When Barbara Luderowski purchased a 1910 Stearns & Foster mattress warehouse in 1977 with a plan to open a contemporary museum, the goal wasn’t to seek out powerhouse names in the art world to come to Pittsburgh.  Rather, the goal of Mattress Factory was to create a site-specific installation destination like none had done before; a space for artists to create outside the confines of the traditional gallery or museum setting.  But what started as a project forty years ago has now become one of the top arts destinations in the region, in the company of Fallingwater, The Warhol and other major players.

It’s hard to quantify how important MF has been to the city and its art community.  Since opening the doors of the old mattress-factory-turned-museum on a sleepy residential street in the Mexican War Streets, the museum has hosted massive art names like James Turell, Damien Hirst and Yayoi Kusama. Those shows, along with exhibits by countless other artists (over 750, to be exact) and the dedicated work of Barbara and co-director Michael Olijnyk have solidified the private collection and revolving exhibitions as one of the preeminent installation-based museums in the world.  Without MF, would many of these artists have found their way to PGH? Not likely.

The museum has also been instrumental in development within the Northside community, a marker of change and investment.  Without MF, it’s likely spots like Commonplace Coffee, El Burro, Casellula and others would have opened up shop elsewhere instead of calling the War Streets home. The same goes for the swaths of gorgeous, historic row homes that have been meticulously renovated after the museum added value to the area.

So, forty years ago, did Barbara think she was going to be at the helm of one of America’s top contemporary museums and driving $5 million in local spending, welcoming 50,000 annual visitors, hosting one of the best parties of the year with their annual Garden Party and easily have the most Instagrammed mirrored room in history?  Not likely. Are we all glad she did?  Absolutely. Perhaps most inspiring is the fact that Barbara’s approach hasn’t changed much since the museum’s opening — her collection and vision have stayed much the same, but it’s still as fresh and forward-thinking as it was at the opening. Try to name something that appeals to millennials just as much as it appeals to baby boomers and you’ll realize what a feat this is.

If you think that all this deserves a party, then great minds think alike.  Join MF on Thursday, November 9th for MF@40: Then + Now, featuring a retrospective of the past forty years, amazing new exhibitions, performances, guest artist appearances, snacks, drinks and more. We’ll most definitely see you there.


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