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Art Club 2000 Revisited: An acclaimed collective stages its first-ever show in Pittsburgh

Traversing the 800 block of West North Avenue, you might do a double-take. Why is that one Allegheny West picture window all soaped-over, like a shuttered store’s, with a logo and message reading “Old Navy November 1996”?

While it’s no Halloween prank, this window dressing is a disguise, of sorts. It serves as frontage for the first-ever Pittsburgh exhibition by Art Club 2000, a playfully edgy collective that earned international acclaim in the 1990s for its photos and multimedia installations satirizing consumer culture and criticizing gentrification.

Its resume includes a piece mocking a Gap ad campaign that drew the threat of a lawsuit from the company – and another exhibit that repurposed trash from the clothing retailer’s own stores to expose how it trained employees and manipulated customers.

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Art Club 2000, consisting of students from The Cooper Union, was founded and based in New York City, and its work was exhibited in galleries in London, Austria, Milan, and beyond. Just as members had planned, the group formally disbanded in 1999. It’s finally showing work in Pittsburgh because two co-founders are locals: Pittsburgh CAPA High School classmates Patterson Beckwith and Shannon Pultz. Other members included Gillian Haratani, Daniel McDonald, Sarah Rossiter, Soibian Spring and Craig Wadlin.

“Art Club 2000: Selected Works 1992-1999” follows two larger retrospectives of the group’s work, at New York’s Artists Space and the Kunsthalle Zurich, in Switzerland. It runs through Nov. 13 at the Flashlight Factory, an event space.

The collective’s members were initially recruited from among Cooper Union students by New York art dealer Colin de Land, who hosted the group’s debut exhibition, in 1993, at American Fine Arts, Co. That show, “Commingle,” included Art Club 2000’s signature installation “Individuals of Style Portrait Center,” which slyly offered to make any visitor a subject worthy of the GAP’s then-current celebrity-driven advertising campaign. (Pultz said the GAP threatened to sue for copyright infringement after Art Club 2000 ran a related parody ad in Artforum magazine.)

Other pieces on display at the Flashlight Factory include a series of the group’s staged photos. Pultz calls them examples of “constructed reality,” in which group members were photographed participating in fictional scenes set in a doughnut shop, a movie theater, a furniture store, and elsewhere.

Perhaps the most famous of these images is “Times Square/Gap Grunge,” for which all seven members posed, with studied disaffection, in a gentrifying Times Square while wearing identical GAP finery: red bandannas, round-lensed sunglasses, and sleeveless jean jackets over long-sleeved gray jerseys.

The idea was to spoof the GAP – whose stores were becoming ubiquitous – as well as how capitalism in general was co-opting youth culture.

“We were maybe seeing a lot of things that were going on at the time that we maybe couldn’t articulate verbally, but we could through our artwork,” said Pultz. “It almost resonates more today in some sense than it did back then.”

Another target was gentrification, especially as it was changing the Manhattan art scene that had grown so vibrant in the 1980s. Galleries were getting priced out of SoHo. The soaped-out window of the Flashlight Factory recreates how the group once dressed the window of its own SoHo gallery. “It hadn’t become the mall that it is now,” Pultz said.

Other works explore everything from over-policing in Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s New York to critic Roland Barthes’ concept of the “death of the author.” Another piece consists of a stack of eight old-school TV monitors simultaneously playing talking-head interviews of acclaimed artists from New York discussing the year 1970.

While Art Club 2000 survived the members’ college graduations, the group had already planned its own demise. Members were “kind of being cheeky, because we knew our work would increase immediately in value, being dead,” said Pultz. “But also as we got older, we all had lives and went off in different ways.”

Beckwith, for instance, teaches art at City College of New York. Pultz chairs the visual-art department at her alma mater, Pittsburgh CAPA.

“Art Club2000: Selected Works” is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, and weekdays by appointment by calling 412-818-8783. The Flashlight Factory is located at 831 W. North Ave.

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: