The Frick Goes Back in Time

Everything old is new again and retold again at 'Clayton Days,' a perspective on the past at The Frick Art Museum.




Photos by Vik Muniz, courtesy Frick Art & Historical Center
 

 

During my many years of covering art exhibitions, I’ve never felt the need to provide a “spoiler alert” — the kind of warning movie critics offer — but “Clayton Days Revisited: A Project by Vik Muniz” requires an exception.

Being duly advised, continue to read on if you wish. Make no mistake, though. “Clayton Days,” which opens this month, is a thought-provoking and visually rich exhibition of photography by Muniz. It’s also the kind of show you might appreciate more if you’d stumble upon it via serendipity, perhaps casually checking it out after lunch at Café at the Frick.

“Clayton Days” first appeared at The Frick Art Museum in 2000. Its debut was a milestone because this was the Frick’s first exhibition of contemporary art. It also was the culmination of a yearlong photography project by Muniz, the Frick’s first artist-in-residence.

Muniz was born in 1961 in Brazil, but by the time of the first “Clayton Days” premiere, he was based in New York, as he is now. He might have been viewed as an unexpected choice for a project at the seemingly staid Frick. A contemporary artist in every sense, Muniz had expressed his creative energies using nontraditional media — chocolate syrup, string, dirt. He’d also drawn inspiration from unexplored subjects and had reimagined other artists’ creations in unconventional ways.

What was unveiled at the conclusion of Muniz’s residency was equally unexpected and, at first glance, not contemporary. Looking at the elegant series of 65 photographs, anyone could have interpreted the project as a study of the life and times of the Henry Clay Frick family and staff during the early days of Clayton. There are sepia-toned images of important-looking people of means in horse-drawn carriages or classic cars; there are women in long white dresses and men in straw hats, jackets and bow ties playing croquet. There are also elegantly attired children, some cradling china-headed dolls. One little girl sends soap bubbles wafting from a Clayton terrace.

But like the bubbles, the photographic album produced for that project was extremely short-lived and almost illusory. It was an alternate universe. Muniz asked us to consider the essence of what is real, the reality of photography and the nature of perception.

As Ansel Adams said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” That’s essentially what Muniz did during his Frick residency. Frick Center staff and their children were enlisted to help stage an imaginary reality that mimicked a Frick family past via “historical” and genre scenes. Mixed in among the new/old images were copies of actual images of the past from the Frick’s collection that Muniz rephotographed.

Reflecting in 2006 on his “Clayton Days” project, Muniz explained, “I started to imagine the little things that might have happened in the interstices between historical events — little things like the discovery of a dead snake, a picnic, a doctor’s house call.”

Feeling the presence of the Frick children who once romped around Clayton and its grounds, Muniz shot a number of the images by positioning the camera angle as related to the height of a child.

Muniz himself got into character for the project. He selected a large-format period camera and orthochromatic film, through which everything waxes “old.” Don’t miss his self-portrait, in which Muniz is attired in turn-of-the-20th-century garb peering out from behind that camera.

Muniz once described his photography as being “short plays.” After the secrets behind this photographic series are revealed, “Clayton Days” may seem like the title of a make-believe play or movie, and the photos assume the function of stills. It’s also worth noting that the Frick calls this show a “restaging.”



Since “Clayton Days” was last presented, the world has changed considerably. In looking at the “actors” Muniz used in the photos, you can contemplate where the road of life has taken them. In 2013, these once-new “old” photographs are truly remembrances of things past.

After Muniz left Clayton, his international reputation continued to grow. One example is his 2010 film, Waste Land, which focused on garbage pickers in Rio de Janeiro and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature. In addition to the “Clayton Days” prints, a selection of nine more recent works by Muniz will be on view. Among them is a seven-print series from “Pictures of Garbage,” which was featured in Waste Land. The exhibition has been timed to complement the regional focus on contemporary art during the upcoming Carnegie International, which launches in October.

Susan Sontag once observed that photography involves a participation in mortality. “Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt,” she said.

And melt trickles down into water. Perhaps that’s what so iconic — and memorable — about the child and her bubbles at Clayton.

 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

We scoured the region to bring you 53 items we’ve deemed this year’s “Best of the ’Burgh,” as well as 8 stellar local Instagram accounts you don’t want to miss.
See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

After writing for seven years about the city for Pittsburgh Magazine and pittsburghmagazine.com, Virginia Montanez is discontinuing her blog and column.
Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

The restaurant at Ace Hotel in East Liberty hits some high notes as it finds itself.
Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

During her final season of professional basketball, Cash remains ferocious on the court and selfless everywhere else.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Pittsburgh's Union Trust Building Renovated and Restored

Pittsburgh's Union Trust Building Renovated and Restored

The historic Downtown building reopens after a two-year, $100 million renovation.
The Section of Mystery: What’s behind the door?

The Section of Mystery: What’s behind the door?

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History opens new permanent exhibit featuring 3-D holograms.
Our JazzLive International Festival Cheat-Sheet

Our JazzLive International Festival Cheat-Sheet

We break down each day of the festival so you don’t have to improv your way through it.
Avatar-inspired Cirque Du Soleil Show Takes Off in Pittsburgh

Avatar-inspired Cirque Du Soleil Show Takes Off in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Magazine has a backstage view of “Toruk: The First Flight,” which runs this week at Consol Energy Center.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

We scoured the region to bring you 53 items we’ve deemed this year’s “Best of the ’Burgh,” as well as 8 stellar local Instagram accounts you don’t want to miss.
See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

After writing for seven years about the city for Pittsburgh Magazine and pittsburghmagazine.com, Virginia Montanez is discontinuing her blog and column.
Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

The restaurant at Ace Hotel in East Liberty hits some high notes as it finds itself.
Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

During her final season of professional basketball, Cash remains ferocious on the court and selfless everywhere else.
Idol Find: Pittsburgh Rapper Teams Up with Dad Jimmy McNichol for New Show

Idol Find: Pittsburgh Rapper Teams Up with Dad Jimmy McNichol for New Show

Research led Kellee Maize to discover she is the daughter of the former teen singing sensation. Now she and McNichol are teaming up to develop a television series to help other parents and children find each other.
Daytripping: Rating the Roller Coasters at Cedar Point

Daytripping: Rating the Roller Coasters at Cedar Point

One day, 18 roller coasters, four queasy stomachs, two cheeseburgers, one fried dough … whew.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Pittsburgh's Union Trust Building Renovated and Restored

Pittsburgh's Union Trust Building Renovated and Restored

The historic Downtown building reopens after a two-year, $100 million renovation.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Stops In Pittsburgh

James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Stops In Pittsburgh

Justin Severino and Hilary Prescott Severino of Cure and Morcilla organized the event, which featured celebrated chefs from DC, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


Beer Cults and Brick Ovens: An Evening at Fuel & Fuddle

Beer Cults and Brick Ovens: An Evening at Fuel & Fuddle

The restaurant and bar in Oakland welcomes college students and locals alike.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Perspective Accompanies Long-Awaited Second Crosby Cup

Perspective Accompanies Long-Awaited Second Crosby Cup

The Pittsburgh Penguins may be more poised to establish a dynasty in 2016 than they were in 2009.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Add a Bygone Beacon to Your Living Room

Add a Bygone Beacon to Your Living Room

Vintage signs can add a pop of personality to your decor.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Demons, Orcs, Hipsters and More at the Multiplex

Demons, Orcs, Hipsters and More at the Multiplex

Reviews of "The Conjuring 2," "Warcraft," "Maggie's Plan," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
True to Tradition: Incorporating Your Heritage at Your Wedding

True to Tradition: Incorporating Your Heritage at Your Wedding

Honoring tradition at weddings is important for many couples, whether that means including heirlooms and unique customs or hosting a full-blown second ceremony.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Decor Calling: Home Furnishings Go Mobile

Decor Calling: Home Furnishings Go Mobile

House15143 is Sewickley debuts “House Calls,” a mobile Airstream designed to bring the shopping experience to you (or an event near you).

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Summer Robotics Camp Offered to High-School Students

Summer Robotics Camp Offered to High-School Students

The camp is a collaboration between two area universities and is open to students entering grades 9-12.

Comments