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Campus Art Galleries: Free, Cool, Waiting for You

You don’t have to wait for Penn Avenue’s Unblurred or the Downtown Gallery Crawl to view contemporary artwork in Pittsburgh for free. Here’s one well-kept secret: Local college campuses are teeming with artwork and many of these universities offer unique gallery experiences open to the public.

University galleries offer more than just free art. Education and experimentation play big roles as the galleries strive to provide students with a personal, hands-on learning experience. Not a student? Not a problem. Consider this an opportunity to enjoy undiscovered galleries and learn about unfamiliar art forms, or at least ponder the possibility of seeing artwork by the next Andy Warhol.

Anyone who has ever taken advantage of universities’ cultural programs, like hearing Michael Moore speak, seeing live Shakespearean theater, or watching a premiere dance performance, understands that universities offer opportunities that may be once in a lifetime—or at least something special with a small price tag.

Carnegie Mellon University
One of the leading fine arts colleges in the country, Carnegie Mellon University offers abundant space for students and other artists to display artwork all over campus.

Although more people may be familiar with The Frame Gallery at 5200 Forbes Ave, The Regina Gouger Miller Gallery has a broader focus and a more professional appeal. In the Purnell Center for the Arts, the Miller Gallery provides 6,000 square feet of exhibition space on three uniquely designed floors. Whatever the contemporary medium may be, the space gives students “the opportunity to expand – pushing these boundaries,” says Petra Fallaux, the interim director of the gallery. “It is one of the prime spaces in the city.”

With a third floor that looks like a typical fine arts gallery, exposed ceilings and raw concrete on the second floor, and a slate floor and curtain system on the first floor, everything from videos to welding can take place.

The recent show, Plastic Poetics, featured national and local sculpture and installation that playfully considers the material world. The next exhibit, TRANSIT 2008, which ran through March 9, was part of a series of international cultural exchanges. Japanese faculty and students from Nagoya lived on the site as they built their art within the space. Hours at the Miller Gallery are Tuesday to Sunday, 11:30 am – 5 pm. Read more at www.cmu.edu/millergallery

The Frame Gallery
In the other world of campus art, The Frame Gallery, run for student art by art students, is used as a learning lab for students to experiment and experience having art exhibitions. Co-director Amy Johnson describes the gallery as a “safe space for the artists. It’s like having training wheels.”

The shows are interdisciplinary, including students studying fine art, architecture, drama and music. It’s hard to keep up with what is coming to the gallery, because the shows change weekly during the school year, but this keeps things fresh and fun.

Friday evenings, during openings, is the best time to visit, offering any combination of live music, conceptual art, fine art and performance. Parking in the East Campus Garage is free on nights and weekends. For details, e-mail is best. Find addresses at www.cmu.edu/theframe.

Art Institute of Pittsburgh
The ideal location to make a quick stop during a lunch break and with long enough hours to stop after work, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh Gallery in Downtown showcases a variety of mediums and artists. The gallery has eight to nine shows a year, with a student show, an alumni show and a faculty show. Exhibition topics are as broad as the past American Society of Architectural Illustrators’ international show or as local as the Kennywood memorabilia exhibit this April.

“We try to have something for everyone,” says Gallery Coordinator David DiBella. In reflecting the curriculum of the students, topics include ceramics, illustration, digital media, industrial design, photography, animation and web design.

Founded in 1921, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh is one of the oldest art schools in America. The AIP Gallery is “a nice way for people who don’t know us to come and see what we do,” says DiBella.

With oversized windows, a brightly lit gallery and a dinosaur welcoming you on the sidewalk of 420 Boulevard of the Allies, many new visitors may realize that they are already acquainted with the Art Institute. Gallery hours are Monday to Thursday, 9 am – 8 pm, Friday 9 am – 5pm, and Saturday 9 am – 4 pm. The AIP Gallery will be one of the honored hosts for exhibitions of the 42nd annual conference of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts from March 10 – March 23.

Chatham University

A new space in Woodland Hall at Chatham University offers more than a professional backdrop for all kinds of artwork.

“We take the educational function of the gallery very seriously,” explains Elisabeth Roark, associate professor of art and the coordinator of the art gallery. Part of the educational mission translates into a lot of labeling—giving background on the historical context, biographical information and interpretations of the art.

Another important element is the involvement of students. For example, Chatham students curated the exhibit Material Realities: The Diverse Media of African Art in March. “They are pretty much doing it from soup to nuts,” says Roark. From picking and researching the objects to writing about them, installing the show, and de-installing the show, students have a unique opportunity to work directly with original art pieces and manage museum exhibitions.

One of the most notable exhibitions of the year was chosen as part of Chatham’s global focus of the year: Germany. The gallery’s highly successful exhibit of German expressionist prints whose work was declared “immoral” and “degenerate” by the Nazis was a collaboration with the Carnegie Museum of Art. Roark hopes to collaborate again with the Carnegie.

Exhibiting approximately eight shows per year when school is in session, the gallery is open from Monday to Friday, 11 am – 5 pm and by appointment. When visiting, leave time to sip a cup of coffee in the adjoining coffee shop.

University of Pittsburgh
If you get exhausted from contemporary art, go back in time at the University of Pittsburgh’s Frick Fine Arts building. The University Art Gallery is currently closed, but the building itself has several distinguishing features. The first attention-grabber is the large mythological fountain across from Schenley Plaza, designed by Victor Brenner, famous for sculpting the portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the U.S. penny. The building’s architecture is a distinctive Italian Renaissance style, boasting a cloister-style inner courtyard that transports you to the Mediterranean.

To complement these features, famous reproductions of 15th-century Florentine Renaissance paintings can be found inside. These copies, covering the walls surrounding the courtyard, are considered by some to be the closest replicas to the original works.

And last but certainly not least, Robert Morris University just opened a new art venue downtown on Fifth Avenue as part of their expansion. Read about it by clicking here for the Pop City piece.
Alexis Miller is a program manager at Pennsylvania Women Work. Prior to that, she was a Public Ally at the Coro Center for Civic Leadership.
This is her first article for Pop City.


Art, and love, spills onto campus at Chatham University

Art on show at CMU

The Art Institute of Pittsburgh

Pitt's Frick Fine Arts Building

All photographs copyright Brian Cohen

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