PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Since 1896, when industrialist Andrew Carnegie decided to mount an international exhibition of contemporary art in his newly built Pittsburgh museum, some of the world’s most relevant artists have participated in what has since become a venerable setting for exciting and influential new works in painting, sculpture, photography, film and more.
Carnegie missed the claim of mounting the world’s oldest international exhibition of contemporary art by a single year when the Venice Biennale beat him to the punch in 1895. Nevertheless, among the thousands of artists whose works have been showcased in the International are Mary Cassatt, Jackson Pollock, Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin and Camille Pissaro -- the list goes on and on.
Originally held annually but mounted every three to five years since 1982, the 2013 International features over 200 works by 35 artists from 19 countries. To assemble the exhibit’s eclectic art pieces, three curators traveled the globe from Basel and Beijing to Tokyo, Vancouver, Yokohama and Zagreb, talking to artists, taking in exhibits, scouring studios and galleries and "engaging in endless conversations with one another" in the words of co-curator, Tina Kukieski.
On a recent drive to the museum, my eye caught a glimpse of Phyllida Barlow’s (England) "TIP," a nearly 40-foot tall jumbled assemblage of wooden poles and colored cloth that stands just outside the main entrance, positioned between a Henry Moore sculpture and Richard Serra’s towering steel sculpture "Carnegie," itself an acquisition from the 1985 International.
The 2013 International is spread out throughout the museum into unconventional spaces like the café and Grand Staircase. At the beginning of my visit, I found one of this year’s International’s most fascinating pieces in the Hall of Sculpture, where Pedro Reyes (Mexico) took weapons and guns confiscated from drug raids in his native country and ingeniously transformed them into abstract, mechanical musical instruments, electronically wired to play intermittently.