For her show at Concept Gallery, The Ordinary Sacred, featuring her famous Black Madonnas, Vanessa German led a foot procession from her Homewood studio to Regent Square where she recited her poetry and sang.
If you know Vanessa German, you know it was not to be missed. And if you know art galleries in Pittsburgh, you know they aren’t what they used to be.
Things have changed in the art world and buyers have more choice than ever in where they buy—not just on the Internet but at big shows like Art Basel in Miami which is attracting buyers of all kinds.
That might be why, more than ever, the local scene deserves your support. And why we’re presenting these four wonderful, long-established galleries in Pittsburgh that are well worth a visit, even if you’re not in the market to buy art. It’s a treat just browsing. And if you can take in a performance or art exhbit opening or a fun party, all the better.
Take note: In our next article on this topic, we will feature newer up-and-coming art galleries.
Morgan Contemporary Glass Gallery
Step into Amy Morgan’s jewel box of a gallery, the first in the region dedicated to contemporary studio glass, and marvel at the one-of-a-kind, stunning pieces made by glass artists.
In her beautifully arranged space on Ellsworth, you’ll find an astonishing collection, from majestic scale pieces to pocket-sized.
Among the space-dominating pieces: martial, somber-hued columns by American-born Czech artist Wesley Rasko. Equally powerful are curved basins in matte translucent peach, perches for dark sculpted birds and twigs by Hiroshi Yamano.
Midsize works abound for home or office. Consider textures: Cheryl Wilson Smith’s craggy folds mimicking rock or rosy coral and Jen Elek’s playful orbs in wet paint colors.
There’s a knitting project of glass yarn with needles, Jen Blazina’s frosted glass purses and picture frames with retro themes, along with Luke Jacomb’s pure-hued airborne birds—perhaps a flock—which can be screwed into a wall.
If you’re looking for a knockout gift, this could be the place, from teapots in all their anthropomorphic charms to tons of gorgeous jewelry in several media, not just glass.
Mark Leputa’s weighty, crystalline mortars and pestles in saturated colors—a lime mortar, say, with a cerulean pestle—would make a fabulous wedding present.
The Morgan Gallery opened in 1997, after a “try-out year” in Steve Mendelson’s gallery, when he was on a sabbatical in Paris. “Who knew from pop-ups then,” Morgan says.
Morgan, once the owner of a PR business and a former model, fell early for American glass art. Now a grandmother who was widowed three years ago, she’s a recognized expert and a major player in Pittsburgh’s enviable studio glass presence. The center of that scene is the highly-regarded Pittsburgh Glass Center which draws world-class teachers.
Her advice for collectors: “Buy what makes your heart flip-flop” and “If you love it, find a way to afford it.”
Drop in on Amy, Tuesday through Friday afternoons for a free education. She’ll coach you on how to choose work by artists who she thinks might be going all the way.
Lounging at his own dining room table, along with his affectionate cat and a primitive carving, is gallery owner Steve Mendelson, coffee cup in hand.
Behind him is a 1980s Keith Haring panel. “Haring spray-painted it on a construction wall enclosing the PPG site, and I rescued it,” he says. Below that is a similarly salvaged Man Ray poster. “I have tons of Haring and Man Ray,” he notes. And above dangle whimsical chandeliers, made by Mendelson.
A few steps down is a work by internationally renowned artist Louise Bourgeois, known to Pittsburghers for her Katz Plaza fountain and signature “eye-benches.”
Pittsburgh artists abound at this Ellsworth St. gallery, from 90-year-old wood sculptor Thad Mosely and 93-year-old architect and artist David Lewis to mid-career pop artist John Chamberlain and abstractionists Emil Lukas and Mark Gualtieri.
Boundaries melt between living space and exhibition space. “It’s all connected,” says Steve. “I don’t see art as a commodity. It’s a living work of art, an expression of art by an artist that is (often) a friend of mine. Most of my artists I’ve known for decades.”
In the small bathroom of the house he shares with longtime companion Toni Chiappini, art vies with construction clutter. Steve has called in chips from painter Mark Gualtieri, to help him install a spectacular shower stall they had to wrestle upstairs in pieces.
Steve, a lithe 64, has been switching out the contents of his intimate gallery/home for 40 years.
Early on and after dropping out of the University of Michigan after a year, he ventured to India where he drew on a gift for connecting with every sort of person. In Paris he ran a gallery for several years, paying the bills as a mime and street entertainer. He was colorful enough to be featured in Italian Vogue.
He is a maker—of flatbed photo collages like the one in the photo above—as well as a collector and consummate storyteller.
“I am always complaining,” he says, in a run-up to how the art world has changed. At its best, he says, a gallery “should be an enriching experience, letting people who want to buy art meet the artists, put their trust in the gallery owner’s expertise, and support both artist and gallery.
“If I hadn’t bought good art and put my faith in artists, I probably wouldn’t be in business today,” says Steve, who has exhibited Warhol, Mapplethorpe and Rauschenberg.
“Though I run things more as a private gallery now, I am open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. I love to consult if people really have questions,” he offers. Call him on his cell at 412.654.7864.
There is no charge for the stories, which are being assembled in a memoir. Ask him to tell you the one about dinner with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Warhol (“being his normal boring self”) and Margaux Hemingway, who drank so much he had to carry her down the stairs.
The sculpture garden at James Gallery in West End Village.
James Gallery in the West End Village is a beautiful modern space, encompassing two historic buildings with an adjoining outdoor sculpture garden, complete with a sizable pizza oven that is often put to good use. Owner James Frederick moved his gallery from Dormont in 2003 and renovated the turn-of-the-century horse stable with his partner, Gayle Irwin.
He has been matching art and clients for 40 years with a wide range of offerings by artists who exhibit widely and work in many media. Frame Foundry is part of the gallery, known for finding, framing and hanging art for corporate clients as well as residential.
The gallery is also known for great parties—from exhibition openings to the preview party for the International Jazz Festival this past year with renowned musicians wowing the crowd. “We try to look at art in a different way,” says Gayle, “pairing it with entertainment and music and food. It should be fun and educational.”
Concept Art Gallery
At Concept Art Gallery, a second-generation family enterprise owned and operated by Sam Berkovitz, you’ll find paintings by a dozen or more modern, established artists, many local.
Look for Vanessa German’s satirical figures of racial injustice, city views by Spanish artist Félix de la Concha known for One A Day: 365 Views of the Cathedral of Learning, a series that he painted every day during one year while staying in Pittsburgh, the knife-textured abstract oils of Pittsburgh’s Joyce Werwie Perry, and more.
Interspersed among the paintings are decorative arts pieces—furniture, silver and objets d’art.
A recent exhibit, Graphic Pittsburgh, featured three Pittsburgh artists, including Doug Cooper, CMU architecture professor, whose rollicking graphite murals feature a retro Pittsburgh, seen from on high.
What you see on the walls is only one dimension. Another way to explore Concept’s scope is to live-stream their auctions featuring contemporary or antique (prior to 1950) painting and sculpture, and furniture and jewelry.
“The auction is also a great way to buy furniture,” Sam adds. “Bids usually remain local since shipping is expensive. So people downsizing can sell extra household things. And those at the other end of things can outfit homes very reasonably.”
And while the gallery also offers museum caliber framing, sometimes the hardest part for people is hanging art they already have.
“People call all the time for that. Our art handler will help at $75 an hour. You can call and schedule an appointment.”