Founded way back in 1977, Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory is one of the most innovative – and under-appreciated – museums in the US, established by artist Barbara Luderowski in, yes, a one-time mattress factory in the city’s run-down North Side (though it has since taken over other nearby buildings). The gallery’s USP is offering artists-in-residence the chance to produce room-sized, site-specific installations and leave them there for a while – in some cases permanently – creating a remarkable and properly immersive collection. The gallery now has 17 permanent pieces, including three by James Turrell and two by Yayoi Kusama. In addition, the Factory has also had a regenerative impact on the local area, as an employer, an outreach educator and as a draw for visitors.
Over 600 artists have taken part in the Mattress Factory’s artists-in-residence programme to date, with between eight to twelve artists a year now settling in for anywhere between one week and two months. The gallery offers a back up team of plasterers, carpenters and metal workers to assist practitioners with their installations – as well as sourcing such idiosyncratic artist's materials such as miles of barbed wire, insect larvae and bags of human hair.
The current exhibition on view at the gallery’s nearby three-storey townhouse is Trace of Memory, by the Berlin-based Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota. A super-complex web of black yarn spreading from room to room, it took 13 people ten long days to install, shrouding the house’s sparse furnishings in a strange, dreamy fog.
Anne Lindberg, one of the four artists taking part in the ‘Factory Installed’ exhibition in the main building, also uses thread – this time to suggest physiological systems such as heartbeats and respiration, as well as psychological states.
And should you visit, take time to check out Allan Wexler’s smart Bed/Sitting Room for an Artist in Residence: two back-to-back rooms which share two beds or sofas, or some configuration of the above, depending on how you roll them out.