Monday, August 19, 2013


In an earlier post, we talked about James Turrell's residency at the Mattress Factory and how it exemplifies the Mattress Factory's continuing and fundamental commitment to providing artists with the resources of space, time, and support without encumbrances or expectations of any sort.   Not only does this commitment remain today, some 35 years later, it stands as one of the museum's guiding principles and a hallmark of the mission of the museum.   When we look at the James Turrell artworks that developed in this unique environment and how those works advanced the entire spectrum of his works (pun, um, intended), we can't help but feel a little encouraged for our next 35 years! 

James Turrell, Danaë, 1983
Photograph by Florian Holzer

During his residency, Turrell slept at one of the Mattress Factory neighbor's house, shopped, cooked, and ate with Barbara and Michael, and spent hours drafting, building, revising, and adjusting to his satisfaction two artworks, Danaë and Pleiades.  While Danaë is a framed light piece similar to his earlier "Space Division Constructions"[1] works Acton, 1976 and Cumo, 1976, Pleiades marked a clear departure from his earlier work.  Pleiades was his first foray into a type of artwork referred to as "Dark  Spaces" or "Dark Places." Later "Dark Spaces" include Selene, 1984 at the Capp Street Project, Meso, 1986 at the Hirschorn Museum of Art in Washington, DC, Thought When Seen, 1988 at the Jean Bernier Gallery in Athens, Greece, and even portions worked into the construction of Roden Crater, 1976-.  These works, and others, all relate to the efforts and artistic developments that occurred while working on Pleiades at the Mattress Factory, way back in 1983.

Working Drawings for James Turrell's Pleiades, 1983

As anyone who has seen Pleiades, visitors to the artwork are guided by a handrail up a long ramp in a pitch-black hallway leading to a viewing platform where they gaze at a seemingly completely dark space.  Resisting the urge to click on one's phone for light, the viewer waits, maybe twenty, maybe thirty, or even forty minutes while the eyes adjust.  As Craig Adcock, scholar of 20th American art, describes Pleiades, "Gradually, dim areas of luminance seem to become perceptible and to move through the space, but these are often phosphenes generated by the random nerve firing inside our own retinas." Eventually a physiological adjustment called the Purkinje Shift occurs allowing the retina's cones and rods to perceive a blob of color first blue and then red, suspended in the darkness (we all paid attention in 9th Grade Biology, right?).  The viewer becomes aware of the ability to perceive color (cones do this) within the darkness (rods do this).  This process rewards the viewer with not only an artwork, but also the opportunity to observe our eyes in the process of perceiving. [2]  Adcock explains:

 ... [P]erception at these threshold levels is never really a matter of "seeing" so much as "sensing" the light's presence.  Such viewing is hard to describe.  The light is there and in no way indefinite.  Indeed, in some ways, it is more "definite" than the light of normal experience.  As it appears in the world, light lacks its own place; it is most often seen on something else as illumination.  In the subtle conditions of the Dark Pieces, light has ipseity.  It is itself, just as light, just as the basic stuff of perception, and in that unique place, it is extremely intense, despite the fact that it hardly exists at all."[3]

It is a truly fascinating piece.  Check out these handwritten notes about Danaë and Pleiades found in the Mattress Factory archives. 

Handwritten notes about Turrell artworks on Michael Olijnyk letterhead

The exhibition was such a success that the Mattress Factory and Turrell agreed to keep the works on view beyond the initial exhibition period and to come to an agreement on a purchase price.  By a stroke of serendipity, Turrell took an interest in a giant, 10-foot motorized band saw that Barbara had rescued from the trash heap at one of the local hospitals several years prior and offered to exchange Pleiades for it, along with her stash of aged black walnut.  Formally, the acquisition marked the start of one the nation's leading permanent collections of contemporary installation art.   It also prompted a decidedly informal cross-country road trip to transport the giant saw and the stash of walnut from Pittsburgh to Arizona during which Barbara, Michael, and Turrell forged what has come to be a long and lasting friendship.  We'll hear more about that road trip in our next installment.  Stay tuned!

[1] Turrell, James et al., James Turrell: Light & Space, (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1980) 35.

[2] Craig Adcock, James Turrell (Tallahasee: Florida State University Gallery and Museum, 1989) 53.

[3] Craig E. Adcock, James Turrell: The Art of Light and Space (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1990) 111.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Bridging The History of Public Art

As you may have noticed on your commute this week, the Andy Warhol Bridge has been yarn bombed.  Thanks to the dedication and vision of fiber artist Amanda Gross, 1,847 volunteer knitters and installers, and a number of foundations and institutional partners, Knit the Bridge stands as the largest yarn bomb in the United States! Knit the Bridge is not only super cool piece of ephemeral art, but it helps to raise awareness of the wealth of public art in the Pittsburgh region.  In celebration of the Knit the Bridge project and the recent release of the new edition of the Pittsburgh Art in Public Places: Downtown Walking Tour ,we did a little digging around in our archives to find a handful of historical video clips of the public art works produced by the Mattress Factory artists over the course of our 35-year history.

One of the earliest public art pieces the Mattress Factory supported was a series of performances by Chrome, an Australia-based performance art group.  Having already performed all over the world, in Tehran, in Paris, all over Australia, and throughout Canada, the Mattress Factory's presentation of Chrome was the group's premier performance in the United States.  The performances took place in early August, 1983 and progressed from Market Square to One Oxford Center.  Consisting of a unique mix of song, dance, music, mime, comedy, and improvisation. The performances captivated crowds in downtown Pittsburgh.

Chrome's artwork Public Performance in Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh.

Chrome's artwork Public Performance at One Oxford Center in downtown Pittsburgh.

For more information about Chrome, visit their website.

A couple years later, the Mattress Factory again presented a public art performance work that fascinated local audiences.  The work, Steamshuffle Pittsburgh by artists Christopher Janney and Joan Brigham, consisted of eight large glass panels that were inscribed with the text of a poem by Emmett Williams and installed upright in Oliver Plaza in downtown Pittsburgh.  In this interactive work, movements by pedestrians triggered electronic sounds and activated jets of steam aimed at the glass panels, thereby revealing the text of the inscribed poems. 

Look in the botton right corner of this video to see Founder and Co-Director Barbara Luderwoski chatting with passersby as a child interacts with Steamshuffle Pittsburgh.

Steamshuffle Pittsburgh was exhibited during the winter of 1985 in Pittsburgh.

The Mattress Factory also maintains two public artworks as part of the museum's permanent collection.  These works, Garden Installation by Winifred Lutz and Music for a Garden by Rolf Julius, are available to the public during regular museum hours.  Check out this video of artist Winifred Lutz sitting in the chair in Garden Installation.

Winifred Lutz sitting in the chair in Garden Installation.

and this video of her walking around the various levels of the artwork. 

Caption: Winifred Lutz in Garden Installation.

You can read more about Winifred Lutz's artwork at our website or stop by the museum lobby to see the models she created while planning the artwork. 

Rolf Julius's sound work, Music for a Garden, neighbors the Lutz garden, but is an independent work of public art.  In this archival video, Rolf Julius discusses the relationship between Music for a Garden and Winifred Lutz's Garden Installation.  

Interview with Rolf Julius about Music for a Garden.

Julius discusses the sculptural elements to his sound piece.

You can read more about Music for a Garden and several other Julius artworks on view at the Mattress Factory at our website.

As you can see, public art plays a vital role in the creative life of Pittsburgh.  We tip our hats to the Knit the Bridge project and to Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council's Office of Public Art for all their efforts to raise awareness of the rich cultural heritage available in our region!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

August 11th CraftFactory Market

Join us in the MF Lobby on Sunday, August 11th for our 'almost end of Summer' CraftFactory! Come explore hand-made objects and artwork from Pittsburgh makers. The event runs during museum hours, 1-5pm. Museum admission is required to shop -  yet, we are offering half-price admission throughout August. Do some early holiday shopping or pick up a treat for yourself!  - This event is sponsored by the MF Shop.

Trilodeon by Niffer Desmond
Trilodeon creates living arts for your everyday growth and evolution.  Find engaging creations that heal the body, enliven the mind and stir the soul! We make high consciousness arts, learning toys, healing tools, apparel, eco decor and more. 

Niffer Desmond has crossed disciplines as an artist, activist, healer, and consciousness pioneer. In December 2012 Niffer created the 'Evolutionary Art Faire' - a cross pollination of brilliant creatives combining healing, spirit, music and art. With a flair for the fun and curious, Niffer continues to explore strange new worlds, uniting and igniting the imagination of Spaceship Earth. Also on Etsy.

Kitsch Ditch by Sam Ditch
- Kitsch, noun. Art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but appreciated in an ironic way. - 

The work of Sam Ditch explores obsessive florals, googly eyes and glitter. Sam’s work delves deep into the nostalgia of mid-century America and challenges the notion of the uber feminine. 99.9% of materials used are second hand – so not only is this work awesome, it’s very eco-friendly.

Sam Ditch is a Bellevue resident, and a 2009 graduate of Slippery Rock University. Sam has exhibited work in the Pittsburgh area and currently has work for sale at Wildcard and on Etsy. She’s a collector of all things kitsch and an avid folk music consumer.

Rose Duggan

Rose Duggan is a painter living and working in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania. Her work has focused on small-scale acrylic abstract paintings since 2009. In her work, she strives to create color intersections that are playful and engaging. She graduated from Allegheny College and most recently has been featured as one of Pittsburgh Arts Council's Emerging Artist at the annual Three Rivers Arts Festival as well as selected for Pittsburgh City Paper's 2013 ArtBox project.  

As one of the oldest art forms, ceramics has a versatility shared with few other mediums. Vanessa's work is a conversation in form vs. function. Form, shape and surface decoration are combined to create objects that walk the line between usable and sculpture. Themes include the abstracted vase, drawings etched in clay (a technique she developed herself) and the never ceasing desire to push high-fired stoneware to its physical limits.
Vanessa Kettering creates her ceramic work at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and is a member of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh. A trained art educator, she works at an after school program in Regent Square and has led several art classes for a variety of ages. She speaks some Italian and is studying Japanese language and culture.

Lynne Kropinak

Lynne Kropinak is a self-taught jewelry maker, flea market addict, and enthusiast of all things crafty. Her work is inspired and constructed with found and salvaged materials: pictures out of old books, gemstones and leaves, polymer clay, paint, recycled trinkets, conversations heard in line at the grocery store, and other things too good to throw away. She has been making and selling crafts for over 25 years and delights in sharing skills and inspiration with other crafters. charmed by nature wares can be seen at many local craft markets in Pittsburgh and also at Wildcard. Lynne is also mom to the 2 Pittsburgh Craft-O-Tron machines that roam the city spreading the joy of local handmade goodies in small boxes. 

John the Craftist by Alethea Okonak
John is actually Thea, a true rustbelt gal who makes Pittsburgh greeting cards out of her century-old apartment in Aspinwall. She believes in the importance of handcraft, correspondence, regional culture, and -- perhaps most of all -- humor. Her cards are printed on paper manufactured by a sixth-generation, hydropowered Midwestern company, and she uses mostly vintage and distressed fonts based on wood type and mid-century modern aesthetics. When she isn’t printing and folding cards, she is most likely behind the counter at Wildcard, ordering a vegan pizza from Spak Brothers, or spoiling her Mom’s three rescue cats.

The Urban Feltmaker by Karen Page
(website currently under construction)
Karen Page has been a practicing artist and educator for more than three decades. She began her love of textiles when sewing and knitting clothes for her Troll dolls and then advancing to sewing her own clothes in high school to spinning and knitting one-of-kind sweaters.  Exhibitions and study have led her to Denmark, Turkey, and Kyrgyzstan – where she conducted feltmaking workshops over four summers to various women’s co-ops. Karen teaches the textile studies classes (and occasionally costume) at CAPA.  Her work has been recognized with regional, national, and international awards including a PCA Individual Artistic Fellowship Grant and a NEA Individual Artistic Fellowship grant.

Devorah Naturals

Devorah Naturals creates safe and effective plant derived skincare for all ages.  Products are made with organic and natural ingredients and never contain parabens, formaldehyde donors, phthalates or petrochemicals. Devorah Naturals manufactures using earth and animal friendly practices.   


Electronic Component Jewelry from MakeWan. Shanning Wan has a Web/graphic design background, and is interested in the intersection of traditional craftsmanship, media art and digital fabrication. MakeWan can be found on Etsy, and at

Edited 8/3/13 - Emily Walley will not be able to participate in this CraftFactory, but her earrings are for sale in the MF Shop. Her work can be purchased on Etsy

Please contact us if you have any questions about this event:
T: 412.231.3169 //  shop [at] mattress [dot] org

Are you interested in participating in events like this? 
Email our Shop Manager at: sam [at] mattress [dot] org