View from the Hill: A Tale of Black Pittsburgh’s Complicated Legacy


17769_1200p

Charles “Teenie” Harris, billboard at the corner of Crawford Street and Centre Avenue, denouncing the redevelopment of the lower Hill District, 1969. Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund.

The home my wife and I share sits in an impressive building on Fifth Avenue. If I peer out our kitchen window and glance right, I’ll see Dinwiddie Street. A 15-second drive up Dinwiddie leads to Centre Avenue. The Hill House, the Thelma Lovette YMCA, the Alma Speed Fox Building, and perhaps the most politically contentious Shop ‘n Save in the country all sit within a five-minute walk. We do not live in the Hill District. This awkward stretch of land that exists between Oakland, downtown, the Hill, and the South Side is technically called Uptown—a differentiation that definitely seems to matter to pizza delivery men. But this apartment we live in—located in a building that was once Fifth Avenue High School and is now the Fifth Avenue School Lofts—and the hows, whys, and whats of how people came to live in this long-dead school building, tells a Hill District story. A Pittsburgh story. A black America story. A Teenie Harris story.

The story of how the Fifth Avenue School Lofts came to exist is a complicated one that I will attempt to simplify. It is also contentious. There will be people who will vehemently disagree with what I’m about to say, either claiming that I’m intentionally disregarding important context or attempting to skew facts to promote an agenda. I am doing neither. What I am doing is telling this story how I’ve come to see it.

Continue reading

Architect Bernard Tschumi to Talk at Carnegie Lecture Hall


Tschumi-©-Christian-Richters_1200p

New Acropolis Museum. Photograph: Christian Richters, used with permission.

Architect Bernard Tschumi lectures at Carnegie Lecture Hall, Oakland, on Friday, February 27. Organized by the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University and co-sponsored by the Heinz Architectural Center at Carnegie Museum of Art, Tschumi’s lecture promises to be a stimulating presentation of work in the forefront of architectural culture.

Bernard Tschumi is today perhaps best known for his New Acropolis Museum, completed in 2009 close to the historic Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Born and educated in Switzerland, Tschumi is truly a transatlantic architect, operating his practice from offices in Paris and New York. Here at the Heinz Architectural Center, we are lucky to have four drawings or montages from Tschumi’s early Manhattan Transcripts series, a theoretical project from the late 1970s in which architecture is defined as much by event or narrative as by traditional building form.

Continue reading

Program Notes: Experimental Film and the Viewing Experience


KirstenWatchingVideo3_1200p

Kirsten Strayer, Time-Based Media Project volunteer, watching Debt Begins at 20, a film by Stephanie Beroes currently on view in the Scaife Galleries at CMOA. Photograph: Kate Barbera.

For the past four months, I’ve been volunteering with the Time-Based Media Project at Carnegie Museum of Art. Primarily, I’ve been writing content that will appear online in the catalogue—working to help put the films in their larger historical and artistic context. In other words, I’ve been watching the films and videos and writing about them, something I already do for my job in Film Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. I’ve especially enjoyed this project because—even though my professional research concerns Mexican narrative and feature films—I’ve always been a fan of American experimental films. Since starting this project, I’ve been watching old favorites that I haven’t seen since my early years in graduate school and reading about their history for the first time.

I’ve noticed, however, that when people write about experimental film, whether in histories, magazines, or journals, it appears as though they’re writing for those already converted—viewers who already know and appreciate particular films, and are, strictly speaking, “fans” like myself. The authors address a rather small group of filmgoers: scholars, filmmakers, artists, and occasional cineastes. Whether amateur or professional, these are viewers who haven’t just seen particular films but know the historic details surrounding the films, or which filmmakers worked with other filmmakers, or stories of how so many films were made by circles of friends with little money or resources. While this idea of a small, committed viewership of experimental cinema probably has some accuracy, the archival collection of materials at CMOA suggests that there was a sizeable audience during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s—the peak years of the Film Program when audiences filled the theater to see programs of new works or the monthly (or bi-weekly) experimental film programs from the permanent collection. Of course, experimental film has never garnered the broad audience of conventional film, but the experimental film theatrical experience was diverse and sustained, showing older, favorite experimental works and promoting younger, unknown independent filmmakers, something that happens far more rarely in Pittsburgh today.

Continue reading

This Picture: To Thine Own Selfie Be True


Corbis_FingerPointing

Hand pointing, light beams in background © SuperStock/Corbis.

On Christmas Day in 2006, Time magazine published its annual “Person of the Year” issue, with a strange twist: they didn’t actually select a person. Instead, the cover featured a photo of a computer, on top of which lay a small, reflective paper rectangle—a makeshift mirror floating above a single, captivating word: You.

Nodding to the then newly minted capacity to customize one’s online presence, this comparatively brazen editorial conceit perfectly captured a sense of where things appeared to be heading. American culture stood at that moment on the precipice of a new, self-obsessed democracy: for the people and by the people—and photographed by the people, too. With that seminal issue, we were told to get ready for our close-up, and get ready we did. Continue reading

How to Transform Pittsburgh’s Gulf Tower Beacon into a Mood Ring


gulf-tower_mood-ring_distant-feel_antoine-catala_crop

Here at CMOA we’re gearing up for a new exhibition, Antoine Catala: Distant Feel, one of the more challenging yet rewarding shows to come through our Forum Gallery. Catala is interested in how images provoke feelings, notably empathy. But, he asks, how should we express empathy online, to strangers? Now that we’re able to see thousands of images per day through Internet-connected devices, what are the emotional ramifications?

It’s a potentially limitless line of inquiry. It’s also difficult to communicate. “So,” several of us thought, “what if we plan some sort of live demonstration for the whole city of Pittsburgh?”

The beacon atop Gulf Tower came to mind immediately. Six stories tall, and pyramid-shaped, the Art Deco-inspired structure has had one lighting scheme or another since it first opened in 1932. In 2012, a new set of LED bulbs enabled the lighting to change drastically, and its weather program feeds directly from KDKA through an Internet connection. We could do something similar, except around emotional responses to images. It seemed perfect. Hence the Gulf Tower Project was born.

Continue reading