By Edward Trizzino, Point Park News Service:
The recent closing of a local art exhibit has 252 pieces of art in need of a permanent home. The SPACE gallery located in Downtown Pittsburgh recently closed its summer-long “John Riegert” exhibit, which contained submitted portraits of Riegert by hundreds of local artists.
Of the 252 portraits, Riegert personally kept almost 50 of them for his apartment.
“It was odd when it first started, but I got used to it after seeing them so long,” Riegert, a Lawrenceville artist, said. Riegert said he attended the exhibit nearly every day.
“It was neat to see how people reacted: Some people didn’t know it was me and kind of freaked out when they realized it,” Riegert said. “It is sort of bittersweet to not get to do that now. I have to go back to my normal life.”
With the conclusion of the gallery, Riegert and Brett Yasko, creator and curator of the project, are searching for a permanent place to house a “museum” for all of the pieces.
“I always wanted it to be permanent eventually,” Yasko said. “It would be cool if it was like an underground museum where people could look and talk to John and maybe even do their own paintings of him.”
All of the artwork has been removed from SPACE and has either been returned to the original artist, given to Riegert as a gift or is being held by Yasko.
“It’s bittersweet to have it end, but I am actively looking for a new space, and I’m not going to stop looking,” Yasko said.
Although they are no longer in a public exhibit, all of the art pieces have been saved on an online Tumblr page created by Yasko, which contains a blog documenting the process of the creation of the exhibit.
Yasko said the project was in development for about a year and a half from conception to the finished product. The creation process involved Yasko contacting as many artists as he could to see if they would like to be a part of the project.
“It’s really important to seize upon opportunities like this,” Donna Penoyer, an artist from Millvale, said.
The creation process involved Riegert posing for artists involved in the project. Aside from paintings, the exhibit also included mediums such as sculptures, photographs, videos and sound clips, as well as abstract works of art, such as a photo of a retinal scan.
“I created what was sort of like a Macy’s Thanksgiving balloon with a photo of John’s face on it,” Penoyer, whose piece floated right above the entryway inside the exhibit, said. “It was set to inflate and deflate on a timer so it would look like John was showing affection.”
The artists also would like to see the exhibit find a permanent home. Philip Rostek, an artist from Shadyside, reflected on the words of Robert Lepper, one of his professors at Carnegie Mellon University.
“Art is something that should be saved in a world where everything is made to be thrown away,” he said.
Murray Horne, the curator of SPACE, said this project was the largest they had ever held and the most artists ever to be involved in a project. He complimented its originality and said it is one of the most ambitious projects he has seen.
Yasko said that aside from all the effort put into the project, a reason he wants to create a permanent exhibit is so more people could experience Riegert’s personality, as many did when visiting the gallery.
“John is somebody who’s easy to like and even love, and there’s still an audience for this that still hasn’t gotten to see it for themselves,” Yasko said.
Yasko is looking for a place that could hold all the artwork and also be habitable for Riegert. He said that Millvale or Lawrenceville would be the ideal areas, as they are areas Riegert likes.
“It would be something that I want to make worth going to, like a roadside attraction,” Riegert said.