Art is abundant in Pittsburgh. But these works aren’t confined to museums or galleries. Art is on full display all over town. From the South Side to the North Side, Pittsburgh offers a number of murals, sculptures, and installations that are creative, thought-provoking, and, above all, free to the public. So lace up your shoes, pull up Google Maps and get started. You won’t want to miss out on any of these unique pieces.
The Last Billboard
One of the most fascinating pieces of Pittsburgh street art sits atop the Werner Building in East Liberty. The Last Billboard, designed and curated by Jon Rubin, is a constantly-changing billboard that features a different message from a different contributor each month. Past examples include “these words hold / no power over you,” from artist Packard Jennings, and the thought-provoking “think about / all the hours / forgotten plays / were rehearsed,” from Lenka Clayton. If you’re roaming through the East End, make sure to stop at the corner of Highland and Baum and take a look skyward.
Shepard Fairey Art
Back in 2009, seasoned street artist Shepard Fairey brought his iconic pop-art style to Pittsburgh, pasting hand-painted murals in several locations, including South Side, North Side, and Downtown. Best known for his iconic campaign poster of Barack Obama and the popular OBEY apparel line, Fairey chose a red-and-black Eastern European theme for his murals here in the city, with names like “Yen Pattern Black,” “Commanda,” and “Mujer Fatal.” The works were designed to fade over time have now fallen into attractive despair. You’ve probably seen some of these already, but if not, some choice pieces are downtown on Penn Avenue, 8th Street, and in South Side on South 22nd Street.
The Toynbee Tiles
If you happen to look down while crossing Oliver Avenue on Smithfield Street downtown, you’ll see a fading set of tiles declaring “TOYNBEE IDEA IN MOVIE 2001: RESURRECT DEAD ON PLANET JUPITER,” and exhorting you to make more tiles. You might wonder what, exactly, that means, and you’re not alone. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. However, there’s a large community of people who have dedicated themselves to finding out, and Pittsburgh is included in the international mystery. Toynbee tiles, as they’re known, appear in dozens of cities across the world, including New York City, Baltimore, Buenos Aires, and Rio de Janeiro. Check it out, and who knows; you might figure out the secret to resurrecting the dead on Jupiter.
Carrie Furnace is, in itself, a work of art. The remnants of the massive iron-making equipment towes over West Homestead, and as local artists have discovered, it’s the perfect canvas for unique and eye-catching creations. The Carrie Deer, a massive deer’s head sculpted only from materials found on-site, gazes out from among the ruins. Inside, graffiti spatters the walls in colorful bursts. Additionally, ALLOY Pittsburgh holds a yearly visual and performance art residency for a select number of artists in Pittsburgh, and they work on the site of Carrie Furnace, so there will always be something new to see.
Cell Phone Disco
If you duck into Exchange Way in the Cultural District downtown by Crazy Mocha, you’ll come across a large LED setup on the wall to your left. It’s called the Cell Phone Disco, and if you make or receive a phone call near it, the panel will activate in a dizzying array of lights. The creators of the installation hoped to make us a little bit more aware of the things we’re doing on our phones. We often keep our heads down and keep moving, but pausing for a minute at the Cell Phone Disco can make you aware of the transmissions that you carry with you in your pocket every single day.
Welcome to the Strip
The Penn Avenue mural introducing the Strip District to the city is one of the most impressive murals in Pittsburgh. The finely detailed artwork, done by Sandy Kessler Kaminski with help from Kiera Westphal, is a display of the best comings and goings of a Strip District Saturday morning. An oiled pan over an open flame is poised to catch a fish and a tomato, and a large loaf of Italian bread and a cup of coffee sit off to one side. Above it, you’ll see several Pittsburgh landmarks. It’s an iconic reminder of the various offerings of the city, and whether you’re a visitor or a resident, it’s worth a trip to the Strip on its own right.
Rivers of Light
If you ride the T, you’ve likely seen this installation before. A wall of glass blocks embedded with LED lights runs along the side of the track-level floor in the downtown Steel Valley T Station. First installed in 1984 by artist Jane Haskell, Rivers of Light aims to showcase the flow of rivers, traffic, and time through the waxing and waning of the lights. At sunrise, the colors change from a darker set representing night to a lighter set representing day, and vice versa at night. If you have the patience to sit and watch for awhile, you’ll see the patterns of the city reflected in the blinking of the lights.
The Sprout Fund, a local nonprofit organization that aims to fund a variety of creative projects, commissioned a large number of murals in 2006, and Yesterday’s Tomorrow, a vision of transportation in the future painted on the side of a parking garage downtown, was one of them. Artist Brian Holderman wanted to merge the past, present, and future of Pittsburgh’s commuters, and judging by the railroads, futuristic pastel cars, and bulbous towers, he was successful. If you’re driving in to work, make sure to stop and appreciate the artwork. It might make your commute a little less monotonous.
Locks of Love
If you’ve ever taken a stroll across the Schenley Park Bridge in Oakland, you may have noticed something curious: a mass of locks linked into the side wall framework of the bridge. The number of locks clipped to the bridge increases every year, and the story behind it is somewhat romantic: couples buy a lock, write their names on it, put it on the bridge and then drop the key into Panther Hollow below. So if you’re looking for an inexpensive but meaningful way to celebrate an anniversary, head down to Oakland and add your name to the ever-growing Locks of Love.
Summer Harvest Goddess
One of the most striking pieces of street art lies at the bottom of South 18th Street in South Side. A mural of a woman with one blue eye and one brown eye gazes out over East Carson Street, and a bird with a strawberry in its beak perches off to the side. The mural, done by Carolyn Kelly at the behest of the South Side Local Development Company, is entitled Summer Harvest Goddess, and was painted to reflect the spirit of the farmer’s market held in the parking lot below the mural.
Grizzly Bear & Eagle
Next time you’re cruising through lower Lawrenceville on Butler Street, take note of this empty lot turned public art display located between 35th and 36th streets, next door to Sapling Press. If you’re paying attention, it’s hard to miss. Even if you’re not looking for it, this vibrant mural by Jeremy Raymer – a talented local artist – is sure to catch your eye. Do yourself a favor and stop to scope out this piece up close. The detail and intention of each line and dot are revealed the closer you get. You’ll find more of Jeremy’s work around town and on Instagram.