It may not be a household name, but the Carnegie International, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is the second-oldest exhibition of contemporary art in the world, after the Venice Biennale. Initiated in 1896, the event aimed, in the words of Carnegie Museum of Art
(CMoA) founder Andrew Carnegie, to “bring the world” to Pittsburgh—a city whose art-world bonafides are perhaps slim, beyond being the birthplace of
. The show is flexible, taking place every three to five years, depending on how much time each curator wants to research and commission new work. The 2018 edition (the 57th) attracted an international group of contributing artists including
, who milled about the galleries this past weekend.
I asked Marshall if he was looking forward to doing anything else in the city while he was there. “The Carnegie is the thing,” he said, when I caught him near his contribution to the show: newly conceived, black-and-white comic strips printed on plexiglass, hung in one 70-foot-long line throughout the lobby of the CMoA. Offering disjointed narratives that revolve around a superhero called Rythm Mastr, they provide a conceptual, Afrocentric alternative to, say, Superman. Some strips are meant to be read right to left; text appears backwards when issued from the mouth of a character facing away from the viewer. The strategy suggests that these works aren’t necessarily for you, but for another, fictional audience. Marshall first exhibited comics at the institution’s 1999–2000 Carnegie International exhibition. “There was a necessity for comic representation of black figures,” he told me, because you didn’t see them in daily newspapers. Nearly 20 years later, he was back to debut his latest installment.
Marshall’s work is but one part of a large, yet concise exhibition. Organized by curator and Pittsburgh native Ingrid Schaffner, the show includes work from over 30 artists, situated inside the museum and along its grounds. This reviewer, used to being herded around via bus or on foot to see biennial-style exhibitions spread across entire cities, was quite content to spend the entire day at one institution. I could focus on the art instead of my blisters, body temperature, and next meal. To be fair, the guidebook that accompanies the exhibition in lieu of detailed wall text warns visitors that “art galleries are maintained at a chill 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit with 45 to 55 percent humidity….A sweater is advised.” Schaffner’s attention to detail and emphasis on visitors’ enjoyment can make her seem like a benevolent babysitter, or just make other curators look like sadists.