Past Comments

July Issue 2002
by Tom Starland

Spoleto in the rearview mirror

What a Spoleto season for the visual arts! Did I not tell you it was as if all the planets were coming into alignment - there was something for everyone.

Let's start with the big Festival's offering, The Memory of Water, the second installment of a three-year offering called Evoking History. This exhibit reminded me not of water, but of the children's tale - The Emperor's New Clothes. Some people think of this kind of presentation as art, but I'm not buying it and neither were a lot of others. This exhibit, based on memory, will and should be quickly forgotten. It's a shame the Festival is going to give Mary Jane Jacob a third try next year at offering us art. Perhaps next year she'll offer something which pleads with us in Charleston to remember the Civil War. Just what we need!

I can only imagine that the concept behind this three-year exploration of history as art is an effort to placate the NAACP over their, on again off again, boycott of the Festival. Any exhibition which has as its centerpiece a lighthouse that is lit up like a 1950s aluminum Christmas tree is in trouble from the start - and it didn't work most of the time.

Over at the Gibbes Museum of Art, I hope officials there have noticed that if you present exhibitions that most people can relate to - you'll pack 'em in. Every time I was there people were lining up to get in to see art they could recognize. I'm sure the Spoleto exhibition helped here too - Ansel Adams' beautiful images of the bounty of the west must have given great relief to a lot of head scratching.

I'm sure there are a lot of people who would argue against the Gibbes offering exhibitions for the masses, but I can guarantee you that most people after paying their $6 admission, looked at the rest of the offerings at the Gibbes. Mixing the popular with the challenging can serve to bring new viewers to the Gibbes and educate the viewers at the same time.

And, before we leave the subject of the Gibbes and the Ansel Adams exhibition and any credit for its success - I would like to correct the reports of Dottie Ashley at the Post & Courier. After the original Ansel Adams show was cancelled by the Friends of Photography, it was Paul C. Figueroa, former director of the Gibbes who worked to put together another collection of Ansel Adams works. It was his idea to book this popular exhibition in the first place. It's funny how after you leave an institution you no longer get credit for all the good things you did.

Next up, Larger Than Life: A Second Story Exhibit, Linda Fantuzzo's effort to give Charleston a plan for how to offer public art - she got a lesson in dealing with red tape. You've got to give them credit for pulling it off.

Some of the work wasn't up by the time the exhibit was planned to start, some didn't stay up very long, some never made it to the place they were planned to be shown (due to permit problems), but all in all, it was a great accomplishment by a group of artists who had never organized such an effort before. The exhibit, in spite of all its challenges and problems, has given a lot of artists reason for hope that Charleston will actually continue with a public art program.

It was like Lewis & Clark exploring the west - this project blazed a path for others to follow. Their experience and knowledge will make it easier for the next effort. The ball is now in the court of the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs.

I've heard about public art in Charleston for over 20 years, but nothing ever seems to get done or happens unless the Mayor decides on his own to put a monument up in a public park - without public discussion. The time is now - Charleston is being left behind by other cities all across America in presenting public art projects. Let's hope Larger Than Life is a beginning, not an anomaly.

As far as the artists and Linda Fantuzzo are concerned - they are glad they did it. A lot of words have been written in other publications concentrating on the problems these artists had, but all first efforts are the same. That's why it's so easy to be disappointed with Spoleto over their efforts in the past two years. They have offered two great exhibitions in the past. You're suppose to go forward not backwards in your efforts.,

Other people who deserve credit include Legrand Elebash, the art guru of Fountain Walk, who provided space for the artists to create their works, as well as display them, Ellen Dressler Moryl, director of City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs, for funding and support, and Nigel Redden, director of Spoleto Festival USA, for providing the project the help of the Festival's production crew. There were many others too.

I recently toured a public art project in Greensboro, NC. The North Carolina Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition will be on view through Apr., 2003. It features the works of 29 NC sculptors and is displayed throughout the downtown area of Greensboro. This was a great show and I'm sure many people will enjoy it, but I have one problem with it. I think public art shows should be placed where the most people we see it. Many of these works were in places you wouldn't see them from a car. Walking around a city is great exercise, but everyone can't do that - or won't.

As I followed a map with a friend looking for these works we passed other spaces which would have been a much more visible spot for sculpture. I don't know what problems the Greensboro Artists' League, the show's host, had in placing this exhibition, but city, county, state, and federal officials need to loosen up on restrictions. Having a work of sculpture in front of a federal building isn't a national security risk.

The only other comment I would make about this great project is that the GAL missed a great opportunity to educate the public about sculpture techniques and materials used. Perhaps that is still in the works, but the support materials I found were lacking.

We only dream of such a project like this in Charleston. Maybe one day.

Not everything is art!

I've got to break in on this review of this past Spoleto season's visual arts offering to emphasize that everything is not art - contrary to some people's opinion. Of course, this concept is just my humble opinion, but here it is.

Like I said, I don't think there is anything creative in just shinning colored lights on a lighthouse - it could be, but what was offered wasn't art. I also don't think adding the cremated remains of lost loved ones and pets is art either - I guess it could be, but I didn't see it in the exhibit offered at the Old Slave Mart on Chalmers Street in Charleston.

And, I don't think just doing a colorful paint job on a bunch of old Volkswagens is art either. This offering was at Fountain Walk - a site said by some to be a place where the cutting edge of art is taking place - maybe in an Austin Powers movie. This project reminded me of the popular fundraiser of getting artists and community celebs to paint on plates to be auctioned off later - this isn't art.

Some would say, loosen up Tom. You're getting to be an old stick in the mud. Well, perhaps I am, but I'm not willing to say that everything made of art materials is art. I'm going to continue to look for creative input and uniqueness before I'm ready to call something art.

Back on track

Earlier in the year I expressed some concerns about what was going to happen with the artists who would be showing in Marion Square. The park had gone through a major renovation and it didn't look like any space was left for the Annual Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Show. Artists were concerned, so I was concerned. It turns out that the park was a wonderful setting for the show and that the City of Charleston was bending over backwards to accommodate the artists. Mayor Joseph P. Riley, who should have been home is bed recovering from surgery, even showed up to give out awards, as he has done annual since the shows start. After all it is his show.

The public responded well to the parks' renovations too. I did not find an artist who wasn't thrilled with this year's sales at the park. Rain only showed up one day and on another the temps hit 101° - people showed up and took home a lot of art.

You better sit down for this next part.

You don't often hear me praise the City of Charleston, Mayor Riley, and Ellen Dressler Moryl in their efforts to support the visual arts in Charleston, but something was different this year. Everywhere I went artists and organizers were passing on praise for what the City was doing for them this year. Oh there were problems - some, the same old thing, but over all it was a season for praise for the City and its representatives. And, don't forget the fact that no nudes were removed from the Piccolo Spoleto Juried Show over at the Visitor Center. So, I'm here to give credit where credit is due and add - keep it up. I don't mind giving my "bitchy" self a rest.

OK, some short thoughts

The In The Spirit, Handful of Dust exhibition at the Circular Congregational Church's meeting hall was a strong show. The space is perfect for art shows and I wish it was used more often.

I really enjoyed Emily K. Jenkins' exhibit at the City Gallery at the Dock Street Theatre before Spoleto started. Another great abstract artist in Charleston's ranks.

After viewing the exhibit, Portraits et Personnages: Selected Works from the Collection de l'Art Brut's Neuve Invention, at the Halsey Gallery at the College of Charleston - man, did Seth Gadsden's work out in the Simons Center hallway look good. I think they would have looked good even if I hadn't seen the other exhibit first, but I was glad they were there to erase previous visual memory.

That's it - man, there is never enough space.

Oh those greedy commercial artists?

Gallery owners and artists who are part of the French Quarter Gallery Association in Charleston, SC, have been busy during the last year or so raising money for good causes. There are some, of little knowledge, who think that artists who sell their art in a commercial marketplace are just greedy money mongers. Where do these people come from?

Anybody who knows anything would know that most artists who produce saleable art are constantly bombarded by charities to donate their artworks for auctions and fundraisers to raise money for - you name it. (Insert a list of every known charity in the world.) Most of these artists give and give and give.

More people would know this fact if the charities who promised major publicity and fame, in some cases, did a better job of letting the public know that all these fundraisers are successful because of the art donated by artists. Most of the press releases I receive from these groups will just say " local artists have donated works for your bidding". That's some kind of publicity!

After years of listening to complaints from artists about the growing number of charities hitting them up for art and their mistreatment in some cases - my recommendation is usually - stop giving them your art. Just say no! But they don't or can't - maybe they're all just a soft touch. Maybe they're afraid of being blackmailed by being made out to be poor sports. Either way - it's a problem.

Artists in the French Quarter Gallery Association have taken another approach. Most still give to those charities, but in the last year they've been taking matters into their own hands.

During the Mar., 2002, FQ ART WALK with the theme "Art with a Heart" the group raised over $2,600. for various Lowcountry non-profits. The idea to raise money for these groups stemmed from the recent 911 tragedy, which dealt our nation's economy a devastating blow, and non-profits, in many cases, were hit the hardest.

Several members of the FQ galleries chose creative ways to host their adopted non-profits. Nina Lui & Friends gallery sold an abundance of painted wineglasses by Mt. Pleasant, SC artist Debbie Wilgrus to their ART WALK patrons for a $15 donation to Crisis Ministries, which most customers chose to match. They took in about $1,500 and the people walking around with the glasses were the talk of the ART WALK.

A few galleries sold raffle tickets. Marty Whaley Adam's Gallery hosted a drawing at the end of the evening for a 2-hr. monotyping session, while Blink! raffled tickets to an Anonymity Dance Group performance during Piccolo Spoleto as well as a chandelier donated by Jeff Kopish. The John Doyle Gallery sold raffle tickets for a limited edition print, a $300 value.

Each gallery had a representative from the non-profits on hand to answer questions and to give more information about their organization. The following organizations were represented at one or more of the galleries: Crisis Ministries, Lowcountry Land Trust, Life Management Center, Inc., Lowcountry Food Bank, Cancer Society, Hospice of Charleston, Pet Helpers, Hospice of Charleston, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Lowcountry Children's Center, SC Center for Birds of Prey, Make A Wish Foundation, Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy, Center for Women, Charleston Habitat for Humanity, Anonymity Dance Company and more.

Later in the year, the artists of Waterfront Gallery (one of the FQ galleries) came up with a fundraiser of their own. Waterfront is a large co-op gallery, owned and operated by 18 artists from around SC. When the gallery formed 7 years ago one of their goals was to contribute to the community as a gallery. They had all done this as individual artists in many ways, one of which was by donating artworks gratis to local fundraisers.

Having experienced good and bad fundraisers the group wanted to come up with an example of how they would like to see these functions organized and run.

Their first thoughts were to aid their fellow citizens in New York City after 911. They formed a committee but by the time they were ready, NY had moved ahead of them (this may have something to do with what " in a New York minute" means). Fully understanding that this event would also have a local impact, the group refocused on a local level. After consideration the group decided to hold a silent auction to support the Storefront School for the Arts. Why? (1) What better place to focus their energies than the future artists in the Charleston community? (2) It is an ongoing program that has sound fiscal management through Creative Spark and oversight by the City of Charleston. (3) The program has an NEA grant which provides partial funding, however, the program needed additional funds to survive.

The City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs seemed surprised and then delighted by the group's interest in supporting the Storefront project and did many general and specific things to ensure the event/program's success. Cultural Affairs put their prestige behind the group and lent a hand at several junctions. It should be noted that all this happened as Piccolo Spoleto deadlines came ever so near.

Each artist in the group selected a work of art and the images were put on the gallery's website three weeks prior to the event. They put up signs in the gallery identifying each work, and the silent auction began. The city used their printing budget and franking privileges to support the group's advertising efforts. The final auction was held during the May 2002 FQ ART WALK. They raised $6,800, with all proceeds going to the School.

The group will also give their time and talents to the students of the Storefront School by conducting no less than 6 demonstrations or teaching sessions over the next year.

Waterfront said, " the City was a pleasure to work with and it all went fairly smooth due to the efforts of the artists, the gallery staff, the contribution of the city and the public who bid on the artworks."

How about that! The artists and galleries of the French Quarter Gallery Association raised $9,400 for non-profits during their last two ART WALKs. Last year they held a fundraiser for the Gibbes Museum of Art.

Can you believe some people call these artists greedy? For shame.

On page 9, we have an article about the Charleston Fine Art Dealers Association, another group of Charleston galleries, many also members of the FQ, who present an annual event in Charleston (first weekend in Nov.) which includes a fundraiser for the Gibbes Museum of Art.

This is not a Charleston thing. Galleries and artists all over the Carolinas do things like this every day. They give back, over and over again. If you're involved in one of the charities or non-profits that benefit from their efforts - treat them with respect and don't push too hard for another donation.

The Gibbes has a new Director

On Sept. 1, Elizabeth A. Fleming, a native of Spartanburg, SC, will become the new Director of the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, SC. In my opinion, she will have some big shoes to fill and big promises to fulfill made by the Gibbes' board members. I wish her well and hope she will maintain the great relationship the Gibbes has had in the past with Charleston's commercial gallery community and its artists at large.

Last but not least

On the theme of fundraisers - Print Studio South, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating artists and the public about fine art prints and printmaking techniques, is celebrating its 10th anniversary. No people getting rich here. (See reference #4 of Ten Things I Know on page 1.)

As part of their 10 year celebration, PSS is offering a fine art print portfolio entitled, New Views of the Lowcountry, featuring works by 10 artists juried into the portfolio for the unbelievable price of $295. That's less than $30 a print - after all it is a fundraiser meant to raise funds. These images would cost more, much more on a regular basis. The participating artists: Anne Stone, Pat Van de Graaf, Leslie Pierce, Mary Walker, Bernadette Humphrey, Dale Clifford, Grace Humphreys, William Michaels, Daniel Grant, and Kristi Ryba, have all donated their works to benefit PSS.

The images are good - I know, I was one of the jurors, along with Linda Fantuzzo and Michael Tyzack. There were 20 portfolios made - probably less are available now. Call for info and hours for viewing at 843/722-0697.

I own two previous portfolios! So check this opportunity out - it's a good value.

Until next time.

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