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Pop Filter Hot Pick: Factory Direct Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh's legacy is steeped in innovation and ingenuity in the fields of art and industry--from George Westinghouse's air brake and other giants of industry such as U.S. Steel, PPG and Alcoa, to a long list of inventions and firsts such as the kidney transplant, radio and television, the Zippo lighter, the emoticon, and even the Big Mac. Flash forward to the early 21st century and this list has expanded to include innovators in a range of new economy fields, from biotech and robotics, to healthcare and sustainable design.

And when it comes to thinking about the fruitful intersection of industry and art, no name seems to embody a more prolific and productive career than that of Pittsburgh native and internationally renowned King of Pop Art, Andy Warhol. So it seems very fitting that a new exhibition on the subject would be curated by Andy Warhol Museum Director Eric Shiner.

Opening June 24th at Guardian Self-Storage, Factory Direct: Pittsburgh showcases both Pittsburgh's industrial past and some of its newest leading edge producers, by pairing 14 established contemporary artists with local factories. With a unique twist on the established "artist residency" model, the ambitious project helps to redefine and reframe the very nature of labor, production, manufacturing, and the creative practice.

Learning from Pittsburgh

The multimedia exhibition draws on Pittsburgh's rich industrial heritage--particularly as a dominant force in the production of steel, bronze, tin, coal, aluminum, food and glass from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century. From Andrew Carnegie’s steel company to H. J. Heinz’s world-famous ketchup, Pittsburgh was ground zero for numerous industrial giants of America.

All of this cutting-edge innovation and industry made Pittsburgh one of the wealthiest cities in the world at the dawn of the 20th-century. The show also highlights the fact that many of Pittsburgh's prominent cultural institutions and civic organizations, including The Warhol Museum itself, continue to benefit from the trusts and foundations that these industrialists left behind. Via Factory Direct: Pittsburgh, artists from all over the world are provided with the rare opportunity to examine the legacy of these industrial leaders and work in the many factories that still call Pittsburgh home.

Today, Pittsburgh’s industrial landscape boasts everything from major robotics institutes and health care systems, to cutting-edge tech facilities and green building initiatives, as well as numerous small to medium-sized family-owned businesses that houses light manufacturing facilities. Factory Direct celebrates the region’s work force and its enduring commitment to industry and innovation--one that is characterized by a strong work ethic, industrial milestones, and the creative capabilities to nurture new technologies and innovations.

The conceptual framework for the exhibition originated in the post-industrial town of Troy, New York, when artist Michael Oatman developed a project that brought contemporary artists to that historic city in an effort to examine its own industrial past. Once a steel producing epicenter, Troy sits along the Hudson River and is also home to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. After this first successful installment, a second Factory Direct project took place in New Haven, Connecticut in 2005. The Warhol is building on this foundation to expand the concept into a large-scale global exhibition that bring the fields of art and industry in close dialog with the a wider public audience.

Out of this factory

Through a unique site-specific residency program, participating Factory Direct: Pittsburgh artists worked closely with the management teams and factory workers within various host facilities, to plan and execute new works based on the site's history, technologies, materials, and/or processes. Participating artists are working in Pittsburgh at their host factory sites for a period ranging from two weeks to two months.

Featured artists--who hail from Japan, Mexico, Italy, Ireland, and beyond--are: Chakaia Booker, Dee Briggs, Thorsten Brinkmann, Jeanette Doyle, Todd Eberle, Fabrizio Gerbino, Ann Hamilton, William Earl Kofmehl, Ryan McGinness, Mark Neville, Sarah Oppenheimer, Edgar Orlaineta, ORLAN, and Tomoko Sawada. Dee Briggs, Fabrizio Gerbino, and William Kofmehl.

Participating artists partnered with an impressive list of local factories, including: ALCOA, Ansaldo STS USA (formerly Union Switch and Signal), Bayer, Body Media, Calgon Carbon Corporation, Construction Junction, Forms and Surfaces, Heinz, PPG Industries, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, and TAKTL.

Shiner, who had worked on previous incarnations of Factory Direct, knew that the fundamentals of the project were perfectly suited to Pittsburgh's past, current and future role in the areas of industry and innovation.

"As soon as I got to Pittsburgh, I realized how much fun and how important it would be to celebrate our region's legacy of industry and innovation though the lens of contemporary art. I knew that Factory Direct was a successful model because it excited and engaged people, and allows us to look at the past and celebrate the future, and also see how industry and innovation can help to change a place," says Shiner, Director of The Andy Warhol Museum and curator of Factory Direct: Pittsburgh. "We are so immersed in a very strong history and legacy of industry and innovation here, and we also have an incredibly strong presence in terms of industry in America and around the world."

Fresh off the factory floor

Featured works in the 10,000 square-foot space range from photography, sculpture and video, to painting, installation art and even works installed in some of the facility's storage lockers.

Shiner, who says that "everyone has been working nonstop to make these projects happen," is excited about the diverse range of works created, and the fact that several of the participating artists created works outside of their comfort zones. "Several artists veered away from their traditional art making practice and to do things different from what they normally do in terms of subject matter, process and materials."

Shiner has been working on the concept for Pittsburgh for the past year, a curatorial process that involved selecting artists from all around the globe, and touring dozens of industrial sites located within a 300-miles radius of Pittsburgh--including the Zippo Manufacturing Company in Bradford and the Homer Laughlin China Company in Newell, West Virginia. Situating the exhibition outside of the institutional walls of the museum was also a priority for Shiner, whose site selection process extended to numerous possible industrial venues.

By situating the exhibition in the sprawling, open industrial confines of Guardian Self-Storage facility, the show further calls attention to the layers of industrial identities embedded within local buildings and neighborhoods. "I had always dreamed of having the exhibition beyond the white walls of our museum or any gallery space. We have so many old warehouses and factories that are still open or that are under-utilized or not utilized," adds Shiner. "It will be really exiting to see where the arts and industry can continue doc collide here in our region, both for artists and companies."

Learn more about the collaborations between participating artists and factories--and hear firsthand experiences from the artists themselves--during a panel discussion taking place on Sunday, June 24th at 3 p.m., at The Warhol Museum. Open to the public, the artist panel will be followed by a reception. The exhibition will be further augmented by online resources that document a portion of the artists' working processes, including images of artists working in their host sites and company bios.

Factory Direct: Pittsburgh is on view from June 24th through September 9th at Guardian Self-Storage, located at 2839 Liberty Ave. in the Strip District.  The exhibition is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is pay what you wish.

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Images: Edgar Orlaineta, Solar Do-(It-Yourself) Nothing Toy. After Charles Eames, 2012
Mark Neville, Pittsburgh Untitled 2, 2012.
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