Past Commentaries

March Issue 2001
by Tom Starland

The Big Conference

It's not often that we devote two covers to the same event, so I hope you get the hint that this is a big event. They say almost 3,500 people will be coming to this conference from all over the country and all over the world. And, it's all about dirt, or more specifically - clay.

Now, we have some pretty good clay here in the Carolinas. Good for making pots and other things. I know this because every time I go swimming at my friend's cabin, here at the lake (lake Moultrie - that is), I can find bits and pieces of native American pottery - perhaps even early colonial pottery. We're not really sure which one it is, but his property must have been the site of an early landfill. People have found hundreds of chips of arrowheads and broken pieces of pottery there, just by walking down the beach.

So, people have been making pottery here in the Carolinas for some time now and they've gotten pretty good at it. If you like your pots a little fancier than the next guy, you're going to really enjoy this conference and all the exhibitions associated with it.

In order to help you find the numerous exhibitions we've marked them with this heading ("NCECA 2001 Exhibition") in our many gallery listings found at the back of the paper. Our map of Charlotte (on page 17) this month also marks some of the exhibition locations mentioned. Enjoy.

A Piccolo Spoleto Exhibition Change

They always say, "If you're going to go - go out on top!" I guess that's what they're thinking over at the City of Charleston's Office of Cultural Affairs. After presenting one of the best, if not the best, Piccolo Spoleto Juried Shows - they're making a change. I guess they think it's time to give those "contemporary" artists a chance this year.

You see, there were some people who thought that last year's Juried Exhibition was a little too "commercial". And, I guess it was - more work sold from that exhibition last year than, I would guess, the total of all previous shows. Cultural Affairs took in a nice chunk of money in the form of commissions off those sales so I can see why they would want to avoid that again this year. Remember, the arts - the real arts - shouldn't be profitable. And, it shouldn't be popular either.

So this year, the plan is to have a Juried Contemporary Art Exhibition and the theme is The Missing World.

Some people will think - how appropriate - The Missing World. The exhibition is planned to showcase the kind of work that was missing from last year's presentation, and the key word here is "contemporary".

Now I know a lot of you artists are going to be thinking that you're a contemporary artist because you're still alive and still producing art, but in some people's eyes - you're not.

The word "contemporary" here can be best described here by a statement in the prospectus, found in this paper on page 20 in a paid ad. It states: "Please Note: The juror is particularly interested in selecting work by artists engaged in experimental or cutting edge work". The best way I can translate that for you is to say - If you are an artist who sells your work in a gallery or sells your work at all - don't waste your money entering this exhibition. This one's for the "contemporary" artists in SC.

You might be thinking - that's not fair, but it is - Charleston and the Piccolo Spoleto Festival offer many an opportunity for artists who create saleable art. They really don't need another successful Juried Exhibition, but the "contemporary" artists in Charleston and SC, for that matter, need all the help they can get. And, I admire the Office of Cultural Affairs for standing up in the face of the heat they might take for that support and giving the "contemporary" artists a chance this year.

Billie Has Come Home to Mt. Pleasant

After 17 years of showing her work in a gallery in downtown Charleston, Billie Sumner has come home to Mt. Pleasant and has opened a new gallery in the Shops of Mt. Pleasant, at 320-C Coleman Blvd. Sumner lives in Mt. Pleasant so she has crossed over those bridges spanning the Cooper River many, many, times - back and forth between Charleston and Mt. Pleasant.

So why is this worthy of comment here? Several reasons. Sumner has been a longtime supporter of our paper - way back from the beginning and it's a sign of change in the area. First, because it is getting very expensive to have a gallery in downtown Charleston - too expensive. Second, because of the growing community of art galleries popping up in Mt. Pleasant - which has become a shopping community of its own lately.

It wasn't too long ago when there was a handful of galleries East of the Cooper - as they say here, but now there are more than a dozen and probably more on the way.

Sumner won't give up crossing that bridge entirely, she'll be coming back soon as one of the coordinators of the Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Show - she's been doing that for years too - from the start. It will be at Washington Park again this year, right next to City Hall at the Four Corners of Law in Charleston - Marion Square Park is still a good year from being totally renovated.

The Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Show - that's one of those "commercial" opportunities SC's artists have during the big Spoleto Festival USA, is taking place in late May and early June. The other opportunity is the two Outdoor Craft Shows taking place in Wragg Square - up next to Marion Square Park.

Funny thing, I always thought Sumner was a contemporary artists, especially since she paints images from out of her mind. Her works are abstract. I'd call her a colorist, but because people actually buy her work - they buy a lot of her work - she's being categorized as being commercial by other artists, who for the most part don't have anyone lining up to buy their art. And some people buy into that - too bad.

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