Morning at Carnegie’s Art Museum Dawns a New Directorship

By Gina McKlveen
The grand opening of any art exhibition, even one that has been regularly exhibited since 1896, has that quintessential anticipation for what will be displayed or what new thing will be discovered. It is a similar feeling of anticipation that we may feel when we wake up in the morning at the dawn of a new day and silently wonder to ourselves “What will this day hold?” before returning to our usual routines.

This year, the Carnegie Museum of Art will hold its 58th Carnegie International, beginning on September 24th and running through April 2nd of next year. At its inception in 1896, the Carnegie International exhibition was selected by the Carnegie Museum of Art’s inaugural director, Mr. John W. Beatty, and several foreign art advisors. In 1895, Mr. Andrew Carnegie—an industrialist and philanthropist—founded the Carnegie Museum of Art and wisely appointed Mr. Beatty, the Pittsburgh-born silver engraver turned prominent painter and illustrator, to carry out the mission of discovering the next great masters among those currently practicing artists.

Mr. Carnegie’s vision for the Museum and related International exhibition was to make the so-called “Steel City” as famous for the arts as for its steel. Since then, the Museum has seen a steady growth and expansion in the arts within its own collection, having added the Hall of Architecture at the turn of the 20th century and acquired works through the years by artists like James Abbot McNeill Whistler, Sigmar Polke, Chris Ofili, Edward Hopper, Isa Genzken, Mary Cassatt, among many others. Now, 126 years later, the Carnegie International (the longest-running exhibition in North America) once again opens its doors in Oakland for visitors to enter in and explore the world of art with the newest Henry J. Heinz II Director of the Carnegie Museum of Art and Vice President of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, Mr. Eric Crosby, encouraging all who see the exhibition to engage in “both local and global creative conversations.”

At 10:00 in the morning the day before the grand opening, these conversations in a diverse range of languages have already started to fill the Museum’s spaces. This year’s Carnegie International is titled Is it morning for you yet?, named after a commission for the exhibition by featured artist, Edgar Calel whose work has a corresponding title which was inspired from a Mayan Kaqchikel expression where it is customary to ask, “Is it morning for you yet?” rather than assume and say “Good morning” to someone who may be in a different time zone. The overarching theme of this exhibition points to the idea of acknowledging the different places and times people come from, while focusing on those common threads that bind us together. Specifically, the exhibition traces a timeline of the United States from 1945 to present day in order to contextualize the “international” in a local setting.

Climbing the stairs to the Heinz Galleries, a gaze out the glass windows to the right features an outdoor installation by Rafael Domench—its locally sourced scaffolding draped in hues of red and blue mesh soaked in early sunlight. Dividing an edge from an ever (pavilion for Sarduy) (2022) was installed this summer in the Museum’s Sculpture Court as a part of the Museum’s Inside Out program, a free outdoor event hosted on regular Thursdays throughout the summer season, as an effort to welcome locals from various regions into community with the arts and adhere to Mr. Crosby’s directorial vision for the Carnegie International.

At the top of the stairs, entering though the glass doors to the galleries, earth tones and natural matter decorate the white floors and walls. In this space is Édgar Calel’s Oyonik (The Calling) (2022), a 75 ceramic vessel collection, organized in scattered rows upon the floor and filled with water, roses, fruit tree branches. Like artifacts unearthed from the civilizations of the past, Calel’s Oynoik is a visual depiction of the Mayan Kaqchikel healing ritual for those who are lost, asking the heart of the sky and the heart of the earth to reconnect body and spirit to discover, or rather rediscover, oneself. Here, the artist and the Carnegie International by extension, confronts the histories that are not only on our walls, but also right under our feet. There is a graceful reminder here, too: sometimes one must get lost in order to be found.

Nearby, Sanaa Gateja’s handmade bead paintings on barkcloth surfaces exude the natural order of the earth with patterned organic designs. Seeds of Joy (2022) and Together (2019) face opposite walls, made from various sources like magazines, old school textbooks, and prior political pamphlets, but compose one clear theme of unity. Another homage at this year’s Carnegie International to the collection of diverse backgrounds that weaves together a unifying tapestry. Gateja relays words of wisdom that inspired the artist and the artwork: “A dot is a dot it is your village a community a voice in the hills.”

In the Hall of Sculpture, works of art from around artists located around the world line the balcony walls. Thu Van Tran’s Colors of Grey (2022) confronts the chemical agents used by the US Military in Vietnam that altered the people of Vietnam and their land across generations. Neither does Pacita Abad shy away from depicting the toil of social and political strife. Her paintings of the Jakarta riots of 1998 are conveyed with her unique global citizen perspective. Similarly, Mohammed Sami’s works of art depict everyday belongings and settings that exude the rupture of war’s disruption on the once ordinary life. Patricia Belli’s role as a leading figure in Nicaragua’s feminist art movement brings a relationship component to the global conversation with an intimate homage to her late mother using scraps of fabric, wire and bone figures to communicate the fragmentation of grief and loss.

From the balcony of the Hall of Sculpture the weight of grief does not deflate the significance of golden balloon structures weighed down to the floor by kettle bells. Banu Cennetoglu’s right? (2022) spells out the first 10 articles of the United Nations General Assembly’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in clusters of giant balloon letters, undoubtedly embodying the fragility of the international human rights framework. Along the walls next to this towering display, are photographs from Hiromi Tsuchia’s Hiroshima Collection which has been a decades-long endeavor to capture the particles and remains left behind after the United States indiscriminately dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city during World War II. Captions at the bottom of some of the photographs reiterate the tragic ending “body not found” over and over.  A watch, gifted from son to father, reads 8:15 while it’s owner died on August 22, 1945. Another copy of this photograph is featured in the Scaife Gallery’s “Refractions” exhibit, among other works that bring together the historical and political struggles of the United States with countries from around the world.

Mr. Crosby’s Carnegie International directorial debut accomplishes the essence of what the Museum’s founder and inaugural director had envisioned for the city of Pittsburgh, being both a local actor and global participant. Kathe and Jim Patrinos Curator of the 58th Carnegie International Curator, Sohrab Mohebbi, executed this mission and vision with pristine purpose, bringing together artists from across the globe while selecting and curating an exhibition with works that also combine culture and communication. Associate Curator, Ryan Inouye and Curatorial assistant, Talia Heiman part in engaging this community makes this Carnegie International all the more worth visiting. Is it morning for you yet? Is an exhibit that meets anyone exactly where they are at. A morning, noon, or evening visit to the Carnegie Museum of Art to see this exhibition will break up the monotony of the day like breaking dawn, there is so much more here to discover.


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