Carnegie Exhibit Features Artists from 17 Countries

By Loeffler, William | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, May 4, 2008 | Go to article overview

Carnegie Exhibit Features Artists from 17 Countries


Loeffler, William, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Whether we're being watched by beings on other planets remains a mystery.

But one thing is as certain as the phases of the moon: Every three years, the international art world sets its coordinates for Pittsburgh, where the Carnegie International draws critics, collectors and aficionados into its orbit.

"Life on Mars: The 55th Carnegie International" landed Saturday at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland, as terrestrial art lovers and news media gathered to view the work of 40 artists from 17 countries. It runs through Jan. 11.

"The Carnegie International is one of those (exhibits) that everyone talks about," said Miguel Amado, correspondent for Art Forum in Lisbon.

The Pittsburgh-based, 112-year-old International is the second- oldest exhibition of international contemporary art in the world, following the Vienna Biennale, and the largest in North America.

"It has a history," said New York art dealer Anton Kern, a native of Germany. Other American exhibitions tend to limit themselves to artists from these shores, he said, gesturing to a room containing the works of artists from Mexico, Germany and Austria in the Heinz Galleries.

"The Whitney (exhibition) is almost an insular affair," said Kern, although he said it has endeavored to become more globally inclusive.

Finding their place

"Life on Mars" is a metaphor that asks artists and the audience to consider their place in the universe, and what it means to be human. Whether mischievous or mystical is up to the individual.

In his opening remarks, 2008 International curator Douglas Fogle talked about his decision to give the International its prefix. The extra name is a first for an event that opened in 1896 as simply "The Annual Exhibition." Fogle admits he nicked the name from a song title on David Bowie's 1971 album "Hunky Dory."

"I wanted to give a title to an exhibit that would be both poetic and open-ended, that would be a question rather than an answer, that would pique your interest before you even enter the building," he said.

At least exhibits will serve that purpose.

In the Sculpture Courtyard, a recording of a 19th century murder ballad -- "Banks of the Ohio," sung by Scottish artist Susan Philipsz -- loops on a solar-powered sound system. The song starts playing shortly after the first rays of the morning sun reach the solar panels and fades with the daylight. And a film by Los Angeles artist Doug Aitken titled "Migration: 365 Hotel Rooms," will be projected onto the facade of the museum.

Fogle, who became curator of contemporary art at the Carnegie Museum of Art in 2005 after 11 years at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, says the question whether there's "Life on Mars" can prompt a person to look inward, as well as skyward. …

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