Bluesman Pinetop Perkins is performing in a continuous loop in a modern art museum here, thanks to a quirky Icelandic artist and the legacy of a 19th century philanthropic robber baron.
A video of Perkins (who started playing with Muddy Waters after they met in Buffalo, and who died earlier this year at age 97) is part of an installation called "Song" by Ragner Kjartansson, on view at the Carnegie Museum of Art through Sept. 4. The Mississippi-born musician is at his piano in a field, with a barn and interstate in the background, for a piece called "The Man." He was filmed in 2010, making it a haunting memorial.
And there is more to "Song": three videos of the artist and his mother (an Icelandic actress), shot five years apart, in which Mom turns and spits at her son; a room "papered" with four mural-sized videos of the artist and friends playing instruments in a frozen wilderness; and one more video, of Kjartansson, shirtless and buried to the waist, playing guitar and singing the misheard lyric "Satan is real and he's working for me."
In a city better known for its steel industry past and its major league sports teams, this may not be what a visitor expects to find.
Nevertheless, the Carnegie Museum of Art and Pittsburgh's three other Carnegie museums are part of the defining culture of the city of three rivers, and they are worth a trip on their own -- or to compliment a road trip for a ballgame.
Art is also the main attraction at another Carnegie institution, the Andy Warhol Museum, found on the north side of the Allegheny River in the same neighborhood as the Pirates' PNC Park and the Steelers' home at Heinz Field.
The seven-story museum is not shaped like a giant soup can, or designed in modern swoops and curves by Frank Gehry. It's a restored Pittsburgh landmark on its own, nestled between the river (just over Andy Warhol Bridge from downtown) and an Interstate overpass, and staffed by spiky-haired artistic types who easily fit in with Warhol's vision.
But the Warhol who comes through in the many videos, films and interviews on display here, done by and about him, is 100 percent pure multimedia Americana. The rich display of artwork is one part of the experience, but this is not a conventional gallery. It is a tribute, a history, a life -- his own -- captured by the artist himself.
If you're interested in Warhol, give yourself at least a couple of hours to get through everything. Spend at least five or 10 minutes of that time with his "Silver Clouds" (1966), a room installation that puts you in the middle of a giant Mylar pillow fight.
Also on the north side of the river, on the west side of the stadium (and next to a casino), is the Carnegie Science Center, so close to the Allegheny it has its own submarine.
To the unprepared, the center could seem like a demonstration of chaos theory, especially on busy weekends when children and their parents pack the four floors of hands-on activities and experiments, trying brain-powered games that show everything from robots and electricity to earthquakes, tidal waves and the power of the lever.
Many of the exhibits, though modern in design, hark back to tried and true basic physics. Others come right off the toy shelf: A life-size version of the "Operation" game (in the SportsWorks building), and, particularly popular with the grown-up kids, a lavish model train room, with a table large enough to show the change of seasons in the Pittsburgh area while locomotives of all sizes travel among the farmlands, mountains, mines, amusement parks and steel mills.
On the other side of the scale, there's an Exploration Station designed especially for children ages 3 to 6.
In a nearby building of its own, bigger kids will thrill to the physical side of physics at the Highmark SportsWorks, with a climbing wall, high-beam unicycle, giant "You-yo" (with kids bobbing on the end of the "string"), a trampoline, and a ride called Coaster Physics, which is a 360-degree flight simulator of the ride on a roller coaster. (Count on there being a long line for that one!)
Across town, framed on the west by the campus of the University of Pittsburgh and on the east by Carnegie Mellon University, kids can explore another kind of science at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, where a giant T. Rex is just steps away from works by Van Gogh, Pollock, Rothko and Motherwell at the Carnegie Museum of Art.
In the Hall of Dinosaurs, it's another era. Children will lead the way back in time to the land of the reptiles, in all their skeletal immensity, looming over a walk-through prehistoric diorama of Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous creatures.
After the kids see the big, toothy guys, they can look into a working fossil recovery lab -- with its array of chisels, brushes and other tools of excavation -- to see how the museum's scientists put this all together.
Opposite the lab, the museum has a dazzling mineral room, packed with stones and ores from Pennsylvania and the world. While you won't find anything on the caliber of the Hope Diamond here, there are replica gems to show their size and sparkle, without the high price tags.
Foot-sore visitors can take a break in the museum's theater, where shows on a regular rotation may take you to the resting place of the Titanic, or perhaps to the Arctic.
And then, next door, there's Pinetop Perkins. The Carnegie Museum of Art can devour hours of your time all on its own. Its collection holds a selection of pieces from ancient civilizations -- including a Hall of Sculpture inspired by the interior of the Parthenon as it would have been when "new," along with its modern treasures.
The Hall of Architecture is filled with plaster casts of famous antiquities and buildings, including a Venus de Milo.
Elsewhere, rotating exhibits and special shows, like "Song," provide a fascinating mix of artworks from ancient to modern. Opening June 17 is the Pittsburgh Biennial, showcasing regional artists working today.
These eastside museums are part of a walkable university neighborhood of coffee shops and bookstores, churches and townhomes, for family downtime. They stand on the site of the original museum, started by one of Pittsburgh's legendary industrialists.
The Carnegie Museums of today are the 21st century incarnations of the museums founded 116 years ago in his adopted hometown by Scottish-born steel magnate Andrew Carnegie as a "palace of culture," with a focus on art and, soon after, dinosaurs -- including the first one unearthed in the Pittsburgh area. Over the century that has followed, the museums have grown exponentially, with added help from other benefactors including the Buhl, Mellon and Heinz families.
If you are staying for a few days in the city, the Pittsburgh Cultural District is also home to the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, the Toonseum (cartoon "arts") plus performances by the city's symphony, opera, ballet, dance and theater companies.
And yes, it is said they have two or three pretty good sports teams.
If you go:
The Andy Warhol, Museum, 117 Sandusky St. (412-237-8300); open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fridays until 10 p.m.; admission $15; $8 for students and children.
Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, 4400 Forbes Ave. (412-622-3131); open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.; parking on site, $5; admission, $15; $11 for children and students.
The Carnegie Science Center, One Allegheny Ave. (412-237-3400); open Sunday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday to 7 p.m. (Closed for Steelers' home games and other stadium events.); admission, $17.95; children, $9.95; parking, $5.
For more information start at www.carnegiemuseums.org.