It takes a very creative eye to look at a palm tree and decide it could use a pair of earrings.
Or that a necklace falling from the shoulders of a skyscraper would be just the thing.
But in artist Sheila Klein’s world, the mundane becomes masterpiece, and the banal becomes beautiful.
Such transformations fill Klein’s new exhibit, “Map of Everything,” an exploration of “the architectural underpinnings of objects,” opening tonight at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, and running through Aug. 30.
Klein, who grew up in Stanton Heights and attended Peabody High School, has been working in architecture and art for 30 years. She has lived in a variety of cities, but now calls Seattle, Wash., home. She returned to Pittsburgh this week for the opening of her exhibit and to deliver a lecture for the Fiberarts Guild at the PCA this past Monday.
“This is an enormous return for me,” Klein said of her Pittsburgh homecoming. “I’ve lived on the west coast for 40 years. It’s really a nice way for me to come back and experience the place.”
Klein is known worldwide for her imaginative installations, utilizing a variety of media. She has said that she still wants to “dress the world,” and she appears to be doing so, bit by bit.
From “Underground Girl,” in which she evokes the “abstracted insides of a woman” in the total environment of a Los Angeles metro station, to the “Traffic Amulet,” utilizing blinking traffic lights as the jewels in an oversized urban piece of jewelry, Klein is anything but timid in her designs.
Klein’s current exhibit at the PCA includes a series of architectural textile pieces in three galleries, three documentary style videos and a large sculpture on the grounds of the center called “Bitmap Bonnet.”
“It’s a sculpture in the form of a bonnet you can enter and hang out in,” Klein said.
One work on exhibit now at the PCA, “Threshold,” is a fluid piece Klein has installed in other galleries “but it changes every time, depending on where she installs it,” said PCA Director Laura Domencic. “It has seven layers of curtains that people can open manually. You can walk in it from front to back, but the sides also have corridors. You can experience it by walking in both directions.”
Another of Klein’s installations is called “Hall of Architecture,” and was inspired by Klein’s childhood visits to the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Hall of Architecture — but with a definite twist.
“It’s crocheted out of tea-stained yarn,” Domencic said. “There are crocheted arches, with decorated motifs of architecture. It’s about 7 feet by 20 feet across, with three arches that she’s created out of negative space. It’s really quite beautiful.”
Klein is also working on the Shady Liberty Footbridge project, a pedestrian bridge linking the neighborhoods of Shadyside and East Liberty.
The bridge, conceived in 2005, is an Urban Redevelopment Authority project, and will be owned by the city. In 2007, Klein was chosen from a short list of other artists to be the creative mastermind behind the bridge’s construction. Although the project has hit some delays due to right-of-way conflicts and property transfers, Klein hopes it will be completed this fall.
Klein’s concept for the bridge includes large glass sequins hanging from the “suicide netting” on either side, a concrete walking path painted in overlapping stripes of yellow and white, a variety of salvaged materials and native grasses.
Domencic said she was introduced to Klein and her art as a result of Klein’s involvement in the Shady Liberty Footbridge project, and her collaboration with the Pittsburgh Glass Center in creating the glass sequins for that project.
“She does a lot of public work, and a lot of gallery installations. I thought this show would be a nice way to complement that,” Domencic said. “It would bring fluidity between her public work, and her fine art.”
“Map of Everything” is a “substantial show,” Klein said. “The pieces are all just newly finished. We’re busy.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)