Archive for June, 2008

Oh the Difference!

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

I was surfing my list of websites to check each day in order to keep up with the visual arts in the Carolinas and on the NC Arts Council’s website I found a couple of interesting items. First was the press release for an exhibition taking place in Rocky Mount, NC, featuring the NC Arts Council’s 2006-07 visual art Fellowship artists – all 14 of them.

Now it should be noted that the visual art Fellowships are only selected every other year in NC. So, to keep comparison with what the SC Arts Commission does – that would be like 7 Fellowships a year. You know this had to be about the SC Arts Commission if you know me and have followed my commentary.

Fellowship awards are financial awards given to reward an individual artist – on merit alone – decided by a panel, usually made up of qualified jurors from outside the state . These jurors look at slides of artists who have sent in an application for the Fellowship by a stated deadline. So the selection pool is made up only of people who apply. That’s an important item to remember. Fellowship awards also are given with no strings attached. Unlike matching grants or grants for specific projects – artists who receive Fellowship awards can do anything with the money. They’re not even required to create another piece of art – if they so wish. So for an artist, it’s the best kind of money – totally free. But, probably not tax free – not sure.

One of the reasons this press release caught my attention was the fact that it was about a curated exhibition of the Fellowship winners. The good folks at the SC Arts Commission don’t seem to think that part of the Fellowship thing should be an opportunity for the public to see works by the artists selected. In the past there have been a few retrospective exhibits by past Fellowship winners and when the calendar fell at the right time, recent winners were included in past Triennial exhibitions, but they don’t seem to see any value in giving the winners an exhibition or the public the opportunity to see what kind of work is being made by artists being rewarded in SC.

The exhibition at the Rocky Mount Arts Center in Rocky Mount will be on view through Sept. 21, 2008. It’s an opportunity for anyone – even folks in SC to go see what kind of works these Fellowship artists make. At least the Fellowship winners in NC.

On this same visit to the NC Art Council’s site I also found two other very interesting press releases about Fellowship awards. The two were listing the artists who were in the final running for the FY09 Fellowships for Visual Art and Crafts. These two articles were stunning to read. In the Visual Art category it listed 84 artists who were selected out of the 324 applicants – from which up to 13 will be selected for the Fellowship awards. In the Crafts category, 20 artists were listed out of the 109 applicants – from which up to 4 will be selected.

It seems that in 2007 the NC Arts Council made some changes to their Fellowship program – increasing the number of Fellowships by separating craft artists into their own category and the amount of money given to each recipient.

OK – artists in SC – you better sit down for this. Fellowship artists in NC are now receiving $10,000 – each.

NC is now selecting up to 17 artists at $10,000 a pop – $170,000 to visual artists – every other year. Or, for those who are slow with the math that’s 8.5 artists and $85,000 a year.

In SC, at best the SC Arts Commission has given 2 to 4 Fellowships a year (one year 5 and a couple just 1) and the money has fluctuated between $2,000 and $7,500 at its highest. Currently the award is $5,000 for 4 awards – every other year. And, that was just increased.

It’s clear that SC is far behind when it comes to this Fellowship thing – in numbers awarded and money given to the recipients. Well, after all SC is a smaller and poorer state, but as I’ve said before in other commentary the real shocker is that the SC Legislature gives the SC Arts Commission more money per citizen than the NC Legislature gives the NC Arts Council. And, although NC has more citizens netting them a bigger budget – they seem to be able to do more with the money they have. It could be that their staff is much smaller than that of the SC Arts Commission. The SC Arts Commission has one of the largest staffs in the nation for such a poor state. So less money is going to artists and for programing. A smaller state should use less staff than a neighboring state that has a much larger population – right.

Here’s another factor in how effective the two programs are. The NC Fellowship program for FY09 received 433 applications. Not too long ago the SC Arts Commission had to make a second call for applications because less than 6 applied and they can’t make an award with that few applications. SC’s visual artists didn’t feel it was worth applying for. But free money is free money.

Here’s another thing that amazed me about the press releases from the NC Arts Council. They were giving us 104 names of artists who were in the final running. They will select up to 17 out of that pool for the final awards. The SC Arts Commission only mentions the “alternate” artists in case the first picks are disqualified for some reason. I’m sure it’s great to know you came in second. But they keep the names of who applied from the public – at least they don’t volunteer the names. I’m sure you could get them by filing a Freedom of Information request, but why should we have to do that? What’s the big secret?

When you start playing with the numbers, for every 2 Fellowships the SC Arts Commission awards – the NC Arts Council awards 8.5. In five years that’s 10 to 42.5. In ten years it’s 20 to 85. Of course that’s if NC doesn’t keep expanding their program. Of course they didn’t always give so many each year. When they first started making Fellowship awards they only gave 4 a year much like SC, but they quickly increased their program while SC’s has slowly gone into decline. And, we don’t even want to get in the amount of money each state has awarded to artists. I don’t want to upset SC’s artists. But I bet you could find some artists in NC who wouldn’t think they are that well off – especially with so many people applying for the award. That means there are also more artists in NC who haven’t received a Fellowship, but were hoping to get one. I guess the grass is always greener…

Too New To This Blog Thing

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

It’s going to take some time to wrap my head around this blog thing – although not new to the world – it’s new to me. I have a lot of things rolling around in my head I want to keep aware of – don’t write too much (that’s not easy), make sure it’s not all about the SC Arts Commission (almost impossible), don’t just write about things in my own backyard (tough with $4 a gallon gas), and make sure you finish all the points you want to get across.

When I did the entry about the Landscape of Slavery: The Plantation in American Art, on view at the Gibbes Museum of Art in downtown Charleston, SC, through Aug. 23, 2008, I forgot something I wanted to mention. I had intended to let readers know that The Charleston Museum – America’s first museum, located across from the Visitor Center in downtown Charleston, also has an exhibition on slavery on view through Feb. 28, 2009. From Slave to Sharecropper: African Americans in the Lowcountry after the Civil War, presents an original exhibition to commemorate the bicentennial of the abolition of the international slave trade in the United States and the British Empire. The exhibit is centered around the recollections and memories of Lowcountry descendants of slaves and sharecroppers. It includes artifacts and images of African American experiences in the Lowcountry after the Civil War from the Museum’s collection.

You can find further info about the exhibition on our website under the heading South Carolina Institutional Gallery listings.

An Overlooked Opportunity

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

As I have mentioned before in a review of exhibits held during the 2008 Piccolo Spoleto Festival, the exhibit space at the Charleston County Public Library’s Main Branch, while small, is an excellent opportunity for any artist in SC to mount a small exhibition. It is located in one of the highest traffic areas in downtown Charleston, SC. This gallery also has the longest open hours for viewing in Charleston. Free parking for the first hour too.

Apparently over the years Charleston’s local visual artists have decided that the space is too small or not suitable – as more and more artists from outside the area are being featured there each month. Folks at the library say they are just not receiving a lot of applications for exhibitions. So, I guess that leaves open another opportunity for artists throughout South Carolina.

I rarely miss an exhibit taking place in this space as I have to visit the library several times a month. I have to – I can’t do without my public library fix.

I have to admit that we don’t always receive info about these exhibits to include in our printed version of the paper – artists do have a habit of dragging their feet in getting info to the library staff for publicity, but even so, the volume at the library provides a very large viewing audience. A high caliber audience too. Well rounded people put libraries on their regular schedules. These are people who will stop and look at art.

So below is the library’s call for application ideas for exhibitions.

The Saul Alexander Foundation Gallery in the Charleston County Public Library’s Main Branch in downtown Charleston, SC, announces a call for entries for monthly exhibitions, solo or group, beginning Dec. 2008 through Dec. 2009. Preference is given to work reflecting experiences and viewpoints of South Carolina residents. Deadline for completed applications is Sept 5, 2008. Applications are available at the Main Library, in the Administrative Office, or on our web page at (www.ccpl.org) under the heading About Us, Saul Alexander Gallery. For further information, contact Becky Melancon at 843/805-6951.

Lest We Forget Our Humble Beginnings

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

The Greenville News in Greenville, SC, offered an article by Ann Hicks on June 22, 2008, entitled, “Phil Garrett’s King Snake Press Marks 10 Years”. The article gives a brief overview of Garrett’s past ten years running the press and mentions a collaboration between the press, SC artists, and the Greenville County Museum of Art. In fact the Museum is currently showing an exhibit of works coming out of the print studio over the past ten years by 15 artists through July 27, 2008.

What the article doesn’t mention is that Garrett lifted the idea of setting up a print studio in Greenville after parking himself at the Art Thomas Gallery in Charleston, SC, in the mid-’90s. Thomas first offered a print studio for artists to make monotypes in Charleston and gave Garrett the idea to work with artists and the local art museum through his collaboration with the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston. I know, I have one of those prints.

It’s not surprising that Garrett left out the fact that the spark for his idea of opening a print studio and working with a museum came from Charleston – his past conduct in Charleston is forgettable – except some of us remember. But, then again, maybe that part was cut from the article for space limitations.

Meeting Number Two For Finding Art Space In Charleston

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

One of my first blog entries was about the meeting held at the Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston, SC, by artists looking for a solution of finding spaces for artists in Charleston. I just received the following notice about a second meeting – found below.

An open discussion will be held on July 1, 2008, from 6:30-8pm, at Theater 99, located at 280 Meeting Street, downtown Charleston, SC. The discussion entitled, Creative Spaces: Developing a unified Center for the Arts, will be a follow up to the Creative Spaces panel discussion hosted at Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston, SC, on April 24, 2008. All interested parties are invited to join the newly created Charleston Arts Coalition in this discussion.

The format for the follow-up meeting will be more of a roundtable discussion and continuation of the conversation that began in April. The panel will consist of at least Chris Price, of PrimeSouth Group, LLC, urban planner Tripp Muldrow, of Arnett Muldrow & Associates, Jonathan Brilliant, local artist and Gibbes Museum employee, and Fred Delk of Columbia Development Corp., with Buff Ross, serving as moderator. The panel is comprised of individuals that have worked on collaborative projects similar to the vision of The Peoples Arts Center. The goal is to create a roadmap of what action needs to be taken based on successful examples of Arts center development in other cities in the Southeast.

The panel discussion at Redux in April was a rare moment for Charleston artists, musicians, performers, writers, and patrons to discuss the rapidly diminishing real estate available to the arts in Charleston. Panel members and the more than 100 people in attendance discussed this issue.

From this panel discussion, the Charleston Arts Coalition was formed. It is a group of artists, arts professionals and members of the community who have joined together to work towards creating an all inclusive unified center for the arts, encompassing visual, performance, music and literary art. Their goal is to find and modify real estate through out the city of Charleston, to house production, presentation and education space for the creative arts. The ultimate project goal is the creation of the Peoples Art Center.

The purpose of the first panel discussion held at Redux was to open a dialogue about the lack of art space in Charleston. The focus of the follow-up on July 1 will be on how to effectively begin to solve this problem and foster collaborations between the arts and the real estate development community.

The arts are a vital part of Charleston, benefiting the economy, tourism, real estate and the general cultural capitol of the city. The arts in Charleston must be advanced through the development of a space that could provide the living artists of Charleston with support and a venue to interact effectively with the public. This would foster collaboration among artistic disciplines enhancing each other and the community through exciting cultural events throughout the year.

Visitors planning on attending the event on July 1 are encouraged to draft questions and e-mail them to (questions@peoplesartcenter.com) ahead of time as there will only be minimal time to answer questions the night of the event. Theatre 99 has graciously offered their space to host the discussion in a format that will accommodate a large audience comfortably. Theatre 99 is located at 280 Meeting Street, downtown Charleston, South Carolina, above the Bicycle Shoppe, with an entrance to the upstairs at the rear of the building. For info call 843/853-6687.

Visit (www.peoplesartcenter.com) for more information about the roundtable discussion and to see some of the ideas being discussed.

A Trip To The Gibbes

Friday, June 20th, 2008

I finally made it to the exhibit, Landscape of Slavery: The Plantation in American Art, on view at the Gibbes Museum of Art in downtown Charleston, SC. The exhibition examines plantation-related works of art from the eighteenth century to the present. Organized by the Gibbes, this exhibit was on view at the University of Virginia Art Museum in Charlottesville, VA, from Jan. 18 through Apr. 20, 2008. And, after its viewing at the Gibbes will travel to the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, GA, to be on view from Aug. 23 through Oct. 19, 2008.

The Gibbes exhibition started on May 9 and will be on view through Aug. 3, 2008. So this was the exhibit Spoleto Festival USA visitors would see – if they fit a visit to a visual art museum into their busy performance schedule – they may have for this exhibition. I think it’s exactly the kind of exhibit which the Gibbes should be offering visitors during the Spoleto Festival. Why try and compete with the contemporary art they can see in their own home cities – New York, Pittsburgh, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, or any other northern city or from Europe for that matter.

These folks don’t want to see art that was probably in their cities years ago. They want to see art from Charleston and the South. The success of the exhibitions Spoleto offered when they were offering visual art exhibitions was due to the fact that they were site-specific to Charleston and the South.

I went to the Gibbes on a day when they had free admission. The normal admission is $9 – almost twice the cost of visiting other museums in South Carolina and the region. I had to drive around the area of the Gibbes three times to find a parking space that wouldn’t cost another fortune for a short visit. That free parking at the SC State Museum in Columbia, SC, is great.

This was the first time I have set foot in the Gibbes Museum of Art since 2002 when a few members of the board of the Carolina Art Association figured it was a good idea to boot out long time director Paul Figueroa on the trumped up charge that the Gibbes was in the red for the first time in many a year. Does anybody remember what happened to our economy after the Fall of 2001?

Now here they are, two directors later and a lot more red ink, the board has recently named Angela Mack the new director (and curator of this exhibition) – a hire from inside the Museum – also someone who worked as curator under the administration of Figueroa. I hope those board members are long gone too.

On my walk to the Gibbes I passed the house at 76 Queen Street that was once used as the Gibbes Studio School where they offered art lessons to students and adults – under a Figueroa administration. I understand the building is for sale for $3 million. Why, I don’t know. Even if they found someone to pay this price, it is hardly worth the value of the Gibbes future expansion as this property is adjacent to the Gibbes. The space would allow for a healthy expansion – unless they plan on one day leaving the peninsula for a totally new museum space. But I doubt that – I can’t imagine where that money would come from in Charleston – a performing arts town – when it comes to support from the City of Charleston and its Mayor.

So into the Gibbes I go and at the front desk I learn that there is no exhibition handout for the Landscape of Slavery exhibit, other than a family activity booklet for parents and children to play a game while visiting the exhibit. Of course there is the exhibition catalogue or book, but if I went on a free day and had to look for cheap parking – I don’t think I was going to be investing in the book. Look we didn’t name our publishing company Shoestring Publishing Company just because it might sound cute – it’s a reflection of reality. That’s OK – I brought a pad and pen to take notes.

They did have a map of the museum which was an interesting legacy of Todd Smith, who was director for the last two years. Except for the Main Gallery and the Rotunda – all the galleries at the Gibbes are now identified by a letter of the alphabet – A – L. Now that’s classy. At one time people gave good money for the names of those gallery spaces or were honored for one reason or another by having a gallery space named after them, but in Smith’s new contemporary view of the Gibbes a letter of the alphabet was cool – I guess.

I’m sure this all sounds like I’m leading up to a not so good review of this exhibition but it couldn’t be anything further from that notion. This exhibit was a winner – a real education and I hope an eye-opener for some. The juxtaposition of the old view of slavery in artworks by white artists of the colonial days, revolution, civil war and even Charleston’s renaissance period against the works of African American artists working in the present time – was quite an exhibit.

The slaves in the works of Winslow Homer, William Aiken Walker, Anna Heyward Taylor and Alice Ravenel Huger Smith portrayed slave life on the plantations of the South – as not so bad, while the contemporary works created by African American artists gave an entirely different view on how they viewed life on the plantation. Especially in works like Joyce Scott’s, No Mommy Me I, a leather and bead creation of a nanny and her golden charge and Juan Logan’s Foundation, a wall of metal blocks on one side but each block on the other side was shown to be the back of a slave on all fours – holding up the next block of another slave holding up another block and on and on. Two views of this wall – both very different.

When family and friends come to visit and I take them on the traditional tour of downtown Charleston someone always brings up the wonderful homes Charleston is full of and so lucky to have. They remark about the skill and craftsmanship it took to produce such masterpieces of architecture. I always reply, “Yes, it’s the best city slavery could build – I just want you to remember that.” It’s something everyone should remember in Charleston.

Slavery is a part of Charleston’s history and past, it’s not one of the better parts of that history, but it is part of the history. That said, that history, if told properly, can be a major part of Charleston’s cultural tourism. All we can do is apologize for that past, learn from it, and embrace it as part of the history of the city and the people who lived here – free citizens black and white and the slaves and the indentured. They all made Charleston what it is.

The artworks in the exhibition come mostly from collections of regional art museums and from regional contemporary artists. So this is pretty much a homegrown exhibition with a few exceptions. The works are placed in various sections including: Introduction, Protest, Politics, Nostalgia, and Identity – each interesting for their own reasons.

I think it was in the Politics section or maybe Protest – I can’t remember now – that I found two very interesting artifacts. One was a first edition copy of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly, from 1852. What historical events did this small book set off?

The other item was one of the Dave jars, now famous in South Carolina’s history. Dave “The Potter” Drake was a slave and pottery maker, who could read and write, in Edgefield County, SC, who wrote info on some of his creations. This one had the following written on it: “Dave belongs to Mr. Miles where the oven bakes-the pots biles/31st July, 1840″. Slave Dave probably would never imagine where those writings would take him in history. Just think about how many pots, jars, jugs, plates, etc. were made by slaves on plantations throughout the South, but if found today are just old examples of pottery. A 15 gallon jar by Dave sold at public auction in 2000 for $83,600. It is said that the jars have been sold for higher amounts at private auctions or in sales among private collectors and dealers. Most slaves were not allowed to learn to read or write – good thing Dave did or we may never of had a glimpse into his life.

Well, go see this exhibit before it moves on to another museum and the works are returned to their owners. And, if you have the time – go see one of Charleston’s plantations – Middleton Place or Drayton Hall – to get a close up look at a plantation.

Before I left the Gibbes I walked through the exhibit, The Charleston Story, an ongoing exhibit featuring artworks that tell the story of Charleston or show off some works by artists from the area. The first sections includes what some young people might refer to as the old paintings of old people. Except for a few recent additions these are works that anyone who has visited the Gibbes over the last two or three decades has seen many times before. When I got to the section identified as Charleston Today, I was a little taken aback. Yes, there were works by William Halsey, Corrie McCallum, Jill Hooper, Brian Rutenberg, West Fraser, and even Jonathan Green and Jasper Johns, but there was much more work on display by artists who at best have a very loose connection to Charleston. As a poster stated, these are artists who may have visited Charleston, taught here at one time or – reflect the complex story of the region.

I’m not sure viewers were making that subtle distinction and didn’t end up thinking that these artists had something to do with Charleston Today – artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Diane Arbus, Forrest Moses, or even Jeremiah Miller and Herb Jackson – both from North Carolina.

The Gibbes has works by artists with real connections to Charleston in its collection who would offer good examples of the works – styles – subjects – displayed by these artists. They may not have the same name recognition value in some people’s minds, but at least they are from Charleston.

This exhibit may be an example of former director, Todd Smith’s transformation of the Gibbes into a more contemporary art museum, but the Gibbes needs to do some repair within the Charleston visual art community. They may need to dust off some of those works by local artists to bring some back into the fold. Plus it would be a more honest representation of art being created in Charleston Today.

My final thought about my return to the Gibbes. It has been at least six years since I was last inside, but it seemed much smaller to me now. This may be from visiting much newer and bigger art museum spaces in North and South Carolina. With over 10,000 works in the Museum’s collection, you wonder where they are keeping them all and how long will it take to get many of the works into some kind of display so people can see them? But I’m sure that’s a problem for all art museums – too many works and too little space.

After leaving the Gibbes I popped into the new digs of the Wells Gallery at 125 Meeting Street, which used to be the old Virginia Fouché Bolton Studio & Gallery – almost a decade ago. Of course the space had gone though a major make-over – no one would recognize this as the old Bolton space. The new gallery space has two glass windows in the floor so visitors can see the building’s old cistern below.

This was the fourth location in the history of the Wells Gallery in Charleston. The gallery started out on Market Street, but eventually moved to Broad Street – then State Street and now – as owner Hume Killian said ( I caught him dropping something off at the gallery on a Saturday morning) – to it’s final location on Meeting Street, almost next to the Gibbes Museum of Art. This is an example of how Charleston’s commercial gallery owners have constantly been forced to move from one location to the next – due to raising rents in the City. These galleries help make Charleston a destination and then turn around and have to pay – more and more for their own success. It would be nice if the City or the landlords would give them a break for attracting visitors to Charleston.

The gallery had on view an exhibit by Karen Larson Turner entitled, Way of Life. Turner has been a staple of the Wells Gallery for a number of years – since Broad Street I think. She is one of the area’s excellent landscape painters and this show was a good example of that fact. Works ranged in size from 11″ x 14″ to 3′ x 4′ and larger. I spotted a number of red dots on tags so I think the public was in agreement. This show may be over by the time anyone gets to read this but works by Turner can be found at the gallery on a regular basis.

The Wells Gallery has a good group of artists which it represents including local, regional, and as Killian told me – more artists with a national reputation.

You can see their lineup of artists in our paper or on our website. This blog may be new, but it’s just part of the Carolina Arts offerings of info on the visual arts of the Carolinas.

Another Big Report on the Arts – Another Load of Baloney

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has released a report on Artists in the Work Force based on US Census data. Translation – another bunch of guesses made by computer formulas – no hard facts.

A headline in the Post & Courier newspaper in Charleston, SC, on 6/14/2008 reads – “Statistically, S.C. not too creative.” The article says that less than 1 percent of SC’s workers are artists – 19,118 in all. That figure includes designers and announcers? Not political spindoctors? They’re some of the most creative people I know.

I wonder when they say designers are they talking about the people who have their pictures included in full page ads run in the Post & Courier for Southeastern Galleries – a furniture store – that announces a new shipment of Charleston Art has just arrived – to their West Ashley store – less than 20 miles from Charleston.

This report is trying to do research without hard numbers. Numbers I don’t think anyone knows. Local art agencies in Charleston don’t know how many artists are here making a living. The state arts agency doesn’t know how many artists are here making a living. So why should we think federal census takers got it right?

Every art study ever done is written to generate more funding for arts agencies. When you take a closer look at them – they don’t make sense. I’m sure the NEA is fishing for more funding.

The Post & Courier article offers some figures reflecting Charleston’s numbers (I guess – it’s not that clear) which when looked at closely really open your eyes and sets you a thinking. Like Charleston has 1,090 designers, 495 architects, 385 fine artists, 300 musicians and singers, 175 producers and directors, 160 photographers, 90 performers, 80 announcers, 45 dancers, and 15 actors.

If you add up the musicians, singers, performers, dancers and actors, you get 450 performers – that makes 5.14 performance workers per producer and director – that’s if you figure each performance has a producer and a director. That’s a pretty high number of producers and directors per performers, and remember these people are making a living as an artist. Compared to what I know the Charleston Symphony Orchestra pays their professional musicians – I’m not sure I’d call that a living, but then we don’t know what basis the NEA is using either.

That 385 figure for fine artists in the Charleston area – I’m not sure about – it could be lower. There are a lot of artists here who couldn’t live on their sole income. Without the income of their spouse I don’t think they could make it. A lot of people in Charleston call themselves an artist, but I don’t think they are selling that much art to make a living at it.

In the article a director for the Charleston Artists Guild said their membership has soared to 725 in recent years. But, I doubt all those members make a living at art. As far as I know, I could pay dues and be a member of the CAG.

Here’s another nugget from the NEA report. It says that there are more artists in Charleston than cities like Asheville, NC, Columbia, SC, Myrtle Beach, SC, or Savannah, GA, but per capita Asheville and Wilmington, NC, are rated as two of the most creative cities – per this report. I’m not so sure about that.

I wonder if the report took into account how many artists may live in one city but sell most of their art in another city or several other cities – so where exactly, or in which city are they making a living – the city they make the art in or the city they sell the art in? Why are they ranking the cities and states at all? How many artists make a living by traveling to art and craft fairs all over the country – every weekend? Yet don’t sell much work in the city they live in?

This issue is too complicated to glean from census reports – that haven’t been too accurate as is. And, what do we really learn form this report? That the arts are a very small part of America? I think we all knew that – even in Charleston. It’s something most artists know.

So, I wonder how much money the NEA spent on this report? How much less is now available for the artists after this ground breaking report?

One day, I’d like to see a report that tells us how artist’s incomes compare with those of arts administrators. I doubt they’ll be working on that one any time soon.

Sunday Mornings Will Never Be The Same

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

I’m sort of a political/news junkie. When I’m working on the paper I’m most likely listening to our local public radio station – the one with the talk shows, not the classical music. Some days I’ll have a small TV tuned in to CNN or MSNBC – never FOX. When I’m delivering papers on the road – it’s NPR and BBC news at night, but my favorite day for political news is Sunday.

The routine is turn on the computer, get the Sunday paper and read it, check e-mail and then settle in for the Sunday morning political talk shows starting with Meet the Press on NBC, then This Week with George Stephanopoulos, and finally Wolf Blitzer on CNN. Then I’ll scan regional newspapers on the web for Sunday art news.

With Tim Russert’s sudden death this week all that has changed. Russert was one of the best in the business and as a result of his death – the news cycle stopped. The NBC news division was in mourning and the other news networks were paying tribute to a fallen colleague.

Russert was always prepared to ask the right questions and when one of his guest tried to claim that they never supported an issue or never said something – Russert was ready with several video clips of this same guest saying exactly what they just claimed they never did or said – busted. So, the seasoned politico came prepared to be asked the hard questioned and to have the correct answers. There was not much room for spin on Meet the Press.

I’m sure NBC will come up with a capable stand-in, but they will never replace Russert. He was one of the giants of the news biz – and he’s now gone at such a young age – 58, just one year older than myself.

My Sunday mornings will never be the same.

A Layman’s View

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

708scstmus-interior

OK, here we go – my review of the SC State Museum’s 20th Anniversary Juried Art Exhibition, on view in Columbia, SC, through Sept. 7, 2008.

This should not be taken as a “professional” review, done by someone who has a degree in art history, art criticism or was educated in writing art reviews. It should not be taken as a review by someone who has been writing reviews for some time. It’s almost a first for me.

708scstmus-interior3

Right off the bat I can tell you I liked the exhibit and enjoyed viewing it. I think that it is one of the best examples of a cross-section of the kind of art which is being produced in South Carolina by a wide variety of artists in a variety of media and subjects.

As a juried show where artists had to enter to be considered for inclusion, I realize the exhibit’s limits to be all inclusive or have examples of the best work being done in various media, but since 500 artists submitted 1000 works – I’ll accept the two jurors’ judgment as to what they selected to be in the exhibit – as the only work I see. I know who the two jurors were – Brian Rutenberg and Lia Newman – both I feel make good judges for such exhibitions. I don’t always feel that way about some jurors – some are the last people who should be a juror for an exhibition.

I’ll also add that I have never had a problem finding the SC State Museum (the building, the entrance, the restrooms, or the Lipscomb Gallery) since before it’s opening in 1988. We did a special issue just on the Museum’s opening back then. I’ll also thank the Museum for the free parking – right in front of the Museum. I even found a spot in the shade. A real bonus on the 95 + degree day I was there.

I paid my $5 admission and learned that what used to be Free Sundays, on the first Sunday of the month, was now $1 Sundays, but still only on the first Sunday of the month. But with a little planning you can save $4. It’s all a deal. Try finding a parking space in downtown Charleston, SC, Columbia, SC, or Charlotte, NC, and if you do – hope you get back in time before your meter runs out of time. With free parking it’s almost like free admission.

708tyronegeter

by Tyrone Geter

This was my second visit to this exhibit, so my eyes were already expecting some works as I walked in the door of the gallery. Tyrone Geter’s work, Is This Who You See, jumps right out at you. That title starts you wondering right away. This mixed media piece is an image of a black man in what I say would be African clothing. The work is done in layers of paper, placed in a box frame with items assembled at the bottom. There are several simple drawings of images in the background suggesting – other personalities. As the title might suggest – if we see a black man in African dress – do we form an instant opinion of who he is or what kind of man he is? The objects assembled at the bottom of the box remind me of items that may have been owned by a black child and items that might have been found in a yard – like artifacts found on a visit to an old homesite after being away for many years. Does our dress make us who we are? Do our possessions make us who we are? Does our past make us who we are? The work definitely had me thinking. And, since the piece was dated 2004 – 2008, I imagine Geter had put a lot of time and thought into the work over time too – wondering.

I’ve always found that the first work that grabs my attention in an exhibition stays with me the longest. But, then again, most of Geter’s works that I have seen are very striking – they demand your attention. When you’re finished seeing this exhibit, go over to the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center – not far away on Lincoln Street. They have another large work by Geter, as well as many other works worth seeing. And, it’s free.

708scstmus-interior2

But I have to say, out of the corner of my eye a large work way across the room is calling, but I’m trying to proceed in some order.

If you turn right around you’ll see a couple of examples of Doug McAbee’s brightly painted steel sculptures. I’ve seen his work all over the Carolinas in outdoor settings. They’re always amusing and sometimes a puzzle to figure out what they are or are supposed to be.

Next on the attention radar is the piece Where Were You When the Moon was Full, by Aldwyth. This is a large collage on Okarawa paper. I had to look that up when I got home. Okarawa paper is Japanese paper suitable for student work – according to the internet. I’m not sure that particular type of paper added anything special to the work. If it wasn’t in the title I don’t think I would have wondered what kind of paper it was. Well, here was an image which could have hundreds of stories. The collage consists of cutout images of boats, sea creatures, eyes (1,000s of them), planes, birds, balloons, and hands – which all seemed to be surrounded by a circle of stages of the moon. The entire work was bordered by faces in droplet shapes over some sort of measure of time. There’s a lot of imagery to absorb. I know this was a piece which would be popular with children as the guard had to tell several not to touch it while I was in the gallery.

708leesipe

by Lee Sipe

From there was Vessel No. 60 by Lee Sipe. This was an egg shaped vessel open at the top, made of what looked like copper wires wrapped with thread – which was a crimson color. The wires ran from bottom to top. The vessel was sprinkled with what looked like small copper coin-shaped pieces. I’d like to be able to add that work to my collection, but have you seen the price of copper these days?

708lynneriding1
by Lynne Riding

Now I’ve entered what seems like a section of abstract works by a number of artists, with the most dominant work being an oil painting on linen by Lynne Riding entitled, Concerning Hope. This is a 7 ft. by 9ft. abstract work with a large orange shape – which looks like a big glob of the stuff in a lava lamp floating against a milky gray background with some white markings. Before you even enter the gallery you can see this work and it’s saying – look at me! It’s like the 900 lb. gorilla in the room – no matter what you’re looking at – out of the corner of your eye you can see it — demanding your attention.

This is what’s great about the Lipscomb Gallery space. It has big wall space which can take big works of art – look normal – until you get up in front of them. Concerning Hope is not the biggest work in the exhibit, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

At this point I want to revert back to my blog entry on June 6, 2008. This 7′ x 9′ piece is just one of two works Riding had to rent a truck in order to deliver her work to Columbia from Charleston – just for the chance to enter this show. I guess it’s debatable if this work would have had the same impact on the jurors if they saw it as a small jpeg or a slide, but I still think it is unnecessary to ask artists to deliver works to an exhibit space to be juried. We should all know how big a 7′ x 9′ painting would be – the smallest side is way over most of our heads – I mean way over.

In this abstract section was another work which was a surprise. I had to read the label twice but I was looking at a very large mixed media work by Gene Speer, entitled Highway 101 Series. Most of the work I’ve seen by Speer was colorful geometrically designed print works. But, the more I looked at it I could see the abstraction of these works into this painting. I really like it. I’d like to see more of this kind of work. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’ve got a thing for abstracts. It doesn’t mean I like them all, but I do like them.

Moving on we come to the largest work in the exhibit, About SC, an acrylic on canvas by William Thompson. I’m sure this work came to the Museum rolled up, but it still couldn’t have been easy to deliver – it had to be at least twice the size of Riding’s work – if not bigger. The image is a history lesson of South Carolina by Thompson – as he sees it or knows it. I guess you have to give credit to people who feel driven to create such works, but I just can’t seem to get into “visionary” works of art. In this piece I just don’t think Thompson is skilled enough to pull it off. The images painted on the map are not easy to recognize and there is a lot of writing, which is not all that easy to read. So if there is a message – it is probably lost on viewers who just don’t want to commit the time to figure it all out. There’s a lot of art in the room which is not that hard on the eyes. Other people really get into this kind of work – I just never have. It’s probably my problem and I have no problem with it being included in the exhibit. These artists are part of South Carolina’s visual art community and they should be included in exhibits that are featuring a wide variety of works. Like the WWII movie, A Bridge Too Far, this work may have been too big for Thompson to handle in his normal style.

Man Power, an etched copper and brass half sized figure of a man by Mana Hewitt was a clever reproduction of one of those old time illustration of looking inside something to see how it works. It’s usually a machine, but this man was full of gears and machine parts. His brain was filled with the word “Power” and some other sections, but I was too short to be able to read them. (The work could have been hung a little lower.) His heart was money. Is this an indictment on man? Is it the way employers see their workers or is this a look inside the head of the boss man?

708scstmus-interior4

I’m not mentioning some works in the exhibit because I feel I’m too biased towards these artist’s works – some are in our art collection. Some of the artists I consider friends. This may not be fair to them, but I think most of them know how I feel about their work and I hope they can understand me not gushing about them here. It’s also nice to see that my own taste in art is matched by a couple of good jurors too. Besides I’ll find other ways to express my support for their art.

There are 122 works in this exhibition and I’m not trying to write a catalogue – I want people to go see it themselves. So here are some general thoughts on the exhibit.

To me, the abstract works were the strongest group of works in the exhibit. There was also a strong group of sculptures of all sorts. There is an excellent grouping of portrait paintings and drawings. Also there were some very interesting baskets and pottery pieces, but I felt that overall crafts might have been under-represented. And, I hate to say it but the photography in the exhibit – to me – was the weakest medium in the exhibit. There were some good photographs, but some not so good too.

Some works, I don’t mind admitting – go right over my head. They’re interesting to look at in an exhibit – they add the spice of life. I know they have a message, but I’m not receiving it. That’s OK with me. Like the workFuture Dust by Mike Lavine. It’s a button on the wall – like a campaign button with Future Dust printed on it and below is a child’s chair. That’s the work. Maybe someday I’ll be somewhere and the light bulb will go off and I’ll get it – maybe not.

There were some surprises in the exhibit. They shouldn’t be a surprise, but with the history of the Triennials (see previous blog entries) behind us and track record of other institutional exhibitions I hate to say it, but seeing some works in this exhibit did surprise me. More to the point – it was certain mediums and subject matter. That’s a good thing.

But, my biggest surprise was when I turned a corner and was facing a work rarely seen in our state in the last 38 years. It was Wisteria at Rose Hill State Park, a mixed media work by Bill Buggel. I came to South Carolina in 1974. In a few years I was working in a custom black and white photo processing lab. One of my bosses was Bill Buggel, who also operated a t-shirt printing business next to the lab. I knew Buggel was an artist and at one time worked at what was at the time the Gibbes Art Gallery in Charleston. He once told me he was no longer an artist because he could make more money designing and printing t-shirts. A few years later I got an opportunity to see some of the work he created and learned that in 1970 Buggel was named one of South Carolina’s most promising artists. That promise led to frustration – in playing the game – the art game. The game of it’s not what you create – it’s who you know and kiss up to.

I knew Buggel has been creating works again in the past five or so years, but he was having a hard time breaking back into the art community. So, there was a Bill Buggel on the wall in front of me. He made the cut of 116 out of 500. I bet you Buggel couldn’t get a return call from the SC Arts Commission. They don’t know any artists who may have been in their heyday in the 1970′s.

And, that’s another good thing about this exhibit – it seems the State Museum has thrown out all the old prejudices of the past 20 years dictated by the SC Arts Commission as to what art can be shown and what art will get grants. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another 20 years for another exhibit like this.

708peterlenzo

by Peter Lenzo

OK, against better judgment I’m going to name (some) of my favorite works in the exhibit not mentioned previously. They include: Red Chair Alter – Jim is Dead by Peter Lenzo; SC Woman No. 2 by Meg Gregory;Three Receptivity Markers by Robert Lyon; Universal Bouquet by Enid Williams; Three by Brittany Bagwell; Weather Worn Boulder by Clay Burnette; Peaches by Wanda Steppe; and American Idle by Anthony Conway.

American Idle is like a portrait of a really nice young woman, but she’s probably a trailer park gal. In the background is a billboard, a water tower, power lines and a trailer. A nice pun on America’s top television show.

That’s it folks – go see this show. And, if you like it, let the SC State Museum know so they’ll be encouraged to do more like it.

Also since you’re going to Columbia, if you don’t already live there, plan for a day and go visit the Columbia Museum of Art and some of Columbia’s commercial galleries too.