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Prof. David Lefkowitz discusses Bald Spot art

<rleton students returned to campus for fall term, they were not welcomed back by the Bald Spot’s usual greenery. The beloved grassy site had instead been fenced off for the construction of a geothermal energy system, part of Carleton’s Utility Master Plan to make campus carbon-free by 2050. The college took advantage of this construction to create the temporary Bald Spot Museum of Art, comprised of a variety of installations on the construction fences, from an information panel regarding the geothermal project to a series of children’s artwork. One installation in particular, a series of 11 framed holes in the fence screen, piques the interest of those passing by the site. These pieces make up the “Landscape and Labor: Progress and the Picturesque” exhibition, created by Carleton Chair of Art and Art History David Lefkowitz.

The holes are cut out of the fence screen fabric that would normally prevent people from viewing the area behind it, creating windows into the construction site. A gold frame and a label, akin to what one might find in a museum, accompany each window. The labels include the name of an artwork, mostly 19th and 20th century paintings, and a text description.

Lefkowitz was inspired to create this installation after speaking to the Office of Campus Energy and Sustainability and seeing signage on the science building regarding the construction. One of the primary focuses of his general artwork is human relations to their environment and nature. Each painting described in the installation depicts an example of human intervention in landscape. “How do we make all the visual stimuli around us meaningful? Part of the way is [to frame it]—to isolate a section,” Lefkowitz said. “In a way, each frame is an intervention of a landscape.”

Lefkowitz originally spoke to Carleton Manager of Campus Energy and Sustainability Martha Larson regarding his project and later proposed it to the whole office. His idea was met with support and enthusiasm. He worked closely with Carleton Sustainability Program Manager Alex Miller to bring the installation to life. “It was great to know that it was possible to carry out some of my ideas in a way that doesn’t create friction [with the administration],” Lefkowitz said.

The exhibition questions the notion that construction is inherently ugly. Despite the construction causing a major inconvenience to students, Lefkowitz wants visitors to keep in mind how it is going to make Carleton more energy-independent for years to come.

Much of his artwork also consists of taking advantage of incongruities, often placing items in sites where one wouldn’t expect to find them. Thus, Lefkowitz was inspired to place an “art museum wall” in a construction site. The audience is then forced to view a familiar concept in a very different context.

Lefkowitz first considered acquiring frames that would be used for artwork in actual museums, but ultimately chose to purchase frames from thrift stores. “I thought, ‘It’s going to be outside. It’s going to [face] the elements’… [Frames from thrift stores] are adequate for the purpose. And I like the idea of creating something that has an image of the status of a space or place using very rudimentary materials, so that the transformation happens just in the context change,” he stated. He spray-painted the frames gold to resemble frames from a gallery, their color giving them sign value and importance.

For the labels, Lefkowitz either wrote or selected text that not only described the painting it was about, but also touched on the implications of the content of the imagery. “You don’t actually see the paintings, so I wanted the descriptions to be specific and clear. Ideally, you can make a connection between the description and what you see,” he said.

He also took size and scale into consideration, making sure the holes neatly frame the construction and cohere as a visual field when looked at from afar. “I originally thought of making the panels with the actual dimensions of the artwork on the corresponding label, but some of them were enormous, so it just made more sense for these to be more intimate, little spaces. It encourages you to go up and look more carefully,” Lefkowitz said. The frames are arranged in chronological order based on the artwork they reference.

The exhibition encourages visitors to become more aware of the world around them by literally framing their surroundings and drawing attention to the paintings mentioned on the labels. The work is not only intriguing from a distance, but when approached up close, uncovers additional layers of understanding after reading and learning from the labels.

Lefkowitz expects visitors to do some work on their own. If they are curious about a specific piece, they should search the name of the painting on their phones and find it: “I did want it to be something that requires a little bit of effort. There’s a whole other level… when you actually see the painting. This also gets folks who otherwise wouldn’t go through the trouble to be curious. It’s a win-win,” he said.

“Landscape and Labor: Progress and the Picturesque” opened on September 1 and will be on display until the geothermal energy system is completed.

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