Combining local and international artists with Pittsburgh history, the 57th international asks what it means for a local museum to be a part of a global contemporary institution.
Carnegie International curator Ingrid Schaffner. (Current Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)
When Carnegie International curator Ingrid Schaffner began her research for the 57th iteration of the exhibition, the United Kingdom was still a part of the European Union, the United States Supreme Court affirmed same-sex marriage and 195 countries endorsed the Paris Climate Accord, coming together to combat the effects of climate change.
Three years later, all that has changed: the United Kingdom is set to withdraw fully from the Union in 2019; bakers are refusing to bake cakes for same-sex couples, citing protections by the First Amendment; and, in 2017, the United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, with President Donald Trump stating, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
According to Schaffner, these global changes and connections inspire the art featured in the 2018 Carnegie International, which begins Oct. 13 through March 25. Combining local and international artists with Pittsburgh history, the 57th international asks what it means for a local museum to be a part of a global contemporary institution.
“We are part of an international” she says. “The International is a very pervasive term in a way that it wasn’t when I began working on the exhibition in 2015.”
The Carnegie Museum of Art has presented the International since 1896 — one year before the Venice Biennale — and was the brainchild of museum founder Andrew Carnegie. Occuring every four to five years, the International helps expand the museum’s collection and shows Pittsburgh’s ability to be at the center of both art and industry, according to the International website.
2018 Carnegie International. Through March 25. $11.95-19.95 (free for members). 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. 412-622-3131 or www.cmoa.org
Schaffner was invited by former Carnegie Museum of Art museum director Lynn Zelevansky in 2014 to curate the project, and began work on the International in summer 2015. According to the International website, she is approaching the exhibition as “an encompassing research project.”
For Schaffner, that means an emphasis on community events, like Tam O’Shanter Drawing Sessions — where museum-goers can explore contemporary art by drawing with artists and organizers of the 2018 Carnegie International — teaming up with Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Art for an artist lecture series, a Cinematheque (French for “small film house or a film library”) for children that will be screening films that address a theme in the International and FEAST events connecting art and food.
“It’s been happening since I started working on it. The exhibition might be the culmination of these things, but it’s not ‘the thing,’” Schaffner says. “There’s a kind of phenomena of the contemporary space that is both a space for exhibition but also for conversation and for programs and for readings and for learning.”
On top of examining the community aspect of art, Schaffner’s research also included traveling five times, each with a different curator whom Schaffner admired and respected — also known as “companions” — to “pass the buck,” as she says, to help her think about contemporary art on a global context.
Schaffner’s guidelines were simple: she’ll pay and the companion will decide where to go. However, there was one caveat: the place had to be new to both of them.
“The invitation wasn’t, ‘let’s travel and pick art together.’ It was ‘let’s travel and be thinking partners and guard each other’s suitcase,’” Schaffner says.
Schaffner and her companions — Magalí Arriola (independent curator, Mexico City), Doryun Chong (Chief Curator, M+, Hong Kong), Ruba Katrib (Curator, MoMA PS1, New York), Carin Kuoni (Director, Vera List Center for Art and Politics, The New School, New York) and Bisi Silva (Founder and Artistic Director, The Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos) — traveled to Morocco, Senegal, Nigeria, Romania, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, India, Trinidad, Barbados, Martinique, Haiti, the Bahamas, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.
Those travels culminated in works by 32 artists — 13 individual artists who use the pronoun “he” and 17 individual artists who use the pronoun “she” — from all around the world and the United States, with representation from the Cherokee Nation, Ghana, India, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, Navajo Nation, Nigeria, Nonuya Nation, Pakistan, Palestine, Senegal, and Vietnam.
“My invitation to artists was, ‘come to Pittsburgh, spend a few days to talk about the International, we’ll explore Pittsburgh a little together, and then you decide if want to be part of making this exhibition together.’” Schaffner says. “So it wasn’t like, ‘I want three red pots and a painting, you know, come to the opening.’ It’s very much wanting to bring artists themselves into a culture of making an exhibition we all want to experience ourselves together.”
That includes works from El Anatsui, a Ghanaian artist; Postcommodity, an interdisciplinary, indigenous art collective based in the American Southwest and Jon Rubin and Lenka Clayton, Pittsburgh-based educators and artists, all who used the museum and Pittsburgh’s history as inspiration for their work in the International after visiting.
Anatsui’s piece, titled “Three Angles,” covers the museum’s 30 by 160-foot facade, combining folded printing plates and wired-together liquor bottle tops. Anatsui was inspired by Richard Serra’s “Carnegie,” a geometric sculpture in the museum’s plaza that is made up of welded COR-TEN, an invention of Carnegie’s U.S. Steel Corp. Anatsui’s piece aims to be in conversation with the Serra, according to Schaffner.
Postcommodity’s piece, entitled “From Smoke and Tangled Waters We Carried Fire Home,” sits in the Hall of Sculpture and is made of glass, coal, and steel — materials of the city’s industrial past — partnered with performances by local musicians rooted in Pittsburgh’s history of jazz.
Jon Rubin and Lenka Clayton’s piece, “Fruit and Other Things,” turns the titles of rejected works submitted to the International between 1896 to 1931 into works of art, creating text-based paintings that museum-goers can take home.
Although the works themselves are important when presenting the International, according to Schaffner, the business side and other ancilliary elements are just as important.
“For me it’s important to think about the totality of the International. It’s the publications, it’s the public programs, it’s the website, it’s the labels, it’s the signage, it’s the way our artists are hosted when they’re here, there’s a whole culture to about how you invite people,” she says.
Schaffner says that she’s proudest of the sheer ambition from everyone involved: both from the artists and from the staff.
“Yeah, I’m the curator, but this exhibition is made by the whole museum. It’s all hands-on-deck for this exhibition,” she says. “It’s almost like each artist contribution is an exhibition in itself. And that’s been really exciting to build the structure and now it’s what artists are bringing into it and what colleagues are bringing into it and then it will be what the public brings into it.”
When the International ends in March, Schaffner’s time as curator ends, then the museum director invites a new person to shape the future International. According to Schaffner, this helps keep an exhibition dedicated to exploring the what it means for contemporary art to be, well, contemporary.
“I built my own team and we have our own way of doing things and when we leave, the next person comes in and shakes things up. It’s disruptive and it’s ventilating too,” she says.
Schaffner — a local Pittsburgher — doesn’t think that curating the International means she’s come full circle. Rather, she says it’s more like a spiral or a curlicue, resembling a cycle of influences, places and history — much like what the International is doing itself.
“This is my first museum. As a kid I came to this museum,” she says. “So this museum has an important role in making future museum-goers and I want the International to be part of that.”
Amanda Reed is a Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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