By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
The COVID-19 pandemic has, in many ways, put parts of the world on pause. Everything from sporting events to symphonies were cancelled or postponed indefinitely, and many artistic institutions were forced to temporarily close.
Now, as Allegheny County moves to the green phase, Zynka Gallery in Sharpsburg is staging its first public exhibition since the pandemic began. Since reopening at the end of May, owner Jeffrey Jarzynka has been laying the groundwork to showcase the work of artist Brenda Stumpf. The exhibition, titled “Consecrated,” opens June 27 and will be on display until August 8.
“She’s kind of hard to pin down as far as determining what type of artist she is,” said Jarzynka. “She works with all kinds of different media, usually found objects that she then molds and shapes and layers into her own works that usually hold very personal stories for her.”
This latest body of work was created in 2018 as Stumpf was moving into and renovating an abandoned church in Pittsburgh. She used items found during the renovation process and incorporated them into her art, including discarding pamphlets and pieces of an old staircase.
“I’ve often said about Brenda’s work that it often feels like it was excavated during an archeological dig, or pulled from the bottom of the ocean,” said Jarzynka. “They almost take this religious quality upon themselves. It’s not overtly religious, but they do feel like sacred objects.”
Although this work was created before the COVID-19 crisis, Stumpf says the work is particularly timely because of it, and that viewers may be able to relate to her process in a new way because of their own pandemic experiences.
“It is a time of being deconstructed, rearranged, and learning what is of greatest value, and it offers a profound inner opportunity to experience the process of sacred alchemy,” said Stumpf.
Since reopening, Zynka Gallery has enacted new safety requirements to keep visitors safe in light of COVID-19. Guests must maintain six feet of distance while inside, as well as wear a face mask. Any common surfaces are regularly sanitized by gallery staff, and the gallery’s window wall is open on all good weather days for improved ventilation.
Zynka Gallery is not the only art institution taking new measures to keep guests safe as the region slowly reopens. The Shadyside-based GalleriE Chiz, for instance, has begun reopening, but at unpredictable hours. Owner and director Ellen Neuberg said in an email that appointments can be scheduled online, and walk-ins are allowed if she is present. Guests are also required to wear masks and maintain social distance.
BoxHeart Gallery in Bloomfield has also reopened with limited hours, as well as accepting online appointments. Exhibiting artists can choose to host “Visit With” sessions, where guests meet the artist in small groups and discuss their work, rather than put on a traditional opening. Food and beverage are also no longer being served.
Some larger institutions have taken more cautious approaches. The Carnegie Museum of Art will remain closed until June 29 for the general public, and June 26 for members. The museum directors have also changed policy to address the pandemic, including the use of timed ticketing, limiting capacity to 25 percent, and requiring masks and social distancing.
On the other hand, some art houses have not yet reopened, even as the county enters the green phase. The Cultural Trust-partnered Wood Street Gallery and SPACE Gallery in downtown remain closed until further notice. Contemporary Craft in Lawrenceville also remains closed for the next couple of months as their team develops safety strategies.