Hitting Some Pittsburgh Highlights and Getting My Art On

after my adventures yesterday at Fallingwater and the Carrie Furnace, i wanted to make sure i got around Pittsburgh, too. while there was quite a bit of trouble due to a major tunnel into the city being closed (376’s Squirrel Tunnel), thanks to some clever Google Map directions it wasn’t too bad.

what really surprised me, though, was how gorgeous Pittsburgh is. the hills, the three rivers, the many many bridges — all make it so picturesque! this was most apparent after i took the Duquesne Incline (a funicular) up to the top. it’s $5 round trip; parking is available for $1/hour at the base, payable in coins or card. more than likely you won’t need more than an hour unless you’re planning to do more than take in the view and the small museum at the top.

Pittsburg pano

The view from the observation deck, which faces north. The Allegheny (top right) and Monongahela (bottom right) join at the Golden Triangle (where the skyscrapers are) to form the Ohio River, flowing off to the left.

i started talking to some people at the top, one of whom lived in Pittsburgh over 50 years ago (and his son, a Delta pilot who was there for the weekend). i asked him about the city back then and he said it was completely different. and i believe it after learning about the über-industrial history of the city over the past two days. it was all coal and all steel all the time. it was so polluted, he said, that his mom hung white curtains up and a couple months later they were dingy gray from all the soot and trains on the bridges and barges on the rivers carried raw and finished goods. what are now shopping malls and arenas used to be factories and furnaces and mills. what a difference half a century makes. despite being part of the Rust Belt, the city definitely still had a vibrancy that i enjoyed.

after getting back to my car, i drove to the Strip District, a revitalized warehouse neighborhood to visit the original Primanti Brothers sandwich shop (cash only — ATM available, open 24 hours). a brief note about parking: if it’s Sunday, metered parking is free — don’t pay $5 to park along the warehouses on Smallman Street if you can avoid it! everybody on Twitter was telling me i had to try this place, and it does seem like it causes very polarizing reactions. most people seem to love it, others call it overrated and touristy. i give my sandwich a solid B. i probably wouldn’t make it a point to go again unless i was with someone who hadn’t tried it.

and yes, those are french fries and mayo-less cole slaw you see in the sandwich. that’s how they do.

i wasn’t planning on my next stop, the Warhol Museum, since, to be honest, i’m not a big fan of his, but it was too early for my intended destination (coming up!), so i headed on over. admission is a bit steep at $20 (+$7 parking across the street) but you know, i enjoyed it a lot more than i expected to. it’s an understatement to say he had an impact on late-20th-century culture, and seeing so much of his work, both famous and not-so-famous, was pretty cool.

the best part? the limited-time temporary exhibit on the second floor about Warhol’s (mostly business) relationship with Roy Halston Frowick, of Halston (warning, autoplaying video) fashion fame. i’m not really big into fashion, but I. Love. Halston. always have. just be sure to get there before it closes later this summer if you love (classy) 1970s fashion. two amazing icons of the design world in one exhibit? YES PLEASE. (just imagine my glee when i found out the second floor was devoted to this.)

you can also make a Warholesque “screen test”, basically where you stare at a camera (or do whatever, i guess) for three minutes, which is what Warhol had many subjects do. you’ll get emailed an artsy-fartsy slowed-down version for your enjoyment. who knew three minutes was so long?

it was getting on to be 1 in the afternoon, when my main goal for the day opened up, the Mattress Factory, an art museum dedicated to installation pieces ($15 + free parking). (i was in a semi-rush because i still needed to drive the nearly 5 hours back to Philadelphia.) here is a quick instawalk of some highlights:


Not sure if this was an actual piece or just a dumping ground for old statues. It could have been part of Winifred Lutz’s Garden Installation?

This artist out a hole in the floor. 610-3556 by Sarah Oppenheimer

A hole in the ground that connects to the outside. 610-3556 by Sarah Oppenheimer

Trace of Memory by Chiharu Shiota, third floor

Such a pleasant surprise when I went over to their annex building. Three stories of an abandoned-looking house were filled with old furniture which was then covered in webs upon webs of yarn. A-MAY-ZING. Chiharu Shiota’s Trace of Memory.

something i don’t have a picture for, though, was Pleiades by James Turrell. basically you walk into a completely dark, cavernous room and sit with the promise of seeing something after your eyes adjust to the dark. i’m not sure i ever saw what i was intended to see (or maybe that’s what WAS intended?), but it was such a fascinating experience sitting in the dark, alone, staring off into nothingness while your eyes attempted to adjust. during that period, it went from the usual northern lights of moving color (try putting your hands over your open eyes so they are looking into blackness and you’ll sort of get an idea of what i mean) to all of a sudden, pitch black, to then vague and amorphous glows.

it’s hard to explain — definitely something to be experienced. (should i write a corny conclusion and say “JUST LIKE PITTSBURGH!” HA! nay, i shan’t. i’ll just end it here.)

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