PITTSBURGH, PA.- An exhibition of masterful architectural etchings and engravings, Giovanni Battista Piranesi: Architecture and the Spaces of the Imagination, will be on view November 1, 2008 through February 15, 2009, at Carnegie Museum of Art. Approximately 45 works on paper created by Piranesi (17201788), his contemporaries, and his followers will explore the idea of architecture as a subject in art. The core of the exhibition focuses on Piranesis Imaginary Prisons (Carceri dinvenzione), a series of fantastical, haunting prints from the 1760s that are arresting in their scale, attention to detail, composition, and texture. These prints encourage exploration of the history of prison architecture and 18th-century theoretical, psychological, and social debates about confinement, correction, and punishment. Many of the issues presented in the works continue to have relevance today.
Despite being an old master, Piranesis fantasy environments will likely resonate with todays audience, says Amanda Zehnder, assistant curator of fine arts and organizer of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Contemporary imaginary virtual reality, aesthetics of electronically or digitally constructed experiential and social environments, and even the aesthetics of horror, recall Piranesis work.
The Prisons depict cavernous, gloomy, sometimes ruined chambers, labyrinthine corridors, and staircases filled with huge, unreal machines and enormous chains. Piranesi often changed the scale of single objects to make them appear more imposing or visually intriguing.
A selection of prints from another of Piranesis extensive and well-known series, The Views of Rome (Vedute di Roma), begun in 1747 and continued to his death, will be on view, showing the breadth of his career. Additionally, one volume of architectural etchings from The William R. Oliver Special Collections Room of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will be on display, showing the original format of many of Piranesis works, which were bound in large folios. An engraving of a fireplace surround from the Heinz Architectural Centers collection will demonstrate another aspect of Piranesis career: his work as a designer.
Of particular interest to Pittsburgh residents will be photographs by Clyde Hare from his 1981 series, Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail. These buildings exhibit elements of Piranesis designs, giving evidence of his influence over architects worldwide. The Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail were designed by American architect Henry Hobson Richardson (18381886) in 1884.