Event Debrief: Educator Open House at the Mattress Factory

What a surprise; I found a bicycle to ride.
What a surprise; I found a bicycle to ride.

When I moved to Pittsburgh, I had a few important things I needed to find. There are the entry-level, daily things (grocery store, library, gas station), the secondary supporting spots (dry cleaner, mechanic), and then there’s the fun stuff. After two months here, I finally got to take my first big dive into the fun stuff: I got to visit the terrific arts spaces at the Mattress Factory.

If you’re not familiar, the Mattress Factory is a contemporary art museum that features room-sized installations by an ever-changing cast of artists in residence. The museum consists of several buildings and a garden, and the main building was, at one time, a mattress factory. The coolest thing about this space is that the space matters so much: it’s really not a blank canvas and instead it’s a vehicle for the art. If you’re on the top floor, you have fewer windows to contend with, and it was a terrific space for a circus-themed installation you could climb all over (see photo of yours truly on a bicycle with wings) and a model of the universe you can walk through. The basement has a French drain and can accommodate installations with water: one past exhibit apparently flooded the basement, making the current installation with a gentle spray and a slow trickle of moisture seem comparatively tame.

The educator open house felt like a very relaxed gallery opening. The museum staff were kind, welcoming, and informative, and the artists were stationed at each of their installations to talk about their art. It was fun to talk as much about the construction challenges of the spaces as about the artists’ intentions for their work. I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to do that–but then again, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a museum quite like the Mattress Factory. I absolutely loved it: I loved that it was smart and serious without being pretentious. It’s one of the most joyful museum-going experiences I’ve ever had, and I can’t wait to go back.

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