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An Overview of New Work by Carleton Studio Art Faculty


On Jan. 12, 2023, a new exhibition opened in the Perlman Teaching Museum.The exhibition is solely the work of Carleton studio art faculty that occupy the walls of the museum. The exhibition highlights recent work by Kelly Connole, Jade Hoyer, Eleanor Jensen, David Lefkowitz, Stephen Mohring, Danny Saathoff and Xavier Tavera. Every four years, the Perlman hosts an exhibit of faculty work so that students have a chance to see their professors’ work. Each professor contributed individual pieces to the exhibition, and some collaborated on additional work. 

According to the Perlman Teaching Museum website, the exhibition seeks to give professors recognition beyond the guidance they provide to students as they “develop technical, critical, conceptual, creative and collaborative skills across many media in the studio and beyond … faculty members maintain their own creative studio practices. The work on display in this exhibit reflects these artists’ areas of expertise, experience and research.”

The exhibition represents an additional layer of meaning, according to Professor of Art and Chair of Art and Art History Stephen Mohring. After recent department retirements and new hires, “this is the first time in a long while that all of the Carleton faculty with multi-year positions have shown as a group. There has been a lot of change in the department recently … and this showcases our new team beautifully.”

A wide variety of artistic mediums and scales are represented in the exhibition, including  ceramics, woodworking, painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture and jewelry, and they vary in size from handheld objects to large installations. This is the first time Professors of Art Xavier Tavera and Jade Hoyer’s work are displayed in the Perlman.

Professor Kelly Connole  

Professor of Art Kelly Connole, who specializes in ceramics, displays ceramic cups, a nest with porcelain butterflies and two wall pieces containing ceramic hands as a primary element. She also collaborated with Saathoff to make a time machine with crows and blood cells. The cups in the show aren’t new pieces — they are taken from different wood firings from the past five to seven years — but the wall hangings have been made within the year, as have the collaborative piece with Saathoff. 

Connole describes the themes in her work: “I explore themes related to the space between binaries: alive and dead, soft and hard, natural and constructed, the sky and the earth, and such … I spend so much time thinking about relationships between materials and how ideas change over time — it’s really lovely when they manifest into something that can be seen by others.”

Professor David Lefkowitz

David Lefkowitz contributes pieces he calls “Didactic Paintings” and a large drawing on cardboard titled “Cargo Vessel of the Medusa.” Some pieces were made pre-pandemic but were never displayed because of canceled exhibitions. The others are more recent, the last one having been completed in December. 

The “Didactic Paintings” and cardboard drawings pull from different sources of inspiration: “‘The Didactic Paintings’ are my attempt to tussle with the paradoxical task of helping students develop into artists. Art teachers struggle to find a balance between the introduction of strategies and systems designed to impart knowledge about artmaking and the encouragement of experimentation … I have channeled this conundrum to a series of ‘didactic’ paintings that feature imagery from art instructional manuals, color theory diagrams and perspective examples superimposed on grounds made of discarded student exercises from beginning painting classes.”

The cardboard drawing is the largest in a series of “reclamation projects” through which Lefkowitz attempts to “grapple with the environmental and psychic impact of our cultures’ seemingly insatiable need for more stuff while simultaneously embracing an effort to transform garbage into something of meaning and value.”

Professor Stephen Mohring

Stephen Mohring, a specialist in sculpture, woodworking and interactive electronic art, is responsible for the wood-based work in the center of the main room, which includes one bench, a table with a driftwood tree and one copper and aluminum leafed driftwood tree suspended in the air on a metal structure. Mohring spent the better part of 2022 working on these pieces, but they include materials that he has been working on for decades. 

Mohring’s works on display in the exhibition wrestle with a few themes, which he elaborates on in detail: “These pieces were initially about our (human) relationship with natural materials — their amazing utility and almost impossible beauty.  I was thinking about our simultaneous reverence for and depletion of the natural resources with which we are blessed. I then became curious about the way multiple scales of time are reflected in the work — the life cycle of precious metal — the life cycle of a tree — the embodiment of durational labor in highly crafted objects … in the end, though, for me, this work was an opportunity to have an extended meditation on and reckoning with the transience of all things.”

Professor Danny Saathoff

Danny Saathoff has recently been exploring the relationship between jewelry and sculpture. His contributions to the exhibition are jewelry, and according to Saathoff, they “bridge the two disciplines in a new way.”

Saathoff began working on his displayed pieces at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. He spent a lot of time reevaluating jewelry and what he and other people think of when it comes to jewelry. In these works, he wanted to look past expensive materials like gold, silver and gemstones that are typically associated with jewelry and instead explore another facet of contemporary jewelry, one in which material choices hold less weight. Saathoff described his newly adopted mindset when creating these pieces: “Design, form, color and other aspects such as narrative play a larger role in the work. For the work in the show, I threw out all of the rules about jewelry that I held dear. My material choices changed from predominantly precious metals and gemstones to wood and lesser metals like copper and some silver, and the colors changed from the inherent colors of the materials and gemstones to painted finishes.” What resulted are large, statement jewelry pieces that Saathoff thinks of as “amulets to courage.”

In addition to their individual works, Saathoff and Connole have a collaborative piece on display. Titled “Keeping Time,” the work mainly explores the theme of time on an astrological, geological and human scale. It also touches on the symbol of blood and the different connotations that the word can hold. In the piece, blood is represented via red and white blood cells that anchor the base of each sculptural component. Saathoff describes the pieces in its entirety: “The sculpture is reminiscent of a strange and curious timekeeping device, and the precarious unease is furthered by the crows in the piece that stand witness to time.”

Professor Xavier Tavera

Xavier Tavera, a photographer, submitted four enlarged images of bullet remnants that were collected from Minneapolis. He expanded on the significance of these particular bullets: “The stray bullets, after being fired from a gun, hit homes which were unintended targets.” Tavera used a multiple image capture system and a program that stitches together multiple images to show detail and texture. From collecting the artifacts to producing the finished product, the pieces took around six months to complete. 

The photos on display by Tavera are part of a larger body of work that addresses violence in Minneapolis. The series is “a personal reflection on how violence is being normalized locally, nationally and worldwide and the repercussions when people become accustomed to living under brutal circumstances.” Tavera hopes these images  start new dialogues: “Once we exhaust the obvious conversations about the violence that permeates the present times in the United States, hopefully we can start a conversation about the causes of violence: poverty, misrepresentation, or lack of representation, lack of community resources, lack of education, lack of sufficient mental health services and lack of opportunities.”

Professor Eleanor Jensen

Eleanor Jensen has printmaking work on display that she made using etching and chine-colle processes to create individual pieces. According to Jensen, her works “reference specific elements of ways we study the natural world, as well as broader concepts. The prints relate to permafrost layers accruing and melting (related to when I lived in Alaska) and vertical soil samples taken from prairies in western Minnesota. I connect my meditative and cumulative approach to a natural or geological process; a layering of material, growth and comprehension.”

Work like this is new for her, but blends her interests in “ in the studio and in my creative process, incorporating ecological information and understanding, and thinking more intentionally about where I live in southeastern Minnesota.”

The exhibition also features work from Jade Hoyer, who specializes in printmaking.

New Work by Carleton Studio Art Faculty will be open until April 16, 2023. Additionally, there will be artist talks on Jan. 31, 2023 at 12 p.m. (David Lefkowitz and Xavier Tavera), Feb. 21, 2023 at 12 p.m. (Jade Hoyer and Stephen Mohring) and April 11, 2023 at 12 p.m. (Kelly Connole, Eleanor Jensen and Danny Saathoff). More information on the artist talks can be found here.

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