There’s a good chance you’ve seen a sculpture by Dee Briggs, whom the Pittsburgh Center for Arts & Media has named its Artist of the Year.
Briggs is known nationally, but her large-scale abstract works in steel have also appeared locally, in settings including Phipps Conservatory. Her assembly of six thin plates of steel formed into interlocking, wave-like shapes graced Stanwix Plaza for a year, starting during the 2018 Three Rivers Arts Festival.
But Brigg’s Artist of the Year exhibit at the Center, which opens Friday night, will showcase other aspects of her career: small-scale sculptures, documentation of her studio practice, and even a contribution by kids from her neighborhood in Wilkinsburg.
Briggs grew up in Wellsburg, W.V., and studied architecture at City College of New York and Yale University. In 2002, she moved to Pittsburgh to teach at Carnegie Mellon University.
Seventeen years later, she has exhibited in galleries around the country, has works in private collections, and public artworks in places like Lower Manhattan, Chicago, and Colorado Springs, Col. Her public works also include 2014’s “House of Gold,” for which she painted gold an entire vacant house in Wilkinsburg.
Her signature shapes are interconnected fractured rings. She’s fascinated by these “chiral” shapes that lack any internal plane of symmetry. Other works, like her installation in Manhattan’s Foley Square, are composed of thin pieces of steel.
Most of her pieces, whether in private collections or in public parks, are big, at least a few feet long or high; some are room-sized. For her Artist of the Year exhibit, she’s focusing on new, smaller works partly for logistical reasons: It’d be hard to get a large sculpture into the Center’s modest galleries. The show will also mark the debut of her first rings in bronze. (She’s never made large bronzes in this form because the metal is not strong enough to hold the shape.)
Briggs' characteristic larger works will be represented by design drawings and mural-like photos depicting her studio practice and the intense work that goes into fabricating and installing big metal sculptures.
Five Center galleries will be devoted to Briggs’ exhibit, but one of them won’t contain her work. Rather, it will feature creations made on-site by kids who live near her Wilkinsburg studio (a vintage former firehouse) and to whom she’s become close over the years. The children, ages 3 to 13, are the younger siblings of youths and young adults who last year helped Briggs fabricate “Three Angles,” the epic work by venerable Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui that adorned the façade of the Carnegie Museum of Art for the 2018 Carnegie International.
For the Artist of the Year show, the children worked with block-shaped packing materials left over from the El Anatsui project that they’d been playing with in Briggs’ yard.
“The kids came over to the [Center] and they built their own sculptures,” she said. “So their names will all be in that gallery as part of my exhibition.”
The Artist of the Year award dates to 1949, when the Center was known as Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. (The PCA and Pittsburgh Filmmakers merged in 2006, and last year reorganized as Pittsburgh Center for Media & Arts.)
Also opening Friday is an exhibit by the Center’s 2019 Emerging Artist of the Year, Saige Baxter. Baxter, too, is a sculptor who works mostly with metal. Some of her works are interactive. This is her first solo gallery exhibition.
Tonight’s opening includes a reception. More information is here.
The exhibits run through Nov. 3.