28 September 2016

Pittsburgh Variations by George Sugarman

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Allegheny Landing was one of the first outdoor sculpture parks in the country. It was also perhaps, the first step that Pittsburgh took in recognizing the potential of our riverfront property and reclaiming it for recreation rather than industrial use. Now the Three Rivers Heritage Trails system is a part of this park, with the Northshore Trail going around one of the sculptures as it follows the Allegheny River.

In 1984 several sculptures were dedicated in this green space. After 30 years three need some TLC, and Pittsburgh Variations is one of them. The bright colors on the painted aluminum shapes aren’t quite as bright on this sculpture now, but more importantly, this piece of artwork seems to be one of the few that we’ve seen around the city that have been targeted by vandals. Most of the murals and artwork are left alone (for the most part), but this sculpture has taken on quite a bit of graffiti. In 2010 plans were established to renovate the park. This is a joint venture between Friends of Allegheny Landing, the Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA), City of Pittsburgh, PA Fish and Boat Commission, and Riverlife. There are several phases to it. Phase One involved replacing the dock, which was done in 2013. We’re not sure exactly when they will remove this sculpture for work, but the CMOA (who owns the piece) will oversee it’s restoration.

Pittsburgh Variations is an interactive sculpture, designed to represent four foundations of this city. George Sugarman used paddlewheel shapes to symbolize our three rivers; a fire or crucible shape to represent industry; a golden triangle theme for business and finance; and tree shapes for Penn’s Woods – representing all of Pennsylvania’s forests and natural resources.

The sculpture has benches integrated into the design and it’s placed directly onto the ground without a pedestal, making it more accessible. Mr Sugarman was one of the first artists to forego a pedestal on his public art. In his New York Times obituary by Roberta Smith, Mr Sugarman was quoted as having said about that: Objects and living things crawled and spread out on the ground. You had to bend down to see them properly. Your body had a different relationship to them. In other interviews Mr Sugarman expressed a dislike for art being separated from it’s physical and social environment.

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