Wednesday, July 10, 2013


As we discovered in our last post from the MF Archives, James Turrell's 1983 exhibition at the Mattress Factory marked a significant turning point for the museum, which until then had only exhibited works by local artists. Though the museum's exhibition program has grown to include works by artists from over 25 countries, many aspects of the early life of the Mattress Factory remain unchanged. In particular, I find it fascinating to look back and reflect on the museum's long-standing dedication to maintaining a creative workspace for artists. Ever since the very beginning, co-directors Barbara and Michael have encouraged artists to experiment with their craft, unencumbered by deadlines or commitments, and with the undivided support of the entire museum staff.

James Turrell planning his installations at the Mattress Factory, 1983

James Turrell's month-long residency was a flurry of activity. He worked alongside the construction crew, drafting and re-drafting plans, hanging drywall, and experimenting with a variety of effects until he was satisfied that his vision had been realized.

James Turrell planning and re-planning his installations, 1983

In November 1983, Turrell described his Mattress Factory residency as providing the time to take risks and explore far more possibilities within a space than he expected in a standard museum setting. He described the experiences as allowing him to "work as an artist," making messes, changing plans last minute, and allowing the artwork to evolve and develop through the creation process.[1]

James Turrell working "as an artist."

The 1983 Mattress Factory presentation of James Turrell works was a part of, Urban Pulses: The Artist and the City, a cross-institutional, city-wide exhibition heralded as the most significant expression of contemporary art in Pittsburgh in decades.[2] Over the course of several months contemporary art heavyweights Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer, Paul Thek, Gilbert and George, Romare Bearden, Roger Welch, Ed Paschke, Michael Smith, David Wojnarowczs and others filled gallery spaces across the city, offering varying takes on notions of urbanity, expression, and the grit of the city life.

Without a doubt, the most lasting work from this intensely vibrant period in the Pittsburgh art scene are the two Turrell works created during his residency, Pleiades and Danaë. We'll look closer at these works and learn about how they came to stay at the Mattress Factory in our next post.  

[1] Mattress Factory.  1983 Programs Completed Report.  Artists Files Collection. Mattress Factory Archives, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

[2] Miller, Donald. "Most significant art show since 69." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 22 October 1983: 21. Google News Web. 17 June 2013. 

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