a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Not your MOMA

The art of James Turrell at Pittsburgh’s peculiar Mattress Factory doesn’t contribute much to global warming. Save for a few purple and red lights, the permanent exhibit has visitors feeling their way around several pitch-black rooms to experience “a blurring of the boundary between what is seen outside oneself and what is seen in the mind’s eye,” the museum's brochure guarantees about the installation.

Personally, I would rather gaze at the bold brushstrokes of a Monet or Van Gogh in a well-lit gallery than bump into complete strangers and black walls to experience the Los Angeles-born Turrell’s vision of spiritual awakening. But you have to give the Mattress Factory high marks for creating this brand of hip museum space for a contemporary artist to express himself.

Located in the city’s historic Mexican War Streets district since 1977, the museum in an old Stearns and Foster warehouse was developed as an experiment by a group of rebellious artists. Over the years, the place has earned the respect of art critics from around the world. The latest issue of GQ magazine even included the Factory as a must-see destination along the “Great American Art Drive” through such unlikely rust belt cities as Detroit and Toledo, Ohio.

There are 14 more months to breathe in The Tom Museum in Pittsburgh before it becomes an altogether different hybrid house for a new visiting artist. Pittsburgh puppeteer Tom Sarver, at times, guides people through the colorful and cluttered spaces where he cooks dinner, beds down at night and hangs thought-provoking art that speaks to everyday living. He might even play with miniature boats in an ornamental pond in his basement. And the best part – there is enough light to take in his weird show.

(Caption: The Tom House entrance at Pittsbugh's Mattress Factory)

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