“We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” –Picasso
THE MATTRESS FACTORY
HOURS: Tuesday-Saturday: 10am-5pm Sunday: 1-5pm
Admission Prices: Adults-$20 Seniors and Students-$15 Military-$10 Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh, Point Park University Students-Free with ID
Transportation: Location of Mattress Factory
Website: Mattress Factory Website
Enveloped by the quaint village of the North Side, the Mattress Factory almost blends in with the rest of the houses, but red signs with the letters MF will direct you to the appropriate buildings. It stands adjacent to another wonderful organization on the North Side: the City of Asylum, a home/community for exiled writers, and it is surrounded by the eastern European-influenced North Side. The North Side is still home to mock-German architecture, as well as neo-Gothic and other historicist structures such as the Children’s Museum. The neighborhood is a collage of modern and old-fashioned styles and people, thus the Mattress Factory fits in.
The Mattress Factory Museum is located, partially, in an old mattress factory facility, along with a few other buildings that were annexed over the years. Outside of the main building, there are actually ruins of a building that mostly burned down, but some walls and stairs do remain. It is worth exploring, if only to take some grungy artistic photographs. Once inside the museum, a visitor will find that it is not only modern art, but interactive, abstract exhibits. Some exhibits involve lights while others are rooms encased in mirrors and coated with dots or mannequins. The room with dots is actually one of the museum’s permanent exhibits, created by the artist Yayoi Kusama. Yayoi’s artwork has been displayed at the Mattress Factory for a couple decades now, though it has changed over the years. Below are a few pictures of the exhibits from the past and present:
In another room, spins a globe of strings as the light grows and fades. I cannot speak for anyone else’s interpretation of it, but the lights made me think of the universe and then of a cell. It seemed to be a metaphor perhaps for the grand unified theory, in which scientists can come to understand how all of the universe and all disciplines are intertwined. Furthermore, the universe is so complex that, in my opinion, the only way humans can truly interpret it is through non-verbal art. That is the beauty of the interactive nature of the Mattress Factory, as it serves not only entertainment but also profound messages based upon an individual’s interaction with its exhibits.
The Mattress Factory is definitely a place to see in Pittsburgh.
Becoming Part of the Art
How many museums have you been to where you are a vital piece to the artwork? Installation art embraces this idea and lets you jump right in.
by Sarah Soergel
Installation art is a relatively new art form. The earliest instance is Marcel Duchamp’s 1938 piece 1200 Bags of Coal. In this exhibit, paper-filled coal sacks were hung from the ceiling in a room with the floor covered by leaves. The lighting was dark and German marching music played in the background (Ran 64). The piece completely immersed the observer in the artwork. Immersing and including the observer in the artwork is one of the main aspects of installation art. Too many museums require the spectator to be passive and stay a certain distance away from the artwork. Installation art embraces the spectator and requires them to participate actively in the art.
As a spectator, going through an installation changes your perception of the space. Urban theorist Edward Soja’s vocabulary about spatiality can apply to installation art in a number of ways. He describes a “Trialectic of Spatiality” in which there are three different types of spaces. The first is perceived space; this is the tangible, physical material in a space. In relation to an art installation, this would be the actual material used to create the art and the room in which it is in. The next type of space is conceived space; this is your imagination of a space or what you think about it. In an installation, this would be what you first imagine the space to be or what you expect of it. The third type of space is the lived space; this space includes personal experience of a space. It is the memories and significance that a space holds. The way that this type of space relates to an art installation because going through the art is an experience. The artwork demands the observer to be fully present and attentive to the experience. Everyone will experience the art differently, so this “lived space” will have a different meaning to every observer. Ju-Chun Cheng writes about a personal experience with an installation in her dissertation “Finding the Museum: The Spatial Discontinuities of the Mattress Factory Art Museum.” She discusses an installation in which papers folded into the shapes of lotuses were spread across a room. She didn’t like this because of the way paper lotuses were used and what they represented in her home country of Taiwan. She says paper lotuses were burned for the dead. This shows how the “lived space” of an installation will be different for each spectator.
Ju-Chun Cheng’s dissertation focuses on the Mattress Factory, located in the historic Mexican War Streets of Pittsburgh’s Northside. The whole museum is installation art and involves the observer in many different ways. In one section of the dissertation, Cheng discusses how a viewer is incorporated into the space on an installation saying, “Installation art creates an explorative space that engages the viewer’s bodily and sensory responses at a particular site, and also challenges their perception of a particular space.” (Cheng 30) There is a lot to work with from what she says here. She discusses how a viewer’s body and senses respond to the artwork and the space. One installation at the Mattress Factory in particular, Yayoi Kusama’s Repetitive Vision which was mentioned earlier, elicits a big response from the observer. The installation is a room where the walls and ceiling are cover in mirrors with 3 mannequins being reflected, and when I first walked in, I was pretty disoriented. I had always wondered what it was like to be in a room that was all mirrors, and now I was finally experiencing it. My first couple minutes in the room consisted of me trying to get my bearings and a feel for how the room was set up. It was hard to tell at first how big the room actually was, since everything in it was reflected by the walls and the ceiling. I was a little dizzy and had to take a minute to focus. I was able to understand how an installation can involve your whole body and make you fully present in the space of the work. Other exhibits included sounds or lighting that made you aware of your surroundings in the installation.
The other point that Cheng makes is that an installation challenges the observer’s perception of the space. This point relates back to Soja’s vocabulary in that the viewer’s impression of the space in an installation transforms during the time they are observing it. When the observer first enters the installation, they see the perceived space – the physical area and material of the space. As they begin to move through the artwork, they begin to form expectations and ideas about the space that they are in, transposing it into conceived space. Finally, when they spectator has made their way all the way through the installation, they can reflect on their experience in that particular space. The observer now has experienced the space and has a memory or story from the installation and had their own personal “lived space” within the physical and conceived space of the work. It is true that as a viewer explore the space of an installation, their perception of the space is challenged and transformed in the process.
The Mattress Factory has a lot of other exhibits that require the observer to be aware of the surroundings. Trace of Memory by Chiharu Shiota is an installation that takes up a whole building. In takes the viewer though many rooms in a house but the normal everyday objects are trapped in black thread. The observer must walk up flights of stairs and through many rooms to get the full effect of the installation. Another installation that activates the observer in their surroundings is A Collaboration by Chicago Collaboration. It is an installation that features many different work, but one in particular fully engages the observer’s sense of touch. It is a railing for a staircase and on the sides of the railing is a stream of water. As an observer climbs the staircase and uses the railing, their fingertips will touch the warm water, activating their sense of touch. One floor of the Mattress Factory consists of pitch black rooms where observer is supposed to sit and let their eyes adjust to the darkness.
I think that the best way to experience art is to be completely immersed in it, which explains why I love installation art so much. I find it so fresh and exciting that as a viewer, you play a role in the artwork. Many museums showcase art from hundreds of years ago that never changes and looks the same as they day it was completed. There is nothing wrong with that, but the concept of it can get boring after a while. Installation art immerses the observer and every viewer will experience it differently. It opens up a whole new way to experience art.
To the Mattress Factory and beyond!
by Nina Appasamy
A museum is a venue where one’s imagination escapes and travels through fantastical dimensions that come to life through paintings or sculptures or interactive exhibitions. The Mattress Factory Museum, a modern art museum located on the North Side of Pittsburgh, is an installation art museum. An installation art museum involves a venue with permanent and temporary abstract exhibits which play on optical illusions, physics, and other similar characteristics to create an interactive experience for the audience. The Mattress Factory is a place to allow one’s mind to wander, whether in the room with large dots and seemingly infinite mirrors or in the remains of a building outside.
The Mattress Factory was established in 1977 as a museum surrounding a residence for artists, a fitting origin for its place next to Pittsburgh’s City of Asylum (a residence for exiled writers). The building had originally sold in 1975 to Barbara Luderowski and was, in fact, the former residence of a mattress factory. The previous establishment was owned by a company known as Sealy Corporation, a mattress producer born out of Texas in the 19th century. Recently, the corporation was purchased by a larger mattress company, yet its touches on the Mattress Factory remain. One of the most fascinating aspects of the Mattress Factory are the imprints of the past woven into the art of the future. The Mattress Factory boasts art that utilizes the advanced technology of the 21st century, yet it resides in an old factory where one can almost see the dusty workers (since Pittsburgh was filled with soot for much of the 20th century) using sewing machines and collecting stuffing to put in the mattresses. The second building is actually covered in yarn that looks like spiderwebs. Behind the yarn is furniture, including desks and books. The dim light of the rooms give one an idea of what it was like to live and work in the 40’s or 50’s, when electric lighting was not nearly as great as it is now and when the city would have been constantly dark with ash from the steel mills. Below is a picture of the smoke from Pittsburgh’s steel mills, and beneath that is a picture I took of the inside of the Mattress Factory, for context:
Why is the memory of the old factory so important to the Mattress Factory? Cue Edward Soja’s , in which he discusses space and its existence in time. Buildings, to build off of Soja’s theories, are indicators of imagined space that are defined by their usage and the people who occupy them. The Allegheny Courthouse, for instance, holds the tapping of a judge’s mallet in its stone and resonates the passions of people living in a city that was trying so hard to make a name in history that it build a ‘castle’ in the middle of downtown. The Old Jailhouse, in its panopticonic eeriness, holds the cries, anger, and malevolence of the people who were once kept there. The Mattress Factory is defined by the people who occupied it and the ones who occupy it today. When people visit it, it is essential for their experience that they recognize the past of the place they are in. The buildings contain the voices of the past and the ideas of the future. For instance, one of the most interesting finds at the Mattress Factory, is the shell that once held a house that burned down next to the factory. The foundation and basement area of the house stand strong today, and steps lead into the earth. Wedding photos and hipster candids alike have flashed on the steps, where a rusty railing is the only barrier between oneself and a 10 to 15 foot fall. The ground is covered in water, with moss and algae gripping the stones, and possibly a few other creatures that are best unnamed (including those icky hairy ones with eight eyes and eight legs). The ruins of the building are a playground for the imagination as much as any of the museum’s installed displays. It can serve as a bridge between a fictional world with friends who pretend to be sneaking through a secret passageway in Hogwarts, and its stone contains the memories of all that happened both after the fire and before, when the building was a home or workplace. Imagine, the beautiful aroma of home transformed into mildew-smelling rubble half a century from now, or your office space morphed into a museum with creepy naked mannequins. Those are the ideas that the space of the Mattress Factory holds. The artwork, too, reflects the lives of its artists, another incredible aspect of installation art.
Why is the memory of the old factory so important to the Mattress Factory? Cue Edward Soja’s Thirdspace: Journeys to Lost Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places., in which he discusses space and its existence in time. Buildings, to build off of Soja’s theories, are indicators of imagined space that are defined by their usage and the people who occupy them. The Allegheny Courthouse, for instance, holds the tapping of a judge’s mallet in its stone and resonates the passions of people living in a city that was trying so hard to make a name in history that it build a ‘castle’ in the middle of downtown. The Old Jailhouse, in its panopticonic eeriness, holds the cries, anger, and malevolence of the people who were once kept there. The Mattress Factory is defined by the people who occupied it and the ones who occupy it today. When people visit it, it is essential for their experience that they recognize the past of the place they are in. The buildings contain the voices of the past and the ideas of the future. For instance, one of the most interesting finds at the Mattress Factory, is the shell that once held a house that burned down next to the factory. The foundation and basement area of the house stand strong today, and steps lead into the earth. Wedding photos and hipster candids alike have flashed on the steps, where a rusty railing is the only barrier between oneself and a 10 to 15 foot fall. The ground is covered in water, with moss and algae gripping the stones, and possibly a few other creatures that are best unnamed (including those icky hairy ones with eight eyes and eight legs). The ruins of the building are a playground for the imagination as much as any of the museum’s installed displays. It can serve as a bridge between a fictional world with friends who pretend to be sneaking through a secret passageway in Hogwarts, and its stone contains the memories of all that happened both after the fire and before, when the building was a home or workplace. Imagine, the beautiful aroma of home transformed into mildew-smelling rubble half a century from now, or your office space morphed into a museum with creepy naked mannequins. Those are the ideas that the space of the Mattress Factory holds. The artwork, too, reflects the lives of its artists, another incredible aspect of installation art.
One of the most profound quotes from Doctor Who comes from an episode titled Vincent and the Doctor, in which the Doctor and Amelia Pond travel back in time to meet Vincent van Gogh. Vincent van Gogh, as history knows, was a fantastic painter who spent most of his life in torment, until the day he would commit suicide. When he was alive, van Gogh’s work never received praise, but after his death, he became renowned as an extraordinary painter. As the quote goes, “he transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world…no one had ever done it before.” (Curtis, 2010) Vincent illustrated his views of the world, his profound ideas of its inner beauty on canvas. The artists behind the Mattress Factory used the technology of installation to portray messages about modern society. Yayoi Kusama, one of the major artists of the Mattress Factory, has had her work displayed for over a decade. Now, two of her rooms are seated in the Mattress Factory, engulfed in mirrors and saturated with large dots. One room is dark, giving off a purplesque facade and dimly visible infinities of people through its mirrors. The other is bright, covered in white paint and red dots that remind one of the chicken pox, in an oxymoronically beautiful way. Mannequins stand confidently and nude in the room, reflecting over and over in the mirrors covering the walls.
The picture on the left is of the first room, and the picture on the right is of the second room (both pictures are owned by me, but the displays are by Kusama)
Yayoi’s installation is not merely for fun, but to portray messages about the world and to show people how she views the world. Perhaps, the darkened room is meant to portray outer space, while the light room is meant to portray earth. Maybe they are physical representations of a mental illness or what it feels like to get high on mushrooms. Whatever the meaning, Yayoi’s artwork, like Vincent’s, is a reflection of the world, and it tells a story that seems to twist pain and happiness together, as all art does. Even installation art that manifests itself as a room of dots or a room with a single, potentially non-existent square of white light are stories about the world. The Mattress Factory is a worthwhile trip because it depicts certain people’s take on the world. Some people, like Michael Chabon, tell their stories through books about their home cities in which they utilize their familiar places as characters’ nests, aka The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Others, like Vincent, paint, while others use mirrors and optics to tell their stories. The beauty of the Mattress Factory is the collective story it tells about Pittsburgh, its visitors, and the mystery of time.
So, long story short, the Mattress Factory is a fantastic place to visit while in Pittsburgh.
Chabon, Michael. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. New York: W. Morrow, 1988. Print.
Cheng, Ju-Chun. Finding the Museum: The Spatial Discontinuities of the Mattress Factory Art Museum. Diss. The Pennsylvania State U, 2014. N.p.: Proquest LLC, 2014. Proquest LLC. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.
Chicago Collaboration. A Collaboration. 1993. Periscope, door, hand rail, window shade, closet door, balcony, line of scent. Mattress Factory. Pittsburgh.
Curtis, Richard. “Vincent and the Doctor.” Doctor Who. Dir. Jonny Campbell. Prod. Steven Moffat. BBC One. 5 June 2010. Television.
“History | Mattress Factory.” History | Mattress Factory. Mattress Factory, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.
Kusama, Yayoi. Repetitive Vision. 1996. Formica, adhesive dots, mannequins, mirrors. Mattress Factory. Pittsburgh.
“Mattress Factory.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.
Pittsburgh City Photographer. Monterey Street. 1931. Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection. N.p.: Historic Pittsburgh, n.d. N. pag. Archive Service Center. Web. 18 Dec. 2015.
Ran, Faye. A History of Installation Art and the Development of New Art Forms: Technology and the Hermeneutics of Time and Space in Modern and Postmodern Art from Cubism to Installation. New York: Peter Lang, 2009. Web.
“Sealy Corporation.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.
Shiota, Chiharu. Trace of Memory. 2013. Yarn. Mattress Factory. Pittsburgh.
Shrader, John R. Pittsburgh’s Industrial Past. ca. 1935-1980. Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, PA. Historic Pittsburgh. Web.
Soja, Edward. Thirdspace: Journeys to Lost Angeles and Ither Real-and-Imagined Places. Cambridge MA: Blackwell Publishing Inc., 1996. 53-70.