For five decades, visual artist and poet Alison Knowles (b. 1933) has expanded the boundaries of art with her performative work and participatory installations. Taking ordinary things such as books, beans, shoes, and strings as curious points of departure, she engages our senses and invites us to share in her intimate way of seeing the world. The exhibition–the first at any museum to consider the breadth of the artist’s work across media—features a focused selection of key pieces from the 1960s to the present, including interactive sculptures; sound-making objects; large works on paper, silk, and canvas; and a selection of the artist’s own collected ephemera.
Visitors to the Forum Gallery can share in the artist’s experience through touchable, interactive works such as Bean Garden (1971/2016), a tactile encounter for feet that creates a soundtrack for the gallery, as the rustling sounds of dry beans are amplified throughout the space. The Boat Book (2014–2015), a large sculptural work consisting of eight-foot-tall moveable pages organized on a central spine, offers an immersive reading experience—an ode to the artist’s older brother who worked on fishing vessels in the Atlantic. A cabinet of found objects from Knowles’s own studio—a kind of “retrospective in a box”—also joins the installation. Facilitators in the gallery bring visitors closer to the show through hands-on interaction.
Since the 1960s, Knowles has performed her “event scores” around the world, inviting audiences to take part in their completion. During the exhibition’s May 19 opening event, the artist invites participation in her iconic Celebration Red (1962), in which hundreds of Pittsburghers will contribute to a temporary installation of found red objects in the Hall of Sculpture.