack).

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, Boulevard du Temple, 1838. Although the focus here is the landscape of buildings in Paris, this image by Daguerre shows what are possibly the first people to be photographed—in the lower left you can see a customer having his shoes polished by a bootblack. The scene was most certainly filled with many other Parisians walking along the boulevard, but the long exposure time Daguerre would have used for the photograph only captured the stationary figures.

This points to the central proposition of Architecture + Photography: the mere fact that a building appears in a photograph doesn’t mean that that image is about architecture. In other words, it’s not necessarily “architectural photography.” For example, the pictorial content of Richard Stoner’s Why We Fight, September 18, 1990 (1990) is obviously the oil tanks in the lower left corner and the huge, somewhat agitated and ominous sky that looms over them. But does the picture aim to elucidate ideas about oil tanks as architecture? The title certainly suggests otherwise. (Titles: another great topic for dissection!)

Richard Stoner, Why We Fight, September 18, 1990, 1990, chromogenic print; The Carnegie Museum of Art Purchase Award: 81st Annual Exhibition of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh

Richard Stoner, Why We Fight, September 18, 1990, 1990, chromogenic print; The Carnegie Museum of Art Purchase Award: 81st Annual Exhibition of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh

By contrast, the subject of Ezra Stoller’s work is, unequivocally, buildings. One of the top architectural photographers in the twentieth century, Stoller shot many of the most iconic images of modernist postwar American architecture. He was keenly aware of the photographer’s ability to shape viewers’ understanding of architectural imagery and attempted to communicate through a two-dimensional medium the experience one might have of a building or place. An example is this somewhat enigmatic photograph of the McMath Solar Telescope (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 1962) at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona: Stoller doesn’t show the entire structure, but instead focuses on its colossal scale and extraordinary setting. You can easily place yourself in that photograph, sharing the sensations we imagine the man in the photograph having.

Ezra Stoller, Kitt Peak, 1962, gelatin silver print; Purchase: gift of the Drue Heinz Trust

Ezra Stoller, Kitt Peak, 1962, gelatin silver print; Purchase: gift of the Drue Heinz Trust

The Laurentian Library, along with Stoner’s and Stoller’s images, are but three points on the spectrum of photographers’ intentions in presenting architectural imagery in their work. Come see the show while it’s open (through May 26)! We would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

For information on Frances Benjamin Johnston, a featured photographer in Architecture + Photography, see Alyssum’s blog post

Thelma Lovette YMCA


ymca2On Saturday February 15, 2014, the Thelma Lovette YMCA in Pittsburgh’s Hill District celebrated its second year with an outstanding Black History month event, centering on the theme “From Which We Came.” The Teenie Harris Archive was invited to display the myriads of photos which Teenie shot in and around the old Centre Avenue YMCA, bearing witness that this original community center was, in fact, the “hub of the Hill” in its heyday.

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Established in 1923, it was noted that the first YMCA (at the Corner of Centre Avenue and Francis Street) opened before both the NAACP and the Urban League held branches in Pittsburgh. The many distinguished speakers discussed the fact that the YMCA had been THE place to meet for not just sports events, but organization meetings, society soirees, cotillions, youth groups, plays, and much more. Dr. Leon Haley, who has written a book on the history of the Centre Avenue YMCA, gave an insightful presentation on what went on in the Y, for many decades. There was a Black Civil War Drum Corps reenactment led by John Ford, a performance by the Miller School of African Dance and Drum Troop, as well as elected officials such as city councilman Daniel Lavelle and Bill Robinson giving commendations. Thelma Lovette YMCA executive director, Aaron Gibson, gave a wonderful speech voicing both his, and other board members hopes—that the new facility will come to reflect the positive community bonding of the older facility.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Capt. Charles B. Hall standing in convertible car between Joseph M. Guffey and David L. Lawrence in Independence Day parade, with broadside on telephone pole in background advertising Louis Jordan at the Savoy, on Centre Avenue at Francis Street in front of YMCA, Hill District, July 4, 1945, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.9794 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Capt. Charles B. Hall standing in convertible car between Joseph M. Guffey and David L. Lawrence in Independence Day parade, with broadside on telephone pole in background advertising Louis Jordan at the Savoy, on Centre Avenue at Francis Street in front of YMCA, Hill District, July 4, 1945, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.9794 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

In the coming months, the Teenie Harris Archive will have a permanent display of several historic images on the internal walls of the new Y. However, for this event, the Harris Archive displayed 4 poster boards with over 70 images (and two notebooks with even more images) of people enjoying the facilities of the old Y. One book centered solely on Teenie Harris capturing the philanthropic work of Mrs. Thelma Lovette in his lens. As a result of our display and chatting with guests, the Harris Archive received more than 30 new identifications of people and events. Many were very sentimental about the images of swimmers, basketball games, ping pong and boxing matches, dance classes, voter registration drives, and teen parties. I even found one of my own mother, doing “calisthenics” in the 1940s. Patrons were eager to share their treasured memories of what they loved about going to the Y. (I was particularly amused to hear about the many courtships begun at this central location.) So once again I’m happy to say the Teenie Harris Archive offered insight and reflection on a most historic Pittsburgh venue.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Group portrait, from left, seated: James F. Clarke, Thelma Lovette, Theodore "Ted" Brown, K. Leroy Irvis, and William Finch; standing: Leroy Wilcox and William E. "Bill" Miller, gathered in interior with leaf patterned curtains and mirror during primary election campaign, April 1958, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.47750 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Group portrait, from left, seated: James F. Clarke, Thelma Lovette, Theodore “Ted” Brown, K. Leroy Irvis, and William Finch; standing: Leroy Wilcox and William E. “Bill” Miller, gathered in interior with leaf patterned curtains and mirror during primary election campaign, April 1958, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.47750 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Father Donald McIlvane, Dec. 19, 1925–Feb. 16, 2014


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Charles “Teenie” Harris, Group portrait of four men, including reporter to left, Reverend Jimmy Joe Robinson, William “Bouie” Haden, second from right, and Reverend Donald McIlvane on right, outside large church or city building, July–August 1967, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.4693 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

The Rev. Donald McIlvane, a retired Roman Catholic priest and staunch ally to the underserved, passed away February 16, 2014. Father McIlvane was not only a worldwide religious leader, but unquestionably, a compassionate Civil Rights soldier, as well. Although Rev. McIlvane was an unlikely candidate to become a radical priest, having come from a well-to-do family, he served and lived alongside the needy, suffering many similar life experiences, even to the point of being mugged.

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Protesters, possibly including Nate Smith on megaphone in front of, others, including James McCoy, Matthew Moore Sr., Vince Matthews, Herbert Bean, Dr. Charles Greenlee, Rev. Donald McIlvane, Charles Kendall, Charles Michaels, Mike Desmond, Byrd Brown, Gabby Russell, and Pauline Hall demonstrating against discrimination at US Steel in front of Union Trust Building, Downtown, June 1966, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.5867 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

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Protesters, including Rev. Donald McIlvane, and other ministers, picketing slum housing in front of Rittle Rosfeld Real Estate Company, East Street near intersection of Shawano, with Weimer Tire, Four Roses billboard, and Veebee’s Cafe in background, North Side, 1967, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.7113 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

He was once quoted as saying “Martin Luther King had more influence on me than any leader in my life.” In fact he was so influenced by Dr. King, that he joined him in Civil Rights protests nationwide. His human rights efforts spanned six decades, including monitoring South Africa’s post-apartheid election, to which Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected leader.

Here in Pittsburgh, Rev. McIlvane was often seen in his clerical collar, taking part in meetings, hearings, rallies, or protest marches—all in the quest for human rights. On a personal note, I knew Father McIlvane as a youngster. I remember how diligently he worked beside my father and other local Civil Rights leaders. He impressed me as a person who would do anything to see that justice was given to everyone, be they young, old, white, black, rich or poor—he loved all people, and they felt that from him. Teenie Harris captures the essence of this dedicated servant in these dynamic photographs.

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Nannie L. Carrington and Houston Dargan carrying signs reading “We protest discriminatory seniority units at U.S. Steel”, with Father Donald McIlvane in background, leading picketers against segregation at U.S. Steel in front of Union Trust building, on Grant Street, downtown, June 1966, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.5826 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

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The 2900 Webster Avenue Block Club including in front row: Mrs. McClanahan, Lena Davis, Thelma Lovette, Lucille Anderson, Jessie Lyons, Georgia Murray, and Norvie Dolphin; back row: James Reynolds, Beatrice Bankstown, Father McIlvane, and Emily Davis at the Davis house at 2931 Webster Avenue, Hill District, 1966, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.13088 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

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Bride Victoria Janice Brown wearing pillbox style headpiece with mid length veil, and groom Leon Bryan Jr. wearing eyeglasses, facing Elder Nelson A. Bliss and Father Donald W. McIlvane, gathered at altar in St. Richard Roman Catholic Church, July 1966, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.19625 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

 

 

George Barbour and Teenie Harris Speak Up


Charles "Teenie" Harris, Group portrait of Pittsburgh Courier newspaper employees, seated from left: Hazel Garland, John Clark, Willa Mae Rice; standing: Charles "Teenie" Harris, Frank Bolden, Ralph Koger, Rev. Burt Logan, and George Barbour, posed in Pittsburgh Courier newspaper office, c. 1955, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Group portrait of Pittsburgh Courier newspaper employees, seated from left: Hazel Garland, John Clark, Willa Mae Rice; standing: Charles “Teenie” Harris, Frank Bolden, Ralph Koger, Rev. Burt Logan, and George Barbour, posed in Pittsburgh Courier newspaper office, c. 1955, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

Race: Are We So Different? opens March 29 at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and will include Teenie Harris images from Carnegie Museum of Art’s collection as a collaboration between the two museums. This photographic project will recreate the “Pittsburghers Speak Up” column which ran from the 1950s to 70s in the preeminent African American newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier. In the original column, Teenie’s photos accompanied interviews by reporter George Barbour (approx. 1957–1963). In reflection of this team, current KDKA TV anchor and producer Lynne Hayes-Freeland will serve as the community curator and interviewer, and Pittsburgh artist Nikkia Margaret Hall will photograph people as they respond to some of the same questions posed by and published in the Courier several decades ago. Teenie’s historic portraits and the responses of subjects will be presented alongside their contemporary counterparts in the exhibition’s Community Voices Gallery. Exhibition visitors will be encouraged to post their own opinions and responses to the questions on how race impacts their daily lives.

Pittsburgh Courier reporter George Barbour writing in notebook, and Edward A. Brennan standing on sidewalk with buildings in background, 1959, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

Pittsburgh Courier reporter George Barbour writing in notebook, and Edward A. Brennan standing on sidewalk with buildings in background, 1959, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

In an interview with archive staff in 2011, Mr. Barbour described his work with Teenie Harris:

“Yeah, man on the street, that was a lot of fun… so every week, I think it was on—when was it? It was the first of the week, Monday or Tuesday, we’d go Downtown, and the editor Frank Bolden would give us a question to ask. And so we’d just go along and I’d introduce myself to some people, and say: ‘I’m George Barbour, reporter from the Pittsburgh Courier and we’re doing an on-the-street survey, and we’d like very much to talk with you and find out your opinion about uh, what do you think about city government?’ And then the person would start talking away and Teenie would snap the picture, and we’d have about twelve people… I can’t think of being refused it one time—we always had a way of being able to get the confidence of people in this town. Yeah, it was very popular…”

Barbara Cooks wearing light colored coat and knit headband tied under chin, and Pittsburgh Courier reporter George Barbour standing on sidewalk at corner of Fifth Avenue and Liberty Avenue, Downtown, March 1958, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

Barbara Cooks wearing light colored coat and knit headband tied under chin, and Pittsburgh Courier reporter George Barbour standing on sidewalk at corner of Fifth Avenue and Liberty Avenue, Downtown, March 1958, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

Harris captured more than 3,500 people over two decades for this column. This street portraiture is possibly some of the most spontaneous work he made, yet much of it is quite striking for the way he stood quite close to his subjects and composed the frame. Unlike his studio clients or many of the subjects of his photojournalistic work, most of the people on the street were less likely to know Teenie personally. Their gaze is often direct, occasionally grumpy, frequently warm, and more often than not revealing that Harris had gained their trust.

Barbour interviewed Pittsburghers going about their daily lives Downtown and in other neighborhoods, with questions ranging from subjects that seem ridiculous from today’s perspective, to the city’s everlasting love of its sports teams, to events and issues still unresolved and pertinent now.

Jack Mager and James Embry holding books and standing on Liberty Avenue, Downtown, May 1958, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

Jack Mager and James Embry holding books and standing on Liberty Avenue, Downtown, May 1958, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

Mr. James Embry (Chauncey Street and Wylie Avenue) and Mr. Jack Mager (Sloan Street, McKees Rocks) were part of the “Pittsburghers Speak Up” column published in the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, May 24, 1958, pg. A1, with the question: “Do you approve of women bartenders?”

Mr. Embry’s answer reads: “No, and one reason is there is too much notoriety, too many risks, and too filthy a job for women, in fact, the way I look at it, if a woman has to go into a bar just as a customer, let her take a table and booth and be seated and served.”

Mr. Mager’s answer reads: “Absolutely not, and mainly because a guy who goes to the bar likes to talk men’s talk. With women around, you can’t talk as you would like to without offending the women.”

Portrait of Iola Palmer wearing floral sleeveless dress, standing in front of Jenkins Arcade, Liberty Avenue, Downtown, May 1959, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

Portrait of Iola Palmer wearing floral sleeveless dress, standing in front of Jenkins Arcade, Liberty Avenue, Downtown, May 1959, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

Iola Palmer, housewife (Independence Street), was part of the “Pittsburghers Speak Up” column published in the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, May 30, 1959, pg. A1, with the question: “Do you think single or married women make better teachers for elementary grades in public schools? Do you think that married men should teach in elementary grades?”

Her answer reads: “I believe that young single women would make the better teachers. This would open up more jobs for this class. In my opinion, a married woman should not have to work because she has her husband to support her. Frankly, I can’t say why, but I prefer ladies over men to teach elementary grades.”

Portrait of Ronald Anderson, wearing goatee, horizontal striped button down collared shirt, standing in front of light colored wall, left store window displaying female mannequin wearing light colored sleeveless polka dot dress with dark sheer overlay, store window on right displaying men's dress shoes with sign inscribed "...tom Tips...", 1958, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

Portrait of Ronald Anderson, wearing goatee, horizontal striped button down collared shirt, standing in front of light colored wall, left store window displaying female mannequin wearing light colored sleeveless polka dot dress with dark sheer overlay, store window on right displaying men’s dress shoes with sign inscribed “…tom Tips…”, 1958, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

Ronald Anderson (Rivermont Drive) was part of the “Pittsburghers Speak Up” column published in the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, July 5, 1958, pg. 1, with the question: “What do you think is wrong with the Pittsburgh Pirates? Do you think that they are using their best ball players at all times?”

His answer reads: “The trouble seems to be something which the Pirates go through once a year. I think that if the men on the field were changed around, it would help. Some of the men on the bench could be playing and they probably could be doing as good a job as some of those on the field. Baker and Stevens are two of the men who could be used.”

Portrait of Elizabeth G. Henderson wearing dark double breasted coat, standing in front of Triangle Camera store window with sign advertising film projector for $39.50, November 1959, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

Portrait of Elizabeth G. Henderson wearing dark double breasted coat, standing in front of Triangle Camera store window with sign advertising film projector for $39.50, November 1959, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

Elizabeth G. Henderson, state field representative of the Fair Employment Practices Commission, was part of the “Pittsburghers Speak Up” column published in the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, November 28, 1959, pg. A1, with the question: “Do you think race relations are improved, are worse, or about the same today as compared to pre-World War II years?”

Her answer reads: “They are definitely improved, although there is much to be done.”

Portrait of Benjamin Lewis wearing cap and leather coat, standing in front of brick wall with stone railing, January 1959, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

Portrait of Benjamin Lewis wearing cap and leather coat, standing in front of brick wall with stone railing, January 1959, black and white: Kodak Safety Film; Heinz Family Fund

Benjamin Lewis, unemployed (Roberts Street), was part of the “Pittsburghers Speak Up” column published in the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper, January 31, 1959, pg. 32, with the question: “Do you believe in capital punishment? If so, do you think that it should be imposed on convicted defendants under the age of 21?”

His answer reads: “No. I do not believe in capital punishment. And the reason is my religion. I’m a member of the Church of God in Christ. I believe that a person should be tried and sentenced for brutal crimes, if convicted, but the death penalty should not be inflicted. In my opinion, it is all right for a person to be sentenced to life in prison. And, in that way he will pay many times for his crime.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conceptual Art since Conceptual Art, Part 2


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Installation view of Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #450, A wall is divided vertically into four equal parts. All one-, two-, three-, and four-part combinations of four colors, 1985, Lascaux acrylic wash, Purchase: gift of Richard M. Scaife to honor Margaret R. Battle; and Wall Drawing #493, The wall is divided vertically into three equal parts. All one-, two-, and three-part combinations of three colors, 1986, Lascaux acrylic wash, gift of the artist

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Read part 1 of this essay.
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Much has changed at Carnegie Museum of Art since the heyday of Conceptual art, and the movement is now fully integrated into the permanent collection alongside Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Minimalism, and other major developments in postwar art history. The Carnegie International, the museum’s unique asset, has helped immeasurably in this regard. Today, visitors even have their experience of the entire collection prefaced by works of Conceptual art, including one created for the 1985 International. Despite their bright colors and bold shapes, Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #450, A wall is divided vertically into four equal parts. All one-, two-, three-, and four-part combinations of four colors (1985) and Wall Drawing #493, The wall is divided vertically into three equal parts. All one-, two-, and three-part combinations of three colors (1986) exemplify an art of ideas that prioritizes the artist as thinker over the artist as maker. LeWitt conceptualized plans for both works but left to others what he called the “perfunctory affair” of actually drawing them. Installed as they are alongside the staircase that leads from the museum’s entrance to the second-floor Scaife Galleries (where the collection largely hangs) and visible from the adjacent Sculpture Court, LeWitt’s drawings stage Conceptual art’s core proposition—that art is thought—at the point of greatest visibility within the museum.

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Detail of Sol Lewitt’s Wall Drawing #493, The wall is divided vertically into three equal parts. All one-, two-, and three-part combinations of three colors, 1986, Lascaux acrylic wash, gift of the artist

I mention this transition from invisibility to full visibility because it has considerable historiographical importance. A small but dedicated body of scholarship has emerged in recent years to examine Conceptual art’s exhibition histories and collection histories. Within it, however, the question of how museums contribute to historicizing Conceptual art has received less attention. Carnegie Museum of Art proves an instructive case study of this process because its involvement with Conceptual art occurred after the movement’s emergence and development. Its interest in the movement has always been historical in character—the museum’s primary means for engaging with contemporary art, the Carnegie International, was undergoing a period of transformation that overlaps almost exactly with the emergence, development, and decline of Conceptual art. After a successful run of Internationals during the 1950s and early 1960s that facilitated the acquisition of major paintings and sculptures by the likes of Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and David Smith, the International was shuttered (for various reasons) after the 1970 International. It reopened in 1977 in the newly built Scaife Galleries as a showcase for the work of one or two artists before finally settling into its present format during the 1980s. (It should be noted that when the International was on hiatus in the 1970s, curator Sally Dixon’s film program at the museum did support a number of filmmakers, including Hollis Frampton, Tony Conrad, Michael Snow, and Paul Sharits, whose work is in dialogue with Conceptual art.)

Hollis Frampton, Apple Advancing (Variety: Northern Spy), 1975, gelatin silver print; Tasso G. Katselas Photograph Purchase Fund

Hollis Frampton, Apple Advancing (Variety: Northern Spy), 1975, gelatin silver print; Tasso G. Katselas Photograph Purchase Fund

Conceptual art was not yet historicized when the museum took an interest in it, so its collecting and exhibiting was not predetermined by a history of prior historicizing. As a result, the museum’s belated engagement with Conceptual art emphasizes the movement’s legacies—what could be called Conceptual art since Conceptual art—more than its original moments. This notion is instructive insofar as it highlights a museum playing an active role in constituting an art movement’s legacy through a program of acquisitions and exhibitions.

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(L): Detail of Sol LeWitt’s A Point Equidistant from Three Points…, 1974, ink and pencil; Gift of Mel Bochner; (R): Description of the same work that appears on the reverse side of the drawing.

Mel Bochner, Syncline, 1981, casein on wall; William G. Bechman Charitable Trust in memory of William G. and Beatrice M. Bechman

Mel Bochner, Syncline, 1981, casein on wall; William G. Bechman Charitable Trust in memory of William G. and Beatrice M. Bechman. Syncline and the LeWitt drawing above were the first Conceptual artworks acquired by Carnegie Museum of Art.

Few works by Conceptual artists entered the museum’s collection until 1980, when a combination of gifts and purchases began to address what had grown to become a major blind spot. Mel Bochner, a Pittsburgh native, played an important role in jump-starting the process. His wall drawing Syncline (1981) was commissioned at roughly the same time that Bochner himself donated a small LeWitt drawing, A Point Equidistant from Three Points… (1974). These are the first Conceptual artworks to find their way into the museum’s collection. Painted directly onto the wall in Scaife Gallery 16, the work is the first of several works by Conceptual artists to be incorporated directly onto the museum’s architectural surfaces as permanent installations.

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(L): Detail of Lothar Baumgarten’s Tongue of the Cherokee, 1985–1988, painted, laminated, and sandblasted glass; Purchase: gift of the Women’s Committee and Founder Patron’s Day Fund; (R): Installation view

The acquisition of LeWitt’s wall drawings in the mid-1980s continued this tendency, and Lothar Baumgarten’s large and permanent installation The Tongue of the Cherokee (1985–1988), acquired from the 1988 Carnegie International, extends it further. Located in the Hall of Sculpture’s skylights, where it requires viewers to crane their necks and direct their gazes up to the lofty realm of concepts and ideas, the work presents the syllabary of the Cherokee language that Sequoyah invented in the early 19th century. Like Bochner’s and LeWitt’s wall drawings, Baumgarten’s work shows Conceptual art developing in its own aftermath. All three artists are original practitioners of Conceptual art who emerged in the 1960s and 1970s and had achieved significant institutional recognition by the 1980s, enabling them to elaborate upon their ideas on a grander or more monumental scale than the humbler works they had previously produced.

(L): Dan Graham, Heart Pavilion, 1991, two-way mirror glass and aluminum;A. W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund and Carnegie International Acquisition Fund; (R): Bruce Nauman, Having Fun/Good Life, Symptoms, 1985, fabricated neon, Purchase: gift of the Partners of Reed Smith Shaw and McClay and Carnegie International Acquisition Fund

(L): Dan Graham, Heart Pavilion, 1991, two-way mirror glass and aluminum; A. W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund and Carnegie International Acquisition Fund; (R): Bruce Nauman, Having Fun/Good Life, Symptoms, 1985, fabricated neon, Purchase: gift of the Partners of Reed Smith Shaw and McClay and Carnegie International Acquisition Fund

Other latter-day works by early Conceptual artists to have made their way into the collection include Lawrence Weiner’s boldly colored wall text Ever Widening Circles of Shattered Glass (1984–1986). Though it continues the highly reductive comportment of his earlier and definitive artist’s book Statements (1968), this work is, by comparison, monumental in its mode of presentation as it takes up an entire gallery wall rather than a mere page in a book. In a related manner, Dan Graham’s Heart Pavilion (1991), an installation made of mirrored glass and aluminum, remains conceptually tied to his materially humbler but groundbreaking photo and text works, many published in magazines, like Homes for America (1966–1967), which consider, among other things, the meaning of architectural forms. Bruce Nauman’s neon work Having Fun/Good Life, Symptoms (1985) similarly builds upon the artist’s own precedent by developing his earlier interest in neon as a material in an elaborate and colorful way as well as extending his thematic interest in language to encompass more diverse verbiage.

(R): Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975, video; black and white, sound; 6:09 min.; Joseph Soffer Family Trust Fund; (L): Haegue Yang, Series of Vulnerable Arrangements—Domestics of Community (Lumpy Punch), 2009, Grey single shaft clothing rack on casters with four metal arms; light bulbs, cable, bulb holders, knitting yarn, green aluminum venetian blinds, buttons, plastic packages, metal ring; A. W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund

(R): Martha Rosler, Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975, video; black and white, sound; 6:09 min.; Joseph Soffer Family Trust Fund; (L): Haegue Yang, Series of Vulnerable Arrangements — Domestics of Community (Lumpy Punch), 2009, Grey single shaft clothing rack on casters with four metal arms; light bulbs, cable, bulb holders, knitting yarn, green aluminum venetian blinds, buttons, plastic packages, metal ring; A. W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund

Though the museum’s collection is deepest in these later works by early practitioners of Conceptual art, it has also acquired a few older works of Conceptual art, including two early Bruce Nauman videos, Bouncing in the Corner No. 1 (1968) and Slow Angle Walk (Beckett Walk) (1968), that both document the artist performing in his studio. Nauman’s videos were acquired in 2009, one year before several others by Martha Rosler, another artist whose ties to Conceptual art involve scrutinizing both language and the body. Her Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975) and Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained (1977) have proven to be especially valuable additions to the collection, as demonstrated by their recent and fruitful pairing with an installation of International alumnus Haegue Yang’s Series of Vulnerable Arrangements — Domestics of Community (2009) that emphasizes shared concerns with gender and domesticity across a generational gulf. Rosler is, like Broodthaers, a good example of an artist whose work has only increased in stature since its original creation as her impact on a subsequent generation of socially and politically conscious artists has made itself abundantly clear. Yang, meanwhile, is one of many artists to have emerged in Conceptual art’s wake. Others include Mike Kelley, Tim Rollins + K.O.S., Cindy Sherman, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Jeff Wall, and all have shown in Internationals. Their work in the museum’s collection manifests the diversity of Conceptual art’s influence on artists working in mediums ranging from painting and sculpture to photography, installation, and participatory art.

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Installation view of Gabriel Sierra’s Untitled (111.111.111 x 111.111.111 = 12345678987654321), 2013, paint and wood; Courtesy of the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City. Commissioned by Carnegie Museum of Art for the 2013 Carnegie International. Presentation supported by Nancy and Woody Ostrow, the Embassy of Colombia, and Mr. and Mrs. Lee B. Foster.

The curatorial team that organized 2013 Carnegie International made a novel decision to reinstall the museum’s permanent collection as part of their exhibition. Throughout this combination of two surveys—one restages the histories of modern and contemporary art through time and the other presents a selective overview of art being made around the world now—the continuing impact of Conceptual art remains much in evidence. For instance, Gabriel Sierra’s Untitled (111.111.111 x 111.111.111 = 12345678987654321) (2013), a purpling of the Hall of Architecture’s exposed surfaces, uses the wall directly in a manner not dissimilar to LeWitt, Bochner, or Weiner. Like these precedents, Sierra’s work is visually bold yet open-ended as far as its meaning is concerned. In a different but still distinctly conceptual vein, Bidoun Library’s presentation of its holdings of printed matter pertaining to the Middle East uses the pavilion form previously employed by Graham. Its critical explorations of representation draw on Broodthaers’s precedent-setting investigations of the museum as context and site of power in order to unpack how the concept of the Middle East, like the history of art, is not given but culturally and socially constructed.

bidoun

Bidoun Library, installation view of selected texts; Courtesy of Bidoun Library; Photo: Greenhouse Media

These two drastically different works show that issues raised by Conceptual artists remain vital and, moreover, unresolved. Nearly everything about the movement is open to debate, and decisions made at museums about which artworks to acquire and what art to exhibit play an important role in the ongoing process of historicizing Conceptual art. Carnegie Museum of Art’s later reception of Conceptual art overlaps perfectly with the history of that historicizing, and its collecting and exhibiting exemplify Conceptual art’s unfolding legacy. This activity testifies to one of the movement’s most welcome characteristics: its refusal of closure and its seemingly infinite openness to ongoing permutation. The history of Conceptual art since Conceptual art continues apace.

Robert Bailey is assistant professor in the School of Art & Art History at the University of Oklahoma. He is writing a book about the Conceptual art collective Art & Language.