Past Commentaries

September Issue 2000
by Tom Starland

You've Been Warned!

Don't say you didn't get enough warning about the SC State Fair Fine Art Exhibition and Competition. There has been an ad about the Fair Show under my commentary for the last three months. The Call For Entry has been posted in our ART NEWS section for months and it's still not too late to enter. If you don't know about this wonderful opportunity for both artists and art lovers - you're in sad shape. Last year, show sponsors and the general public put up over $70,000 in cash awards and purchases. There were a lot of artists with smiles on their faces and money in their hands after the last elephant ear was consumed and the caravan of amusements left Columbia for another city down the road. This year, for the first time, there will be an entry fee, but the great news is - all the money goes back into more awards. If finding your way to Columbia is a problem, give a fellow artist who can read a map $10 to deliver and retrieve your entry. Who enters this show? University professors, your friends who are artists, Arts Commission "type" artists, and top selling professionals. The jurors are top ranked professionals, so what more could you ask for? Tell me - what?

I understand that Jennie Branham who is the Fine Arts Exhibit Superintendent is leaving her position after this year's event. If and when you see her at the Fair, don't forget to thank her for all her efforts - she deserves thanks. The next person who takes on this job has some big shoes to fill. Branham took the job over from Toni Elkins. Back then many wondered how she could top Elkins at fundraising, but she did. Let's hope someone steps forward to take on this important job.

The problem with Nudes?

I agree that if there was a photograph, painting or sculpture of myself in the nude - this work of art would be inappropriate for public viewing. There might be some who disagree. Somebody might! But, in my opinion, it would be inappropriate for public viewing. I wouldn't even want to see it viewed privately for that matter, but either way - it's just my opinion. Opinions are just another form of free speech. The creation of art is another form of free speech. In our country you can say, write, and create just about anything you want. What's debatable is whether artists have the right to show that art in public, or in other words, whether the public is obligated to show any art created by an artist in a public space.

I've been through this debate before when the Barnwell County Museum, in Barnwell, SC, was sued for taking down an exhibit of male nudes which the board members of the Museum deemed inappropriate for their community to view. In that situation I came down on the side of the Museum's board members - even though the exhibit was scheduled by a temporary employee who took on too much authority in approving the show for the Museum. I also agreed that the Museum was responsible for the cost which the artist incurred in transporting the exhibit to and from the Museum, but not the millions in damages asked for. Fair is fair.

Small town SC isn't the only place where something like this can happen. Not too long ago in the art-mecca of Charleston, the now defunct Charleston area arts council was asked to remove a show containing nudes from the local headquarters of the chamber of commerce. Not too long ago, Charlotte, NC, was entangled in a major battle over public funding for a theater group who presented a play with a few minutes of male nudity on stage. These controversies seem to never end. Now we has another incident to add to the list.

Last month, Print Studio South, a Charleston based fine art print group was scheduled to have their annual group show at the Rhodes Center for the Arts in North Charleston, SC. Long story short - several of the works in the show were deemed inappropriate and taken down by city staff members. Apparently, the city of North Charleston has a policy against showing any works deemed inappropriate for public viewing. The policy apparently doesn't mention nudes, but all the works removed contained nude images. Print Studio South decided that since several of their members works would not be able to be shown, they would remove the entire exhibit from the art space. I think both parties were within their rights, but there is something wrong here.

First, this is the year 2000, not 1950 - when is the world going to get over this thing about nudity in art? Secondly, the city of North Charleston's art program is partly funded by the SC Arts Commission, a state organization who claims the high ground on telling us all what is and isn't fine art. Where do they stand on all these controversies? Who knows? They'll be just as silent on this issue as they have on all the others. They call themselves advocates for the arts - they even call on others to protect their funding from the right-wing reactionaries in Congress who would like to end all funding for the arts. Where are they now? Thirdly and finally, just like the separation between church and state, I'd like to see some separation between art and state. I just wish the city had waited until someone complained about the art they deemed inappropriate before they took it down. Do we really want city employees and elected officials making those kinds of decisions for us?

What is really amazing about all this is that at the same time in downtown Charleston a commercial gallery was hosting an entire show of nude paintings and drawing by some of our area's best artists. The Wells Gallery was taking a break from their normal schedule of art by presenting the exhibit, form & figure - an age old theme in the arts. There was an ad for this show on the back of our last issue. No one has called us and complained. No one has complained to the gallery - they didn't even get deserved publicity for having the guts to present such a show of truly wonderful works of art - not to mention credit for giving up potential revenue in showing art that is not highly sellable - even though they did sell several works - in fact one was by one of the same artist who had work removed from the exhibit in North Charleston. Go figure!

I would have thought that after all the attention paid to an exhibit about a flag, this city's media would have gone bananas about an exhibit entirely of nude images. So much for the idea that "theme" exhibits are special. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we treated the exhibit like we do all others - we expect the public to decide what is special and important.

Mark Your Calendars!

The next three months are going to be busy in Charleston. The French Quarter Gallery Association will be gearing up for their two ART WALKS, featuring 30 galleries in a four-block area, taking place on the first Friday of Oct. and Dec. - That's Oct. 6 and Dec. 1 for those without a calendar. These walks are drawing over 5,000 viewers and growing. And, galleries all over the city are staying open on those same evenings making Charleston one big gallery.

On Nov. 3 & 4, the Charleston Fine Art Dealers Association will present its second Charleston Fine Arts Annual. Folks are still talking about the remarks of last year's keynote speaker, Hilton Kramer. This year's speaker will be Andrew Schoelkopf, Chief Operating Officer of, one of the nation's top e-galleries.

A special opportunity this year will be a plein air demonstration - that's arts speak for painting done outside - not in a studio. The public will be able to observe some of the participating galleries' artists working on Charleston's Battery - where the Ashley & Cooper Rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean. So they say in Charleston.

Don't miss out like a lot of people did last year - for my sake. I'm still giving instant replays on last year's speech by Kramer.

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