Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art Biennial

Driving to Central Pennsylvania after spending a few hours visiting the 58th Carnegie International, we were debating if this was the best Carnegie International we have experienced so far or perhaps one of the worst. It was certainly heavy-handed with curatorial visions and discourse of worldly views. On the way to Hollidaysburg, we had just enough time to see a juried biennial exhibition at Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in Loretto although just one hour before its closing. 

The contrast with the earlier event of the day was sharp. We immediately felt neighborhoody with a greater sense of community, a love and appreciation of the land and people in Pennsylvania and its surroundings.

One common theme here is artists’ affinity to the industrial history of the region. Kevin Kutz’s drawing of a miner utilizes furnace soot and white acrylic. Diluted by water, the soot can generate all shades of darkness. Gestural strokes and large patches draw viewers into the miner’s consciousness of the world through their often impaired vision. Next to it, Robert L Bowden’s Carrie Furnace echoes Charles Demuth’s industrial scenes from the early 1930s. What was then considered modern, grandeur, and ingenuity in places like Demuth’s hometown Lancaster, PA, that time has long passed. Instead of following precisionism style , Bowden treats the canvas with dripped linseed oil breaking down light gray paint. That subtle abandonness brings out nostalgic sentiment under the inevitable cloudy sky in wintry Pennsylvania. 

Loretto native Ron Donoughe explores the skinny streets and alleyways of Pittsburgh. Viewed from a low vantage point, with back porches and junk piles taking a center stage, the houses in Lotus Way would not be an expected eye-catcher. Instead, Donoughe finds a magical moment: The warm late afternoon light rakes through the overgrown grass and casts each house’s zigzag shadow onto the one to the right.  One lonesome chair is bathing in the sun, strangely facing the plain-looking back of the house. What is mundane to us is intimate to others. Donoughe’s houses are tender and empathetic. He makes sure we gaze beyond the unassuming look of modest houses, to appreciate the unexpected play of city texture.


The urban grittiness is balanced with the rural tranquility. And there is plenty of “space where nobody is than where anybody is” in Pennsylvania. John R. Dorchester’s “Red Door” and Dai Morgan’s “Composition in Blue and Brown” are paired gracefully together.


Michael Allison’s large abstract piece (five feet in diameter) is as groovy as its title “Bolero” may suggest. I can easily see the metaphorical connection between the visual piece and the music: rousing repetition of forms and huge dynamics in colors make a full play.


Our surprising finding is a small painting by Nicholas James Harris. Deprived of any human presence, several house interior doors open and close to create nuanced white-on-white play and intricate angular intersections of different planes. The unplanned glass reflection on the door frame and soft linen curtain almost adds enough excitement to break the silence. The center of the canvas is reserved for the dark night, pierced through by one bright star. The title “Predecessor” invites more questions than answers.

It strikes me that the predecessor may be extraterrestrial, and in any case, our history is often washed in white. Whatever the case, it’s not something to think much about. Just stop and contemplate a state of being.

The Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art Biennial Exhibition is open until April 16, 2023. An artist reception will be held on April 1.

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