David Ellis’ 2008 exhibit “Oh” Photo courtesy of Mattress Factory.

In celebration of the museum’s 40th anniversary, the “New Installations: 40th Year” exhibit brings back six previous artists

By: Nick Eustis

For some modern art lovers, Pittsburgh’s museum scene might be considered incomplete without the Mattress Factory.

Nestled in the heart of Deutschtown, the Mattress Factory has featured the work of over 650 artists, from Northside locals like Randy Gilson, of Randyland to modern art legends like John Cage.

With the Mattress Factory turning 40 this year, this historic landmark is cause for celebration. To commemorate the occasion, the museum is putting on a show called “New Installations: 40th Year.” The museum will invite back six artists to create brand new large-scale works that showcase their distinctive styles.

One of these artists is Pittsburgh local, David Pohl. Though an illustrator by trade, Pohl first showed at the Mattress Factory in 2001 with an installation piece titled “Mantra.” In this piece, record players found in consignment stores rigged to play repeating patterns of sound, inspired by the repetitive mantras of Eastern religions like Buddhism. The rest of the room was also meticulously decorated with flowers and circular patterns to evoke this spiritual atmosphere.

These themes of sound and repetition will once again resonate in Pohl’s newest exhibition.

“There’s something behind [my] body of work that deals with cycles and cyclical things,” said Pohl. “I’m really interested in repetition in music and how it relates to nature.”

Courtesy of Mattress Factory.

The new exhibition will contain both audio and video elements; revolving around loops of Erik Satie, a French composer known for his use of repetition. “Repetition is the most primal thing, like the heartbeat,” said Pohl. “We’ve made music as a way to connect to this primal thing.” In combination with a video composition, Pohl hopes to examine how repetition as it appears both in music and the natural world.

Also featured on the 40th-anniversary show is New York artist Allan Wexler, who was first featured by the Mattress Factory in 1988 for his piece, “Bed Sitting Rooms for an Artist in Residence.” The piece is both a sculpture and a functional living space. Current artists in installation at the Mattress Factory still live in the space to this day. The space takes functionality to an extreme, with the rooms designed to be customizable. “Two beds on wheels roll through the dividing wall. Two light bulbs rotate through the wall and can be used in either space. Sofa arms slide through the wall,” Wexler said in his description of the piece.

Wexler will be debuting two new pieces at the 40th-anniversary show, both of which deal with the idea of gravity. “Trained as an architect, I have long been drawn to the effects of gravitational pull and the un-level surface. Architects fight gravity, [and] form and function are their response,” Wexler said.

The first piece will be a table, set with fine china, but slanted so the surface is unlevel. In response to this, the china resting on the table will have wedges placed under it, leveling the china. The second piece is also based on a table, this time with four filled coffee cups sitting on it. Through a series of tubes and strings, the cups will overflow unless each is removed at exactly the same time.

In addition to these new pieces, the Mattress Factory will also be unveiling the archives of Greer Lankton. Lankton was a transgender woman and artist who dealt primarily in the medium of doll-making. Her last work, “It’s All About Me, Not You,” is a permanent feature of the Mattress Factory, completed one month before her death in 1996.

After her death, Lankton’s parents bequeathed her archives as a gift to the Mattress Factory, and selections from those archives will also be featured. According to Sarah Hallett, an archivist at the Mattress Factory, the catalog contains a massive amount of material.

“We received about 30 boxes, three portfolios, and four soft sculptures. We have two boxes that contain dolls and casts of belly buttons. We also have life-sized dolls,” said Hallett.

In addition to Hallet’s findings are countless photographs, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and other ephemera. Items not shown in the initial exhibition are intended to be cycled in over the next two years.

The 40th-anniversary show will also feature the work of Yoan Capote, David Ellis, Vanessa German, and Meg Webster, as well as Pohl, Wexler, and Lankton. The exhibition will open at the Mattress Factory on October 6 and will remain open through July 29, 2018.