Very full and fun day seeing a variety of provoking art on a cool sunny Thursday. We began at a Croatian Catholic Church (St. Nicholas) in Millvale for a docent-led tour of the amazing murals inside painted between the world wars (1938, 1941) by Maxo Vanka, an Austrian painter with ties to Croatia. We were early so we drove up an impossibly steep one-lane road to a handful of houses clinging to the hillside, with spectacular views of the old brick mill, modest homes and river tucked in the valley.
The Vanka Murals are strikingly contemporary, with scenes of modern war, proud socialism and uncharacteristically (for churches we are told) strong females. The murals cover all the walls and high-domed ceiling and are in the process of being restored. Tours are offered on Saturday. We lucked into a Thursday tour, thanks to a bigger group that had booked and came 1/2 hour late.
Next stop, a fresh fried fish sandwich at the Original Oyster House downtown on Market Square which gave us a chance to admire the interesting architecture, old and new, downtown. The fish tasted very fresh and fun to eat inside (yes, inside…post-vaccines) an old tavern with vintage photos of Miss America pageants and Pirates baseball.
The Mattress Factory is in the lovely Mexican War Streets neighborhood, with gorgeous restored homes lining the streets. Fancier than Lawrenceville, not as fancy as Squirrel Hill. The museum specializes in “immersive” art and that it was, which was a bit challenging to navigate at times with my broken foot because we were sometimes plunged into complete darkness and had to navigate tricky steps and dark narrow passageways. Some artists we recognized – James Turrell and Yayoi Kusama.
Beyond the four floors of the factory building are two neighborhood houses nearby, also with immersive installations. One installation takes up the entire three floors of the house, with holes cut in the floors so you can look up or down at the adjacent floor. Another had a Small piano hoisted awkwardly in the air on ropes and a song composed for the piece you could play on your phone.
Covid is also inspiring some strange art, this museum suggests.
We did a little browsing at sweet independent shops along Butler street. (Pastries at la gourmandine, buttercream) Quite a few have limited hours, perhaps due to the pandemic. People are good about wearing masks and/or reminding you to put yours on if you forget. (Mine hangs on a chord around my neck for easy in and off.)
We met old (younger) friends Dan and Elizabeth for dinner in a tented space outside Spirit, a performance space in Lawrenceville located in a former Moose Lodge.