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The look of love: Pittsburgh art installation captures people gazing at objects of their affection

Artist Kit Monkman discusses his video installation "People We Love" alongside one of its seven video screens.
Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
Artist Kit Monkman discusses his video installation "People We Love" alongside one of its seven video screens.

What does love look like?

If the answers might be found written on a face, a new public artwork in Downtown Pittsburgh makes them legible.

“People We Love” is the U.S. premiere of a work by internationally known British artist Kit Monkman. It consists of seven high-definition screens mounted in a Smithfield Street storefront of One Oxford Centre. Each screen offers a series of video portraits of people looking at photos of people they love, whether living or dead. Viewers never see the photos of the loved ones – only the faces of the unnamed subjects, who peer straight back out from the screen.

Some grin. Some weep. Many simply stare off, seemingly lost in thought.

“You meet the gaze of these faces looking out, and they’re looking with this kind of profound love at you, essentially,” said Monkman, who was in Pittsburgh for Friday’s opening of the exhibit. “And I think the point of it all, really, is it’s impossible not to wonder who it is they’re looking at.”

The portraits, which run a few minutes each, are visible up-close during gallery hours and round-the-clock through the plate-glass windows from Friday through June 5.

The project is sponsored by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP), in part as an effort to activate a long-vacant storefront, formerly a state-owned Fine Wines and Good Spirits store.

“People We Love” was curated by Pittsburgh-based public-art consultant Renee Piechocki, who worked with Monkman on the 2014 installation “Congregation,” in Market Square.

Piechocki said participants were recruited via social media, personal networks, and even off the street, from among passersby of the gallery space, where the videotaping took place.

Each subject sat alone in a small, black-curtained chamber, listening to a guided meditation while looking at an image of their loved one projected directly above the camera. The meditation offered open-ended prompts, like asking subjects to imagine how their loved one would feel about being selected for the project.

Organizers did not ask participants to show their pictures to anyone else, or to divulge the identity of their loved one. Participants included PDP employee Lynda Fairbrother, who got a little emotional while sharing her story during a press preview.

“I was actually looking at a picture of my mother and my sister and I …. when we were very small,” she said, tearing up. “It was lovely.”

Monkman world-premiered “People We Love” in York, England, in 2020. In earlier iterations, he videotaped the sessions himself, but for the Pittsburgh edition that was not possible because of the pandemic, he said. His role was primarily editing the videotape.

“I think what’s interesting about these faces is people get completely lost in the act of looking with love at a face themselves, which is an incredibly unusual act,” he said. “In that act of looking, these faces seem to have lost all sense of self-curation that they’re incredibly honest, they’re incredibly vulnerable, they’re incredibly open.”

“This is something that America needs right now,” said Piechocki. “We all need to imagine that the person next to us, no matter where they’re fitting in their COVID beliefs or political beliefs, loves someone, and is loved by someone.”

The PDP has scheduled three additional sessions for others who wishes to be filmed for the project. They are Sun., April 10, April 30, and May 8. More information is at

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: