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PGAV GOes to Pittsburgh

Views from the Monongahela and Duquesne inclines in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

PGAV GOes to Pittsburgh

Darting off for a weekend getaway to places like Pittsburgh, PA to see cultural destinations is the kind of journey that makes PGAV GO so amazing.

 “You travel to break away from everyday constraints – the office, the agenda, the schedule, the routine…

 It’s a world you can leave not only refreshed, but profoundly changed. For an experience to have that kind of power, it has to be original and artful. It should touch your heart, your mind, and your senses, leaving you exhilarated, brimming with vivid memories.”

-PGAV Destinations, ‘Future Ready? How will your cultural destination change?’

 

The City of Bridges is among several nicknames associated with Pittsburgh as well as Steel City,  City of Champions, The ‘Burgh, Bose City, Blitzburgh, Sixburgh, and the Golden Triangle to name a few. Most attractive to me is its endowment of many, culturally rich, renowned institutions.

I had a wonderful three days in Pittsburgh. The following is a list of destinations which I was able to visit in chronological order:

Entering Pittsburgh

Driving north into Pittsburgh is an impressive experience. During your approach by car on I-376 you won’t see much of the city, as the dramatic hills completely obscure your view. At the mouth of the Fort Pitt Tunnel you will approach a fortress of grey marble stone, earth, rock, and trees.

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The dimly lit tunnel carries you over a mile through the core of Mount Washington.
The dimly lit tunnel carries you over a mile through the core of Mount Washington.

 

Until finally when you exit to be greeted by a breathtaking, expansive panorama of modern skyscrapers and bridges framed by towering hillsides.
Until finally when you exit to be greeted by a breathtaking, expansive panorama of modern skyscrapers and bridges framed by towering hillsides.

 

Mount Washington

with Tim Steinouer of Design Island
with Tim Steinouer of Design Island

At this location you are welcomed at the convergence of the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela Rivers which are punctuated by the gorgeous Point State Park Fountain resting at the former sites of the French Fort Duquesne (1754-1758) and British Fort Pitt (1759-1797) built during the French & Indian War (Seven Years War). The towering cliffs that loom over you in all directions – they just do something to you.

 

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Why Pittsburgh?

Special thanks to Diane Lochner for advising to check out Pittsburgh. Admittedly, my first thoughts to go there weren’t as enthusiastic when compared to some of the more extravagant destinations such as NYC, San Francisco, or Vancouver from years past.

However, as a youth I often listened to my grandmother describe Cincinnati (where I grew up) as a place of the Seven Hills. Downtown Cincinnati is nestled within a valley formed by glaciation and surrounded by several such ‘hills.’ In the mid-19th and early 20th century, street cars rhythmically climbed these steeply pitched hills by way of railed inclines (funiculars). Remnants such as the crumbling piers of the old Mount Adams Incline (1872-1948) are still visible in Cincinnati and the path from the former incline plane still evident. An American flag at the peak marks the location where the power house and adjacent former Highland House (resort opened 1876) were located. My parents have kept a framed photo of the Mt. Adams Incline in their home for as long as I can remember. I often found myself gazing at it trying to imagine a past that included such a structure.

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Pittsburgh has two active historic inclines: the Monongahela (1870-present) and the Duquesne (1877 – present). When I first became aware of them, I was thrilled. The opportunity to see and ride them was a chance to relive history and experience a Cincinnati (through Pittsburgh) that I never knew – the experience proved just that, but then Pittsburgh offered so much more.

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View from The Grandview Saloon, Duquesne Heights
View from The Grandview Saloon, Duquesne Heights

 

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The Monongahela Incline
The Monongahela Incline

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View from Mount Washington at Monongahela
View from Mount Washington at Monongahela

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Recommendations:

Pittsburgh was truly an amazing city to visit. Two things I would have changed from my visit:

  1. Forget the car. Pittsburgh is rich with transportation opportunities including a subway with cultural destinations located within a “free zone” where you can ride for free to many points of interest. If not by train, Uber is big in Pittsburgh; and frankly, I was able to walk to almost everything I wanted to visit anyway.

 

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  1. Fort Pitt (visited 11/06/2016) is highly underrated. I consulted several local folks around Pittsburgh while there to help prioritize my schedule and it was suggested that the Fort Pitt Museum warranted merely a short visit, i.e. “in-and-out.” So, I placed it at the very end of my stay which I regret. Though it is in need a modern refresh, I found the content and artifacts spectacular. Personally, I could have used several hours there absorbing the chronicles of this 18th century pivotal intersection of Native American, British, and French clashes. When you begin to dig into the era and discover how the future of land acquisition and heritage was shaping within the region, it all become quite real. The story with immediate reference to the actual site (right out the window) had a powerful impact for me. Through this museum I saw a glimpse into the foundation of our country in a way that had never quite noticed before.

 

“I have used the freedom of giving your name to Fort Du Quesne, as I hope it was in some measure the being actuated by your spirits that now makes us Masters of the place.”

–General John Forbes to William Pitt, November 27th, 1758

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Other Attraction Highlights

The Andy Warhol Museum (visited 11/6/2016)

This museum is phenomenal, but don’t judge a book by its cover. 117 Sandusky St. where the museum is situated feels quiet and removed. The building facade is fairly unassuming, and if you weren’t paying attention you might just miss it entirely.

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The entry corridor is laden with Warhol’s infamous repetitive cow mural motif
The entry corridor is laden with Warhol’s infamous repetitive cow mural motif

When entering, I saw a family taking a photo-op. So far so good. The lobby, however, I found underwhelming and disorienting. “Am I in the right place because this feels like a library.” Some couches, large photo images, people pensively sipping coffee over periodicals – very, very quiet. Yikes!!! Where is the experience? This is the Andy Warhol Museum, man! The reception desk itself is modern, but also void of character. Where is that wild pop star who shook up the art world? The place should be buzzin’ with thumpin’ music and people making stuff.

Actually, there is an activity room on the lower level where they do just that with screen printing demos, painting, and other crafts. Perhaps it should be moved to the lobby?

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How about including media screens with Warhol interviews, silver helium clouds bouncing across the walls, docents roaming in period costume from the 60’s, I don’t know – just somehow more wild and edgy – a full departure. Give me the Velvet Underground. What if you were invited into a mock interview and made to feel like a pop-star with unique identity as a character from Warhol’s life? Shouldn’t it be the House of Warhol?

 

Personal media recording experience found at the upper levels–very cool!
Personal media recording experience found at the upper levels–very cool!

So forget the lobby and elevator yourself to the 7th floor where it all begins.

At that point prepare to become drenched in story and visually overwhelmed by great art.

Through this museum, we glance into the life of the man behind the tabloids. We see the spectrum: child born of immigrated parents, the popular kid with superior talent, the risk taking illustrator who rose to stardom in N.Y.C., the audacious trend setter, his decadent world of celebrity and high society, the dauntingly candid camera, the Velvet Underground, insecurities and masks, self-obsessions, near fatal shooting, and successive life of physical impairments, absolutely raw talent, and his passing.

What blows me away most about seeing the work of Andy Warhol at this museum is to realize how he so outwardly bore his soul through his work. For all that he tried to conceal about himself, I find through his work someone helplessly outspoken and remarkably fearless.

In 1994, in college as an art student in Cleveland, my class visited the Andy Warhol Museum on a field trip when it had recently opened. The iconic works leave a lasting impression and I’ve thought about that visit ever since.

The bright red Campbell Soup paintings and Brillo boxes
The bright red Campbell Soup paintings and Brillo boxes

 

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Urine splatters over copper sheet
Urine splatters over copper sheet

 

Silver clouds bobbing about a dark room
Silver clouds bobbing about a dark room

 

Marilyn Monroe screened in brilliant shades
Marilyn Monroe screened in brilliant shades

 

A massive panoramic painting with life-sized portraits of Elvis in black & white over silver paint
A massive panoramic painting with life-sized portraits of Elvis in black & white over silver paint

 

or maybe it’s the repetitive portrait of Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung in fluorescent colors arranged floor-to-ceiling/wall-to-wall?
or maybe it’s the repetitive portrait of Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung in fluorescent colors arranged floor-to-ceiling/wall-to-wall?

 

But this 2016 visit for me was different than 1994.

Perhaps back then I only saw images of art. But this time, I found the museum’s delivery of the pop icon so intimate that it felt akin to reading into his personal diary.

Initially, as atypical for me, I was caught up being the exhibit designer: inescapably conscious of the layout of the building, how the story was going to draw me in through emotional points of entry, the way in which guests are guided from floor-to-floor/moment-to-moment, and I was to look for the strategic positioning of key artifacts carefully placed by the curator to move us through and keep us curious. Yet, Warhol was delivered in such a deeply personal, powerful way, that any critical observation skills soon evaporated away and the stark, emotional life of this accomplished human being was laid out at your feet–seemingly, without restriction.

Journeying through the chronicles of his life and seeing the stunning work that’s become commonplace to us now, I descended to ground level, and entered a room of Andy Warhol’s personal effects. He was an avid collector. But here we see behind the curtain. There, within these cases, was the outcome of his obsessions over personal appearance, health, and beauty. The hairpiece, variety of hand-dyed surgical corsets, pills, makeup, and overdue hospital bills are on display.

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Check out the note on this letter
Check out the note on this letter

 

The supremely talented pop star, as it turns out, was quite real and had flaws, but exceptionally human.

Another nearby case featured collections of art objects that he enjoyed – particularly all things Art Deco. It felt like the right kind of touching: deeply personal, bookending six floors of his life in the public arena – the man behind the facade.

I would definitely go back to this museum again.

I look forward to sharing more of my Pittsburgh PGAV GO trip in upcoming blog posts…

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