Compelling Contemporary Art at The Mattress Factory

Yayoi Kusama Infinity Dots Mirrored Room 1996 at the Mattress Factory Museum Pittsburgh (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Dots Mirrored Room,” 1996 at the Mattress Factory Museum in Pittsburgh PA (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

“Oh, you’d love the Mattress Factory – you should go!”

“Why would I want to look at a bunch of mattresses?”

“No, no, it’s an ART museum!”

Many of us here at Perceptive Travel are big fans of art and art museums, but like any other group, our artistic preferences are wide-ranging. In my case, contemporary or modern art is not one of my favorite genres. Still, I’m willing to give things a try, and I’m so glad I did for a visit to Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory Museum, one of the many reasons that Pittsburgh has become one of my favorite cities.

Located in a mostly residential North Side neighborhood in, yes, a former Stearns & Foster mattress warehouse, it started out in 1975 as an artist community founded by Barbara Luderowski. Now it is multiple floors of extraordinary room-sized art installations, plus a garden and additional galleries down the street in the Annex.

There are both temporary and permanent installations. One of the permanent ones requires you to either put museum-provided booties on your shoes, or go with socks, because the floors need to be protected and kept clean in two rooms designed by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

I’d read about her dots-dominated works in this Kusama profile in Vogue, but had no idea that she’s had a presence for many years at the Mattress Factory. This is a strong-minded person:

“[She] honed her letter-writing skills by sending missives to Georgia O’Keeffe, asking for her mentorship. Later she faced several marriage proposals and her mother’s desire that she make herself into a housewife; instead, she decamped for New York City with dollar bills sewn into her kimono.”

Since it’s hard to get yourself out of a photo in a mirrored room, here I am enjoying endless blacklights and circles….

Yayoi Kusama Repetitive Vision 1996 at the Mattress Factory Museum Pittsburgh (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Standing inside Yayoi Kusama’s “Repetitive Vision” 1996 at the Mattress Factory Museum in Pittsburgh PA (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

What I found most engaging about the various installations is that many feature soundscapes and ways to interact with the art instead of just looking at it.

There are several exhibits that I didn’t particularly understand, similar to some in Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum, but I could appreciate the stories and artistry and craftsmanship that went into making them.

When you step off the elevator into the staged room that starts the “Lyrical” installation, for example, you may feel that you pressed the wrong elevator button and ended up in somebody’s living quarters. Keep going. There’s more to see thanks to the rich imaginations of multimedia artists OSGEMEOS – twin brothers Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo from São Paulo, Brazil.

I had to pause at this mirrored item to see if I could match the expression….

Part of the Lyrical installation by OSGEMEOS at the Mattress Factory Museum Pittsburgh (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Part of the “Lyrical” installation by OSGEMEOS at the Mattress Factory Museum in Pittsburgh PA (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

From the top of the building (a giant light sculpture called Acupuncture) to the basement to the garden, your senses are engaged and your preconceived notions will be challenged.

To learn more, there is a 2018 documentary about the Mattress Factory. If you like the trailer below, spend about US$4.00 to stream the whole thing:

Site-Specific: The History of the Mattress Factory from David Bernabo on Vimeo.

“The film parallels the installation of the museum’s 40th anniversary exhibition with an in-depth, story-driven journey through the museum’s long history of exhibiting site-specific art. Through interviews with artists such as Ann Hamilton, Sarah Oppenheimer, Vanessa German, Dennis Maher, Kevin Clancy, and David Pohl, the film provides an intimate, sometimes humorous, look at the indirect path a museum takes as it creates its identity.”

Have you been to the Mattress Factory? What did you think? Let us know in the Comments below.

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