Past Comments

July Issue 2007
by Tom Starland

July 1987

In some ways, it's been a long road during the last 20 years and in some ways it seems like the blink of an eye, but we've made it while others didn't. Starting as Charleston Arts in July 1987 and slowly evolving into Carolina Arts - time marches on and we march with it. While you're reading this we're working on the Aug. 07 issue and color cover for Sept. 07.

We have witnessed many things on the pages of our paper - most good, some bad. Some of what we cover now takes place only on our website - now seven years old. Both the paper and the website represent a lot of effort on many peoples' parts to bring our readers news of what's going on in the visual art community of the Carolinas.

It all happens due to the partnership between us, our advertisers, the people presenting art to the public and - you the reader. We thank them all and hope we'll be working together for some time to come.

If these comments seem short for a 20 year milestone - check out my third installment on the web - where I interview myself.

The Next 20 Years?

Well, your guess is as good as mine. All I know is that there will be change and we will adapt to those changes. Nothing is set in stone except the past and we keep the past in our archives - filling a big room in our home, on over 13,000 pages on our website and at institutions across the Carolinas - mostly public and university libraries.

An example of that change is that this month we are welcoming back coverage of Beaufort, SC, in the pages of our printed paper with the help of the Guild of Beaufort Galleries and the Beaufort Chamber of Commerce.

As some of you may or may not know - in the printed version of the paper we cover areas which work in partnership with us - in the form of advertising support. We cover all areas of the Carolinas on our website - as long as we are informed by deadline.

If you run across this paper and wonder why your area of the Carolinas isn't included - call us about becoming one of our partners.

Now, we have our critics. We're not the arts paper some would like us to be and we accept that we can't be all things to all people, but we do the best we can, with limited resources. When the NEA or either of the two state arts agencies in the Carolinas hand us over $100,000 a year grant - we'll try hard to do a better job - just like the people they give the money do now. They try.

Don't hold your breath. But what a paper that would be!

Hot Secondary Art Market

The secondary art market is the selling of art - after the art was originally purchased from the artist by an original buyer. This is artwork that has sometimes only had one or two owners or many, many owners.

Recently at a Sotheby's auction of contemporary art in New York City a work by Mark Rothko which was purchased by its last owner in 1960 for less than $10,000, sold for $72.8 million - almost twice than what the auction house expected it would sell for.

How's that for profit on your investment? That evening auction set a new record for a contemporary art auction with a total of $254.8 million in sales.

Within days, Christie's in New York City set a new record for Post-War and Contemporary Art with an evening total of $384,654,400 in sales. The highlight of this sale was a work by Andy Warhol which sold for $71.7 million.

Christie's recently set a world record for any kind of art auction at a total of $491 million.

It makes you think about the artworks that you own now - 20, 30, 40 years from now - will these be the works sold at auction for astronomical prices? It could happen. Some of our current contemporary artists could be the new Rothkos and Warhols. It could happen. Jasper Johns came from the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

Artwork by some of the top artists in the Carolinas - 20 years ago could be purchased for 100's of dollars. Today, those works are selling for 1000's of dollars - some, many, many 1000's. Add 20 more years and it could be 100,000's and 20 more 1,000,000's.

Art is a good investment, but I would encourage people to buy works they like and can live with and enjoy for many years, but don't try to buy art you think will be a good investment. If people knew how to do that, Sotheby's and Christie's would be buying art from artists directly and storing it away instead of working for their clients.

A Few Farewells

From time to time I have reported about gallery closings - some are the kind where from one month to the next, when I go to deliver papers - the gallery is cleared out and there is no note on the door. Others are due to lost leases, retirement, throwing in the towel, sudden illness, and some a move to greener pastures.

This month we have a few of the latter kind. Patsy Tidwell owner of Tidwell Art Gallery and Tidwell Art Supply in Charleston, SC, had recent surgery for an aneurysm. Although she is recovering, she and her family have decided to sell the business. Tidwell's has been a fixture of Charleston's visual art community long before we started this paper.

Martin Ahrens and Joyce Hall will be taking over the school Tidwell ran, contact them at 843/937-0021 or e-mail at ( Ask them about any changes that are planned.

On a happier note Mark and Deb Gottesman owners of SOLO Art Gallery in Winston-Salem, NC, recently got the news from their accountant that they could retire. They're going to do what I would if I got that kind of news - the gallery closes after seven years at the end of this month.

We thank them for their support over the years - they're the kind of folks who make Carolina Arts possible - we'll miss them.

Spoleto & Piccolo Visual Arts

The world's most comprehensive arts festival, Spoleto Festival USA, once again offered no visual arts. And, I guess that's why they're not attracting the 100,000 visitors to Charleston they used to boast of - when fishing for funding from State Legislators.

Piccolo Spoleto Festival's visual art offerings are usually subcontracted out to whom ever currently has City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs' director, Ellen Dressler Moryl's ear. This year it seems like she picked what was being offered herself.

Making Turtles on the Town the main focus of the visual arts will forever be the shame of the City of Charleston, SC Aquarium, and the Post & Courier newspaper. This was not the image we needed to serve up visitors to the two festivals. This was nothing but a way to funnel more funding toward the aquarium. Out of the 34 turtles, 8 were funded with taxpayer dollars - that's 23 percent. Organizers had hoped to find 50 sponsors who were willing to put up $5,000 to sponsor a turtle, but fell short of that goal. That's the highest sponsorship cost I've heard of in the Carolinas for a fiberglass object - if not anywhere.

With a few exceptions, this exhibit didn't show Charleston to be a very creative place. Of course, that's my opinion and I know I'll pay for it - how can anyone question saving turtles and children's art projects?

The problem is, most people won't take the time to find out what the exhibit is about and who did the work - they'll think it was done by our best artists like in other cities. When the Post & Courier offered its preview of the exhibit on May 27, 2007, they forgot to mention any of the artists' names in the article - just sponsors and locations. Earlier in the year, a few artists were highlighted in stories promoting the project - fishing for sponsors, but when all was said and done - the names of the artists were down-played. It's a good thing only 19 were located in downtown Charleston. The others probably didn't get seen by many of our festival visitors.

This was a fundraising event better left off the Piccolo Festival roster, and best not promoted as an art exhibit.

That leaves the offerings of the commercial sector of the City's visual art community. I don't think Spoleto is as exciting to these folks as the Festivals once were. They're not making the same effort as they used to, and who can blame them when Spoleto makes no effort to attract visual art visitors and visual art press?

Of course there is the fringe element - those shows created by artists not associated with a commercial gallery, but they have a hard time communicating their existence in most of the mainstream media - so they go unnoticed by most. It's a shame, but a fact.

I have always felt that the commercial sector of Charleston's visual art community is the strongest component - others are very critical of the kind of art offered - saying it's safe and pretty. Well they're not receiving public funding to be cutting edge or experimental. After the festival is over - they still have to pay some of the highest rent in the Carolinas. And, they'll have to pay it the next month and the month after that. If one of those galleries gets into debt - there will be no articles in the local paper pleading for the public to save that gallery. There will be no offers of challenge grants, no letters to the editor - to save a gallery.

Charleston's commercial visual art community is the only part of the arts community in Charleston that works 365 days a year - without public funding. Tell me what great offering of music, dance or theatre will be offered to visitors to Charleston on July 11th, Aug. 9th or on a Tuesday in October for that matter? Not much. And, you won't have to buy a ticket to get in the gallery.

I'm not ashamed of the art being offered either. I don't care for some of it, but who expects anyone to like all art? Charleston gets a bad rap - an old worn out rap - for being safe and pretty. It's a mantra repeated by people who haven't taken a good look around or haven't been to Charleston in ten years.

Charleston's visual art scene is more diverse than ever (including the fringe art scene) and is constantly changing. Is it where I would like it to be and does it offer what some critics are looking for? Not yet. But, the art "paradise" some are looking for has a better chance happening here than most other places in the Carolinas because of the strong commercial sector. Money is the mother's milk of the arts!

Of course, if Piccolo and Spoleto ever get their act together on the visual arts - so much the better.

Hell Freezes Over

Since we are starting hopefully another 20 years, I figured it would be a good time to reset some clocks on a few issues.

Although I have the longest memory in history, as of today, I'm forgetting about a few things that have happened over the past 20 years. The mystery is - I'm not announcing them and only a few folks will know about what I'm talking. You'll have to look and see if you can find them. The slate is clean for now, but the clock is ticking - what changes now can change back again.


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