After more than 30 years at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Art, Professor Bob Bingham will be retiring this year. In both his art practice and teaching, Bob has embraced an experimental approach that takes art out of classrooms, galleries, and museums and into the natural world. His teaching has inspired countless students to try new approaches without fear of failure and to consider how art can communicate urgent issues.
Bob was first hired as a visiting faculty in 1989 by Head of School Bryan Rogers under an initiative to transform the art program from a model of discipline-specific study to one of experimentation and interdisciplinary exploration. He was hired as part of the full-time faculty in 1993. Bob served as the co-director of the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry from 2000 to 2003 and Associate Head of the School of Art under John Carson from 2009 to 2013. In this role, he oversaw the MFA program and helped run the Downhill Derby, among many other responsibilities.
Bob is beloved by students for his constant encouragement to experiment with unconventional ideas, materials, and locations for art installation, even when the unconventional may be bending or breaking the rules. He is incredibly generous with his time, experience, and expertise and is known to drop whatever he is doing to help a student accomplish an ambitious project. Bob has overseen many Small Undergraduate Research Grants and Summer Undergraduate Research Fund projects and has consistently advocated for the inclusion of art and creative practice under research initiatives. He has also served as an influential advisor for many graduate students.
While sculpture and installation can traditionally be resource-intensive, Bob has long championed the medium for its ability to work with nature and to communicate important ecological messages in ways that other mediums cannot. In 1996, he was invited to join a campus-wide initiative to embrace environmental values across the curriculum — from the arts to sciences to computer science and more. From this initiative came his Advanced Environmental Sculpture course, which created the first green roof on campus on Hamerschlag Hall. Later he began teaching EcoArt, a Concept Studio class he developed through a Laurel Foundation grant, acquired by the Vice Provost for Education Indira Nair. This grant brought environmental literacy courses to first and second year students. Ever since those first classes, Bob’s courses focusing on art and the environment have been popular offerings, pushing students out of the classroom, and often off campus, to create art that works with the natural world.
“My first memory of Bob Bingham is when I toured the School of Art as a prospective grad student twelve years ago,” said Assistant Professor Isla Hansen. “You couldn’t ask for a better art school tour guide. He ducked and weaved through the Doherty basement halls, telling legends of past art students, unbelievable projects of mythical proportions, and tales of eccentric teachers and artists. Bob made everyone, even a group of complete strangers, feel like family. This is what drew me to the school as a student, and pulled me back as a teacher, years later when I was lucky enough to become his colleague.
“As long as I’ve known Bob, he’s had a deep care for his students and his friends, and the way our projects, material choices, and visions have an impact on the community, site, and environment around us. He approaches everything with warmth, humor, wisdom, and a thoughtful resistance to any powers in this world that do harm to living things. He has been an incredible resource and friend to decades of students in this school, and he has been everyone’s favorite storyteller. We will miss his deep, booming, warm laughter echoing through the Doherty hallways, and his ever-wise question for students, or for any artist (a question I often hear in my brain in his low voice): ‘is it art yet?'”
Bob’s work at CMU has continuously broken-down disciplinary silos and leaves a legacy of lasting impact at both the university and in Pittsburgh. Most notably, he was a co-director of the Nine Mile Run Greenway Project, a massive undertaking that brought together citizens, environmentalists, politicians, historians, urban planners, scientists, engineers, and artists to save and restore Nine Mile Run. At the time, the run, located at the bottom of a massive slag heap (a byproduct of steel making) was heavily polluted, devoid of life, and filled with trash. The project reimagined how the run could be rehabilitated and led to the creation of the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, which resulted in the largest stream revitalization project ever undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, completed with creative ecological collaborators Bio Habitats. Thanks to the work of Bob, his co-directors, and collaborators, Frick Park visitors can now enjoy the run and surrounding greenspace. From 2012-2016, Bob also collaborated with Betsy Damon to form the interdisciplinary team project Living Waters of Larimer to address storm water run-off issue and to recreate the Negley Run stream.
Bob was also part of a group of artists who lived in South Side’s historic Duquesne Brewery and saved the building from private development, creating permanent affordable artist studios and apartments. Through advocacy and organization, this group of artists convinced city council members to allow them to continue living in the building while they pooled their rent money and volunteered time to fix the structure. In addition, this group also established a gallery and hosted various performances and events. The legacy of this advocacy is the nonprofit Brew House Association, which continues to provide affordable apartments and studios, run a gallery, and organize art events.
Prior to coming to CMU, Bob taught at Moore College of Art & Design and at an American-Italian boarding school in Rome, and he also worked as a carpenter. He holds a BA in art from Montana State University, Bozeman and an MFA from the University of California, Davis. As an artist, his practice incorporates systems of growth utilizing people, live plants, natural materials, found objects and renewable resources to address ecological issues towards a sustainable future. His work has been exhibited at the ICA Philadelphia, the Brooklyn Museum, and The Andy Warhol Museum, among many others. His public installations include Creative Time’s Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage; Piazza del’ St. Stepheno Rome, Italy; and the first Pittsburgh Center for the Arts Biennial.
“With his warm and assured approach, Bob Bingham has steadfastly encouraged generations of young artists to follow their eccentric ideas in order to push artmaking in new directions,” said Head of School Charlie White. “A constant advocate for the critical importance of art, Bob has continuously broken down institutional barriers to create and organize projects with lasting impacts, both at CMU and in the city of Pittsburgh. As an artist, he looks beyond the confines of academia and arts institutions to create works that both examine critical ecological issues and provide hope for change. We will miss his unending enthusiasm for experimentation and profound generosity!”