With a history dating to 1896, the Carnegie International is America’s oldest exhibition of contemporary art. This year’s edition is the 58th and features over 100 artists. In the four years since the last exhibition, much has changed — the pandemic shattered our sense of normalcy, protests over racial injustice rocked the nation and political upheaval called into question the unitedness of these United States.
Rather than retreat from these themes, the 58th International uses them — and America’s actions abroad — to ask pointed questions about the future. Exhibition curator Sohrab Mohebbi says the International “trac[es] the geopolitical footprint of the United States since 1945.” As CMOA’s director of education and public programs, Dana Bishop-Root, said in her interview with us, “[it] makes tangible the ways in which art exists beyond social and political constructions while being in direct conversation with them.”
This focus on direct engagement with history shows up everywhere. For example, multimedia artist LaToya Ruby Frazier, who won this year’s Carnegie Prize, documents healthcare workers in Baltimore during COVID using photos and first-person essays displayed on IV stands (see above).
The International dominates the upstairs Heinz Galleries, with artist Dia al-Azzawi confronting visitors upon entrance with a ruined city in miniature. Elsewhere, machines chew on flesh-like materials or pump fluid through tubes, as in Trương Công Tùng’s mesmerizing the state of absence – voices from outside. Much of this work balances provocation with approachability. Abstract paintings seem to converse with projected video and 3D work. Some of the pieces feel truly alive, like Julian Abraham Togar’s OK Studio, a playful roomful of instruments that create an immersive soundscape.
However, pieces of the exhibition are scattered throughout the museum. James “Yaya” Hough, a Pittsburgh-based artist, has a body of work made partly during a period when Hough was incarcerated. His drawings and paintings are graphic and beguiling, depicting half-formed bodies being pushed around by disembodied hands or filled with visceral scenes (see below). Much of it is drawn on prison paper that includes meal schedules and legal jargon. Occupying a room among CMOA’s permanent collections, it is among the exhibition’s more searing components.
The International even extends beyond the museum building. A mural by Hough covers the side of a Hill District house. In contrast to his prison artwork, it uses an August Wilson quote to convey a message of hope. Elsewhere, works will periodically pop up on the digital billboards along Route 28.
The International is like Pittsburgh itself: at once hyperlocal and deeply connected to the currents of global humanity, it shows off the full spectrum of life in 2022 from tragedy to triumph. The 58th Carnegie will remain on view through April 2 of next year.