Saturday, September 08, 2007

I, Receptionist

On a recent summer trip to Pittsburgh, we had a chance to walk around the campuses of Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh and, in between the two, stop over for a 3 hour visit at the Phipps Conservatory, where a Dale Chihuly exhibit was in full display. I'll post various aspects of the trip in smaller entries, with a load of pictures available particularly for the Chihuly @ Phipps visit.

I'll start with Carnegie-Mellon University, which is located by the Shadyside, Oakland and Squirrel Hill "villages" of Pittsburgh. Schenley Park, a beautifully maintained park of rolling hills borders the university on the southeast. There's an older apt building just south of the football stadium where Mr. Rogers used to live and overlook from one of the highest points in Pittsburgh as patron saint of the university. It's an urban college smack in the middle of neighborhoods and protected green spaces. When we visited, there were quite a lot of students walking about the place. Not too many lounging or sitting-in-the-sun types. Simply students with a purpose. Since the college wasn't in session, we assumed that they were mainly grad students. We meandered around going through the buildings without hindrance. Two of the buildings that seemed to have the most activity were the Collaborative Innovation Center and Newell-Simon Hall. Both are heavy users of computer related technology and application. Next to Newell-Simon there was a huge pit where the Gates Technology Building will be constructed. There is energy all around this part of campus, as if something important will be launched skyward. What with students and staff all working on the Next Big Things, they're experimenting with computerizing the mundane without upping the mundanity factor onto the user. Herewith, the Roboceptionist. She used to be named Valerie back in 2005. She is now Marion (Tank) LeFleur. The most interesting part of this project for me was the interdisciplinary group that worked on this project. The nationally renowned Drama department at CMU was there to put the soul in the machine concocted by the Robotics Institute.

I remained locked in place in front of Ms. LeFleur communicating with her through her keyboard for way too long. Even the students in the building, running high on the geekometer, were eying me with suspicion.

Off to the Phipps, where the interest is in the living!

(Please click on the picture for a grander view

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Surely the drama department could do better than a crew-cut and polka dot eyebrows for poor Marion. She looks like a pre-op trans-sexual.

I'll be looking forward to the Chihuly report. Now there's some good stuff! I'm curious if he does all of his own work or if he's put it into production mode now, because he has become extremely prolific.
Hey Gwynne,
I can't think of the time when Chiluly wasn't doing the Andy Warhol Factory methodology of Art Production. The amazing (and insulting) thing for me is how much the Dale Chiluly Art, LCC organization charges for his artwork. It's more like a licensing thing like, say, Yves St Laurent and the plethora of dreck that carries his "YSL" or "Rive Gauche" brand than it is a artistically creative thing done solely by him.
The stuff (I hate to use the word "art') that we saw was great, a lot having to do with the setting. But in the Phipps Conservatory store where there was much of the Chiluly shilling going on, a constant play DVD removed any filters from your eyes to reveal how assembly lineish is his glass production. Which is fine; I mean the gorgeous crystal glass from Ireland, FRance, Italy, & the Czech Republic is beautiful. The difference is these crystal glass manufacturers don't insult their consumers by calling a beautiful product a piece of art.
Interesting...I didn't realize it is primarily production based work (although I might have guessed), but you're right, the prices charged and the nature of the exhibits are treated more like "art" than "stuff." In his defense, the designs and installation (of the pieces) is still very much "art." Designers of furniture and vases (Stickley or Aalto, for example) are still considered artists of a sort. Granted, the pieces are not one of a kind, but the the ideas behind them are. And with Chihuly, it's mostly about the installations, which are truly remarkable!
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