By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
With less than three weeks to go before an undoubtedly historic Election Day, and a nationwide pandemic surging again, it is clear America is experiencing something unlike anything in its history. It is a moment to snapshot, if only to analyze just how much is happening. Fortunately, that snapshot can be created through the work of artists.
October 12 saw the opening of “to the republic for which it stands,” the latest exhibition of work by the membership of Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, or AAP.
The works of 26 artists currently occupy the Ice House Studio in Lawrenceville, each grappling with an idea relevant to this unprecedented moment in American history. The displayed pieces were chosen by a jury out of submissions from AAP member artists. That jury consisted of artists Kathleen Zimbicki and Sheila Cuellar-Shaffer, and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman.
“We opened it up to our members, and put it out there as a thematic show that’s looking at political, cultural and social events,” said Madeline Gent, executive director of AAP.
While some themes are more prevalent than others, the gallery features a wide range of different views on many topics. Gent attributes this to the sheer volume of major events that occurred this year.
“There’s a lot to make art about right now, there’s a lot to think about,” said Gent. “COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, the Postal Service, the election, Alexis Johnson, freedom of the press, Donald Trump is President.”
Some of the largest works in the gallery are those of Penny Mateer. Each of her works is a blanket, hung from the wall, representing a major story from this year. Mateer juxtaposes the comforting nature of blankets and quilts against the discomfort and anxiety associated with each moment.
One of her blankets, titled “Trump Stays Quiet on Toll As U.S. Nears Milestone,” features a section of the New York Times column memorializing those who died of COVID-19, after the death toll topped 100,000 in May. In front of the names of the dead, a pickup truck drives off, flying two American flags from its bed.
Another of Mateer’s blankets, “Treatment of Black Colleagues Roils Pittsburgh Papers,” depicts Alexis Johnson, a Black journalist, standing in front of the office of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, her former employer. Johnson was barred by Post-Gazette management from covering the Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd on May 25. This decision was widely criticized, and ultimately led to Johnson’s departure from the paper.
One of the reporters covering those protests was photojournalist Nick Childers. Five of his photographs, four of which are from the May 30 protest downtown, are on display, showing several aspects of that day’s events.
His father, Dennis Childers, is also featured in the exhibition. His creation, titled “Dooms Day Door,” is a full-sized front door for a house, partially charred, as if it had been through some kind of apocalypse. It has also been wired for light and sound effects to accompany the visual.
Walking through the gallery makes obvious that the past year has brought so many issues in our country bubbling to the surface, all in conversation with each other, all clamoring for our attention. For Gent, she hopes viewers walk away from the show thinking about those issues a little differently.
“You can’t help but think,” said Gent. “If you’re ready to come in and contemplate other points of view, this is a good space to do it.”
“to the republic for which it stands” will run from October 12 to November 11 at Ice House Studio, 100 43rd St., Lawrenceville. Viewings are by appointment only. To make an appointment or learn more, visit aapgh.org.