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Last thoughts on the 2023 Carnegie International

Mire Lee’s “Untitled (My Pittsburgh Sculpture).
Sean Eaton
Mire Lee’s “Untitled (My Pittsburgh Sculpture).

This is WESA Arts, a weekly newsletter by Bill O'Driscoll providing in-depth reporting about the Pittsburgh area art scene. Sign up here to get it every Wednesday afternoon.

WESA has done quite a bit of coverage of the 58th Carnegie International, titled “Is it morning for you yet?” Since it opened in September, we’ve profiled local artists in the show, explored a provocative conceptual work proposing legal personhood for a tree, and heard from four local artists on their favorite pieces.

The 2022 International is the biggest art exhibit in these parts since, well, the 2018 International, and we likely won’t see a bigger one till the next International rolls around. It’s also surely the most widely reviewed exhibit to open this year in Pittsburgh, with critics visiting from around the country. (Those reviews — like this one from Artforum — generally have been pretty positive.)

So why one more mention here in this newsletter? Well, size does matter, and an exhibit this expansive warrants a last word before it closes on April 2.

Also, anecdotal evidence suggests this International has been better received by Pittsburgh audiences than many others in recent decades. One thing people liked is that, with works by some 140 artists from five continents and dozens of countries and territories, this International is literally more international — that is, less American- and Eurocentric — than any prior incarnation.

That characteristic both reflects and reinforces curator Sohrab Mohebbi’s ambitious survey of the effects of colonialism since 1945, when World War II ended and U.S. military, economic, and cultural hegemony began to spread.

Among the exhibit’s bracing juxtapositions are Banu Çennetoglu’s Hall of Sculpture installation of hundreds of gleaming, golden letter-balloons, arranged in gigantic bouquets and collectively (if illegibly) spelling out the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights. The work, titled “right?,” sits in the middle of a space whose walls are lined with Hiromi Tsuchida’s clinical, black-and-white photos of personal items — a child’s dress, a lunch box — salvaged after the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. The balloons, as Çennetoglu intended, are by now nearly deflated in a pointed commentary about how much easier it is to state one’s values than to realize them.

Other galleries showcase the art of political resistance from around the world. And works from Guatemala, Bali, Uganda and elsewhere needn’t be explicitly political to make a statement about the universe of concerns and expressions that exists outside Western art practices.

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Still, ever since I first visited the International in October, whenever I thought of the exhibit, the first thing that came to mind was South Korea-born artist Mire Lee’s “Untitled (My Pittsburgh Sculpture).”

The piece consists of a large, slowly rotating cylinder of Plexiglass and stainless steel entwined with long, ropy strands of a resinous red and white material resembling viscera, all sitting in a shallow, raised basin puddled with gory-looking fluid. With its suggestion of slaughterhouse machinery laced with surgical tubing engorged with blood-red fluid, the structure takes up half a room.

“Untitled” is disturbing, but it took me months to decide what — beyond the obvious — made it so. It’s not just because it’s gruesome. I think it’s because the machine, despite component parts that would look at home in any industrial plant, clearly has no real function. It churns through its grim burlesque of disembowelment not under the pretense of feeding or curing anyone, but simply because that’s what it does. And that suggestion of purposeless carnage feels like an unfortunately apt metaphor for too much of the world around us.

More information on the 2022 Carnegie International is here.

Celebrity cat Pudgie Wudgie.
Found Footage Festival
Celebrity cat Pudgie Wudgie.

WESA's Weekend Picks

  1. The long-running, nationally touring Brooklyn-based Found Footage Festival visits with an audiovisual grab-bag of Pizza Hut training videos from the ’90s, Magical Rainbow Sponge crafting videos, footage of Pittsburgh’s own Pudgie Wudgie the Wondercat, and more, on Thu., March 23, at Bottlerocket Social Hall, in Allentown.
  2. Hosts Jocelyn Hillen-Newham and Mary Quick mark the first anniversary of women’s-comedy showcase B!tch Please with a celebration of the history of women in comedy, Fri., March 24, at Arcade Comedy.
  3. Romance, deception, vengeful aristocrats, and the iconic “anvil chorus”: It must be Verdi’s classic “Il Trovatore,” in its first production at Pittsburgh Opera since 1999. There are four performances at the Benedum Center, Sat., March 25, through April 2.
  4. Among many other honors, Joy Harjo is only the second person to be appointed to three terms as U.S. Poet Laureate. Courtesy of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures, she visits Carnegie Music Hall to mark publication of “Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light,” a retrospective volume celebrating her 50 years as a poet, on Mon., March 27.
  5. Calliope House presents multi-instrumentalist and old-time folk revivalist Hubby Jenkins, formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, with special guests The Piedmont Blūz Acoustic Duo, on Sat., March 25.
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: