Thursday, June 26, 2008

Carnegie International: What’s the Value?

When man first started putting paint on cave walls some 32-thousand years ago there was probably not much debate over its value or impact on the art world. Today a curator cannot open a show without a throng of critics making a wide variety of comments. So how should one judge the worth of the 55th Carnegie international? There are several ways.

In 1896 the Carnegie International, under a different name, was launched at the same time as the Carnegie Museum. Andrew Carnegie told his curators to search out the old masters of tomorrow, put them in the show and buy their art before it got too expensive. That was how he was going to fill his museum. Former Carnegie art museum director Jack Lane says they did a good job of building the collection quickly and the shows can be judge a success by that yardstick.

The museum’s ability to purchase art from the shows has ebbed and flowed over the years and the critic’s reception of the instillations has been up and down as well. However, the critic’s have usually agreed on one thing, the show caries great weight in the art world.

Since the opening, reviews have been coming in from big cities like New York and L.A., small town newspapers like the Monessen Valley Independent and international newspapers including one in France and another Canada. Fallon and Rosof’s ‘The Art Blog” writer Andrea Kurs says for critics and art lovers the Carnegie International a destination. In fact, the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau is counting on it.

Bureau Marketing Director Beverly Morrow Jones says travel writers have been brought into to town to see the show with the expectation that their stories will lead to more visitors who will spend the night and eat some meals. Jones say it is impossible to tell just what impact the show has on the local economy but she knows it will be big.

But administrators, critics and tourism promoters are just hangers on in the art world. The real impact should be measured by the artists themselves. Tim Blum and Jeff Poe run Blum and Poe gallery and serve as the connection between artists and the buying public. Over the years the gallery has represented a hand full of International artists and have seen their career take off following the opening.

Mark Grotjahnz was featured in the 2004 international. He says being in the International is “huge.” Before the Carnegie International Grotjahnz had not had a solo show outside of a gallery. Nearly overnight, his works went from selling for hundreds or thousands of dollars to being worth millions.

Artists are not the only ones who can be profoundly and forever impacted by the Carnegie international. Thousands will see the show this year and there is no telling how many will be like Jill Krause. She saw her first international in 1970 as a freshman at CMU and feel in love with art. She eventually left Pittsburgh to work as a designer and 10 years later began collecting art. Krause’s collection has grown to the point that now museums, including the Carnegie, borrow works from her as they mount shows.

Krause says people in Pittsburgh are often surprised to learn just how well known the Carnegie International is worldwide and the impact it has on the museum, the art world and the local economy.

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