Attracted to the City of Bethlehem by the history of the Bethlehem Steel, renowned visual artist Shimon Attie will create an exhibition on Bethlehem’s past and present as the Theodore U. Horger ’61 Endowed Artist-in-Residence for the Performing and Visual Arts. As the Department of Art, Architecture and Design’s artist-in-residence, Attie will be at Lehigh through Fall 2022.
Since obtaining his Master of Fine Arts degree, Attie has created approximately 30 major art projects in 10 countries across the globe. They include projects in Berlin, Tel Aviv, Rome, New York, Boston and San Francisco. His work also has been featured in numerous exhibitions including at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Art Institute of Chicago and The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. He is a recipient of the Rome Prize and Guggenheim Fellowship, and holds the Lee Krasner Lifetime Achievement Award in Art.
With his experience working in post-industrial terrains that are reinventing themselves or going through revitalization—Aberfan, Wales, a former coal mining village, and a steel production area in Luxembourg—he said he was thrilled for the opportunity to work in Bethlehem, which also has seen much change in the more than two decades since local steelmaking operations ended. After learning about the city’s Moravian roots and the casino that is part of the revitalization of the Bethlehem Steel grounds, he said his excitement grew.
“These collisions between these different layers are profoundly interesting and inspiring from an artistic point of view,” Attie says. “Bethlehem…it just felt right. I felt very excited by it and very eager and that's before I even knew about these other layers of the history.”
The exhibition is scheduled to open in August 2022 at the Lehigh University Art Galleries. It will feature a mix of media with a central sculpture surrounded by video. Attie won’t share many details about the sculpture, wanting it to be a surprise for the community. He only says, “It is a kind of distillation of some of these curious intersections of different layers in Bethlehem's past and present.” For the video, Attie is filming members of the community in four or five different locations around the city that “distills a specific aspect of Bethlehem and its history.”
In its use of multiple media, the project will echo the multimedia installation Attie completed for the St. Louis Art Museum in 2017, Lost in Space (After Huck). Drawing on inspiration from the Mississippi River, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and nearby Ferguson, Miss., Attie placed a floating sculpture of a raft in the center of the room and included items such as cast sculptures of a corn-cob pipe, knife and bindle bag. A contemporary, red siren light, that Attie says could be interpreted as one on a police car or ambulance, or a public service light, was positioned on the raft while a video projection of stars gave the impression the raft was floating in space.
Attie’s works often use film and video to integrate the history of marginalized and forgotten communities within urban spaces. These works include on-location photographic projections in Berlin’s former Jewish quarter, underwater light boxes in Copenhagen’s Borsgraven Canal, laser projections illuminating the immigrant experience on tenement buildings on New York’s Lower East Side, and most recently, a project about asylum seekers titled Night Watch, which Attie originally produced in New York’s East and Hudson Rivers, and is now being presented in San Francisco Bay.
“Shimon’s work is about unveiling the hidden or obscured stories of local communities and sites,” Nicholas Sawicki, chair of the Department of Art, Architecture and Design and associate professor of art history, said. “His practice is deeply invested in local stories and histories, and that’s why we were interested in having him come to Lehigh. His work creates space for dialogue around important, often complicated issues that don’t always have a high level of visibility, or that have been pushed to the margins of public life.”
Attie will be working on his residency project with the support of students in the Department of Art, Architecture and Design, and also teach a seminar class. Attie says the class encompasses public art, community engaged practices, site specific installation, performance and a range of topics that “sometimes fit under the rubric of social practice.” Tentative names for the class, he says, are “Space and Place” or “The Art of Sites and Communities.”
“I am thrilled to welcome Shimon to campus and look forward to seeing the impact his presence will have on our students” said Robert Flowers, Herbert J. and Ann L. Siegel Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The arts are a foundational component of the Lehigh undergraduate education and Shimon’s time teaching and mentoring will leave impressions on our students long after they graduate. Endowed positions like the Horger artist in residence allow us to expand the work we do in the studio or on stage and strengthen the experiential learning opportunities for which we are well known.”
Established in 2016, The Theodore U. Horger ’61 Endowed Artist-in-Residence for the Performing and Visual Arts was created through an estate gift from the late Horger in order to bring visiting artists to the university. A visiting artist is in residence rotating each year among the music, theatre and art, architecture and design departments.
Attie is the sixth artist-in-residence in the program and the Department of Art, Architecture and Design’s second. In 2018, Karyn Olivier, professor of sculpture at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University, was the Department of Art, Architecture and Design’s inaugural artist-in-residence. Olivier, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, uses everyday objects, locations and spaces to shift visitors’ experiences with the familiar.