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Lehigh artists get down to “Some Serious Business” on former Bethlehem Steel site

Lucy Gans, professor of art and architecture, sees her reflection in an installation she contributed that questions common conceptions of beauty.

The abandoned South Side plant and offices of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation will provide a dramatic backdrop for an exhibition of nearly 50 artists who live and work in the Lehigh Valley area.

Among those participating in the “Some Serious Business – Art of the Lehigh Valley” exhibit will be several Lehigh University professors, staff members and students, who are pooling their talents to help fill more than 40 rooms with their art.

The three-week exhibit, which opens Friday, August 25th, will be housed in the former business hub for the industrial giant that symbolized the manufacturing might of a nation. It is now the home of the new South Side campus of the Northampton Community College, which purchased the building in 2005 and began immediate renovations.

As renovations continue, the NCC has provided 25,000 square feet of raw space on the building’s lower levels to local artists to use as a unique venue to showcase their work. On exhibit will be the professional offerings of faculty from many of the region’s colleges and universities.

Lehigh’s participants include Lucy Gans, Jeffrey Ludwig, Ricardo Viera, Mark Wonsidler, Jason Travers, Linda Ganus, Norman Girardot, Anna Chupa and Michael Chupa.

Lehigh University will also be represented by the EatArt Collaborative, which will install a site-specific work premised on tone of its members’ conviction that “in the stomach of the imagination, all things are possible.”

The installation will be created in the spirit of 20th century French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet and conceptual artist Joseph Beuy, who once famously observed that the need for art is as basic as the need for bread, and that “without bread, one dies of hunger, but without art, one dies of boredom.”

To honor the legacy of the historic building, Wonsidler, who coordinates exhibitions and collections for the Lehigh University Art Galleries, created an installation in a windowed room with a view of the abandoned husks of the old factory buildings. The window glass was modified and framed through a process of distress and distortion to create a rippled, amber-hued appearance that Wonsidler compares to the sepia tones of old photographs.

His interpretation, he says, will create an “amplified, hyper-nostalgic view of the steel factory landscape in response to the current debate about its preservation and/or transformation.”

Lucy Gans, professor of art and architecture, has created an installation that questions common conceptions of beauty by allowing the viewers to see their own reflection juxtaposed against 10 carved pieces at one end of the room, and two walls of clippings.

“It’s an investigation I wish to share with the viewer,” says Gans, who has been sculpting for more than 30 years. “It requires your participation. One sees oneself reflected along with ‘my beauties.’ Who or which is more compelling: our fleeting reflection, or the stern countenances of these sculptural forms?”

Breathing new life into an old building

“Some Serious Business – Art of the Lehigh Valley” was the brainchild of Joseph “Mick” Chapuk, an artist who teaches adult literacy classes at Northampton Community College’s Fowler Family Southside Center. This past May, Chapuk contacted colleagues at other colleges and well-respected independent artists to invite them to participate with their painting, sculpture, photography, video, mixed media, installations, performance or conceptual work.

Since the walls in the designated space will eventually be torn down, Chupak says, they now have license to “paint on, draw on, write on, scribble on, experiment with, hang from, scream into, defile, desecrate, or beautify the space as long as they maintain the integrity of the electrical and plumbing systems.”

Ricardo Viera, professor of art and architecture for Lehigh and curator of the university’s art galleries, applauds Chupaks’ willingness to allow open experimentation for the region’s artists.

“I believe that what is important is the community impact that will result from this clever plan to utilize this temporarily empty floor as artistic alternative space,” says Viera. “In addition, the number of Lehigh University faculty and staff who are participating is indeed amazing.”

Norman Girardot, University Distinguished Professor and co-director of ArtsLehigh, underscored Prof. Viera’s comments by noting that “the Serious Business exhibition initiated by Northampton Community College dramatizes the way art can orchestrate passion and help to build community. What is exciting and hopeful is the possibility that this project might lead to an ongoing tradition of experimental collaborative ventures in public art linking campuses and community throughout the Lehigh Valley.”

The exhibit will be officially introduced to the community with a reception timed to coincide with the introductory First Friday of the new academic year. Silagh White, administrative director of ArtsLehigh, notes that a series of forthcoming First Friday events will focus on Lehigh’s arts and creative scene. Campus Square will feature both outdoor music during warm weather months and indoor activities that will spotlight the talents of the Lehigh community.

"First Friday has been steadily growing since it started about eight years ago,” she says. “As regular attendees and newcomers explore more of the South Side, we’ll be building more destination spots for people to start out their evening and see what Lehigh has to offer.”


“Some Serious Business: Art of the Lehigh Valley,” will run from August 25 through September 16 at the former Bethlehem Steel headquarters on Third Street. The show will be open to critics and to the public from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturdays. The opening reception is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, September 1, to coincide with First Friday events. Many of the artists will be on hand to answer questions about their work.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Monday, August 28, 2006

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