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Public Art in Pittsburgh From the POV of a Newcomer

This is the first in a series on public art across city neighborhoods by David Neimanis

It’s special to step foot in a new city and feel as though you already know something about its people. This is something that I’ve recognized while spending time on the road as a touring musician, and as a traveler. Aside from my urge to enjoy a city’s local cuisine and culture, my love of art has always drawn me to museums, but just as much to art hiding in plain sight. Public art can empower those willing to converse, create a sense of community, and evoke civic pride; as a recent transplant to Pittsburgh, it’s taken very little time to recognize and appreciate the pride within Pittsburgh.

As I sit on a bench at the Allegheny Landing, I study The Forks, a sculpture created by Isaac Witkin in 1984. Downtown Pittsburgh’s skyline creates the perfect backdrop. As I begin to absorb my surroundings, it becomes obvious that there is a great deal of intention within this piece. The sculpture represents a city founded at the fork of the Ohio River, where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers come to an end. The molten metal represents that of the city’s industrial heritage, but as we also know, forks represent a change in direction. Pittsburgh’s tale of resilience, from steel to tech, seems to be strongly represented in this sculpture. Coincidence, or were the early 1980s when the fork in Pittsburgh’s story all began?

Within a short walk the conversation unfolds. I pass by the Roberto Walker Clemente statue, an important figure in a passionate sports culture, just before crossing his bridge to Pittsburgh’s Cultural District. The story soon continues as I stare at James Simons’ Liberty Avenue Musicians, representing Pittsburgh’s musical legacy. Simons is an internationally renowned sculptor, native to Pittsburgh. To me, it seems obvious that Simons is a local, based on the efforts that he has made to depict this large-scale tribute to Pittsburgh’s musical history, all while contrasting with the façade of modern lofts that live behind. He wants us to not forget what once was.

Within the same view as Simons’ sculpture, I’m able to gaze up at Brian Holderman’s Yesterday’s Tomorrowa nearly 3,000 square foot mural that makes brilliant use of a parking garage with its bright colors and futuristic cars; go figure that Pittsburgh would be the first city with self-driving Ubers.

From there, you can even turn the corner and witness Andy Warhol and Andrew Carnegie converse, as The Two Andys get their hair done and admire one another’s contributions to the city, both with their own respective museums. It’s easy to walk away from these murals impressed by the vibrant colors and how great they look once uploaded to your Instagram, but with a small amount of engagement, it becomes clear that there is a great deal of relevance and thought-provoking content within these works. Timed out perfectly with the sun, I step away from the Haas Mural, depicting the legacy of the city’s steel industry, and I walk back over the Allegheny, this time over the Andy Warhol Bridge.

It’s easy for your surroundings to become colloquial. It happens to us all the time. While it’s important to recognize the art in which the public shares, it’s even more important to encourage communities to continue creating meaningful, cooperative public art. Neighborhoods will continue to change, but we must value what once was, as well as what we desire for the future. Art can be used as a tool in acknowledging culture within a city, and this is why it’s important for public art to remain inclusive to all those that make up our communities. There is no reason that Pittsburgh can’t hold onto its cultural identity of a resilient city that honors its past.

Follow along David’s route for the perfect downtown public art walk by following “Public Art in Pittsburgh: An Outsider’s View (Downtown)”, created using The Office of Public Art’s Pittsburgh Art Places tool.

  1. 1. The Forks, 1984 – Isaac Witkin
  2. 2. Roberto Walker Clemente, 1994 – Susan Wagner
  3. 3. Pittsburgh People, 1988 – Penelope Jencks
  4. 4. City Composition, 2016 – Deanna Mance
  5. 5. The Two Andys, 2005 – Tom Mosser& Sarah Zeffiro
  6. 6. Liberty Avenue Musicians, 2003 – James Simon
  7. 7. Yesterday’s Tomorrow, 2006 – Brian Holderman
  8. 8. Magnolia’s for Pittsburgh, 2006 – Tony Tasset
  9. 9. Agnes R. Katz Plaza, 1999 – Louise Bourgeois
  10. 10. Haas Mural, 1993 – Richard Haas

 

Photo Credits:

  • Yesterday’s Tomorrow, 2006 – Brian Holderman (Photo by David Neimanis)
  • The Forks, 1984 – Isaac Witkin (Photo by David Neimanis)
  • The Two Andys, 2005 – Tom Mosser& Sarah Zeffiro (Photo by Renee Rosensteel)
  • Energy Flow, 2016 – Andrea Polli (Photo by Matt Robinson)

 

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