What do you do when the weathermen are calling for 100+ degree temps in the Charleston, SC, area? Why you jump in your car and travel to North Charleston, SC, to photograph an outdoor sculpture exhibit and then head to downtown Charleston to check out the big Piccolo Spoleto exhibit,Contemporary Charleston 2009: Revelation of Process, featuring works by Dorothy Netherland, Jonathan Brilliant, Ben Timpson, Karin Olah and Ishmael, on view at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park. Surely, you didn’t think I was going to cut grass or rake leaves.
More about the outdoor sculpture exhibit in another blog.
I purposely put off seeing the exhibition as City Gallery at Waterfront Park as I knew it would get a lot of chatter during the festivals by local and regional media, but after the Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto Festivals were over – coverage would drop off a cliff. But, the show is still on view through July 26, 2009. People still have a month to go see it, but most of the media will have moved on to today’s news. They have all been there and done that.
I’ve read a lot of those pre-event articles and reviews, but didn’t absorb much. I was waiting to see it for myself. I do agree that this is one of the best exhibits that I have seen at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park. Was it the best Piccolo Spoleto exhibit ever? I wouldn’t go that far, but it would be in the top five – maybe number two or three.
Would I crown Erin Glaze – King of Curators? She did a good job, but I’d have to see a few more shows under her hand before I could come close to saying that. But, it was a heck of a first time. This space has gone through a lot of gallery directors, gallery coordinators – whatever the title is from day to day. There’s no telling who will be in charge next year. Well, I know – Ellen Dressler Moryl is in charge and next year she may decide to feature one of her friends. You just never know. So, I’m not letting this show change my mind about the direction of this gallery space and what the future will bring. I always have hope, but I’m also a realist.
But, I, like others, would like to see Glaze do a few more exhibits – on her own. She added some touches to this exhibit which really helped the viewers get a grip on the process of creating art – in the artist’s own words and actions. Austin Nelson, who created the video clips – shown in a loop at the gallery near each artist’s works really gave those who took the time to view them an insight into these artists’ world – the process of creation. Also, there were small stations which also showed more details of how these artists work or where they come from – their influences and backgrounds, or in some cases – the world they were focused on. Beyond an exhibit catalog, these two elements added much to this exhibition.
So, on to the works.
When I entered the gallery I turned directly to the left – avoiding the 70,000 pound gorilla in the room. These were works by Ben Timpson. The first works were small boxes, mounted on the wall, with a framed round magnifying glass – which you were to look through. What you saw was a small image backlit by white light – like a peep show. These unusual images were made up of parts of other objects – some from plants, bugs – whatever. I found these interesting works of art. But once these same type of images were blown up to a much larger scale – presented like a painting – they lost some appeal. But that’s just me. Others enjoyed these works as much as I did the smaller boxes.
This was the first time I’ve seen any work by this artist, so it would be hard to make much of a judgement on whether I liked it or not overall. I liked the small boxes and the fact that some were placed really low – maybe for better viewing by children or to make adults think the effort of bending down would reveal something naughty. Anytime you make the audience work for their supper it’s a good thing.
I next moved upstairs where I knew I would find Karin Olah’s works. I must declare up front that I’m a big fan of Olah’s work, Linda and I own one of her works, and I even put one of her images on the cover ofCarolina Art’s May 2009 issue – one of our last color covers for awhile. I hope it’s not too long before we get back to color covers. So, I’m already sold on Olah’s work. But, she never fails to amaze me and show me she has places to go that I have not seen. I look forward to a long journey following her work.
And, it was apparent many others wanted to take that journey too. Olah had an entire wall of smaller – very nicely priced works – mostly sold. She by far has sold the most works during this exhibit. Now, that is not the purpose of these lofty exhibitions at non-profit gallery spaces, but most of the time – even at major museums – the works on display by living (contemporary) artists can be purchased, if they are not on loan by a previous buyer. So, although no one is keeping score – I like the fact that many others enjoy my taste in art and Olah’s work. She also sold some of her larger works too and I must say this is another good sign that the economy is getting better – even if at a snail’s pace.
As an added touch for this exhibit, Olah also used some of her same graphic techniques on the walls of the gallery to link some of her works together. I liked the effect, having known the work and knowing this is not usual. Others may not have seen it the same way, but I must say that when this same technique was used to blend Olah’s work together with the other artist sharing the upstairs space (Ishmael), the linkage seemed to be a train wreck to me – especially when that linkage went into one of Olah’s works. Again, just my personal feeling, but they could be feelings over another subject altogether.
The artist Ishmael’s roots are in street graffiti. I am not a fan of street graffiti at all – especially when it is done on other people’s private property. Olah and I have had discussions about this subject – on opposite ends of the subject, but I hope we respect each other’s points of view. She’s a fan and I’m not, so it’s hard to say if my feelings about the mingling of her art with his doesn’t stem from my views on graffiti. I hope I’m being objective.
Now all that aside, I liked Ishmael’s works in this exhibition. I have no problem with the technique of graffiti or style – as long as it ends up on materials owned by the artists. Hey, I don’t care for billboards either. But, I always have to wonder how this artist would feel if some of his street friends came into the gallery space and did their thing on his works – would he feel honored or violated? My guess is – publicly honored – no big deal – part of the process, but privately a little violated – especially during his big moment – especially if it had happened to one of the works that had sold and the buyers no longer like the “tagged” work.
So, I’d like to see more of Ishmael’s work – on canvas, board, even gallery walls, but not out on the streets. He’s got too much talent to see it white washed away by citizen groups cleaning up the streets.
Next, I walked downstairs – again avoiding the gorilla, and checked out Dorothy Netherland’s works. I’ve seen her work before in many places and I like what she is doing. Although Netherland was born in the 60′s, I wouldn’t think of her as living in the same time period as I did, born a decade earlier, but her work focuses on that time period when I was growing up. By the time she was 10 years old it was the 70′s and America had changed a lot. So, when I look at her imagery I see my past as a child – I’m one of the little boys with the cowboy hat and silver six-shooters.
These were the golden years, the last days of innocence for America. When I went trick-or-treating, “without” my parents, I didn’t have to worry about people putting razor blades in the apples they gave me or riding my bike several neighborhoods over and staying out late after dark. I wasn’t going to be killed in a drive-by shooting. These were Good Times or Happy Days or were those just TV shows? Of course there was duck and cover drills in school; the Cuban Missile Crisis; the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy; and eventually Vietnam. But we could watch reruns of I Love Lucy and Leave it to Beaverand think it was all innocent.
This is not a world or time period you see many artists today focused on which in itself can be shocking. Some of the imagery if looked at under today’s standards of “you better be careful” might suggest another world. Are images of an older man hugging or carrying a young girl innocent or something else? It makes you think of how did we get from there to where we are now in just a short span of time? Does the picture really tell the story?
Damm you artists – stop making us think and question. You’re going to ruin my childhood memories. But then there is always TVLand . A few episodes of I Love Lucy can take you away.
Before I move on to that gorilla, I heard someone say my name and I looked up and saw Mary Gilkerson, who was also viewing this exhibit with her daughter. Gilkerson used to write art reviews for us – way back when – and now writes art reviews for freetimes in Columbia, SC. And, I learned that she will probably be doing a review of this show on her blog,SCARTblog. So, you can look for a much more insightful review of this show on her blog.
So, finally we have the installation piece by Jonathan Brilliant, made of 70,000 wooden coffee stirrers, the same kind used at Starbucks, which takes up the entire middle space of the gallery from downstairs to the upstairs’ railings. None of the sticks are glued together – they are all woven and held in place by tension. One child could get lose from a parent and the whole thing could come crashing down. Now, that’s art on the edge.
I never did see a title for this work, and other installation works he has done are named after the space they were made in, so I guess this will be known as the City Gallery at Waterfront Park 2009 piece.
People should come to this exhibition just to see this work alone and the rest of the art will be the gravy. It’s an amazing act of art, patience, and faith. What if he couldn’t finish it in time? What if it fell apart before the show opened? What if some child did run into it at the opening? Then what do you have but a pile of sticks? I’ve seen site-specific works that were just a pile of sticks and it was not so impressive – not hardly.
I’ve always had a hard time dealing with site-specific art in that it is all just temporary, but a work like this – beyond photographs, the artists walks away with nothing but a pile of sticks. On the bright side – those 70,000 coffee stirrers can maybe live on in the creation of another installation. A painter can’t recover the paint on their canvas to use in another painting. At least I don’t think they can.
I’ve seen a lot of wonderful site-specific art throughout the years, but I always saw them as a loss – as we couldn’t keep them around for others to see – generation after generation – just pictures or written words. It’s not the same as seeing them in place, but then I guess that’s the point of it all.
I’ve seen other works by Brilliant before in fringe exhibits during Piccolo Spoleto, but this is by far the largest. According to the exhibit catalog it may be his largest work to date. And, I don’t care how many photographs are taken of the work – they will never do justice to seeing the work up close – in 3D (no special glasses needed). So go see this exhibit.
I had another 60′s flashback looking at Brilliant’s piece. My older brother and I used to make exploding projectiles out of popcycle sticks – woven together. We could throw them around the house and not break anything as the minute they touched anything solid they would explode. For a moment, just a moment – an image of a little boy (let’s say a boy in a red cowboy hat and silver six-shooters blazing away) running head first into Brilliant’s work gave me this super special effects movie in my head of the City Gallery at Waterfront Park exploding and coffee stirrers flying hundreds of feet in the air in all directions. I wonder if Brilliant has nightmares about that or secretly thinks of being that child. After all, he made it.
Well, if for some unimaginable reason you should miss seeing this exhibition, the Redux Contemporary Art Center in Charleston, SC, will be presenting the exhibit, Past Presence, featuring works by Karin Olah, Jonathan Brilliant, Kevin Hoth, Dorothy Netherland, Seth Curcio, Jarod Charzewski and Tim Hussey, from July 24 through Aug. 16, 2009. It seems strange that another institution in Charleston would program such a show featuring three of the five artists in this show so soon, but it may have been a replacement show for some exhibit that had to be cancelled. Or perhaps it’s to remind folks that these artists started out first at Redux. Either way – there’s more good art to see this summer.
The City Gallery at Waterfront Park is also offering a series of lectures in conjunction with the exhibit including: On June 27, 2009, from 2-5pm – Karin Olah Lecture & Demonstration – Using fabric, Olah works in a manner that mimics the flow of paint from a brush. Intricately cut, placed, and pasted textiles are combined with gouache, acrylic, and graphite to create collage paintings that are deep in color and texture. Part 1: Informal Talk & Short Demo. Part 2: Community Collaboration. Olah will provide materials and instructions for a fabric collage painting. Everyone is invited to contribute and paint on this piece. Attendees may bring in their own fabric scraps for the collage painting! Part 3: Donate to Olah’s fabric collection by bringing in solid or striped clean, natural fiber scraps (no patterns, please). Your scrap may be part of a future collage painting! One-of-a-kind “Art-Scrap Cards” will also be sold at this event only! Take home a Karin Olah original for only $12! On July 11, 2009, Time TBA – Lecture by Dorothy Netherland. On July 18, 2009, Time TBA – Lecture by Jonathan Brilliant. These programs are free and open to the public. For further info call the City Gallery at Waterfront Park at 843/958-6484.
And, remember if you are coming from out of town to see either of these exhibits, check out some of the commercial art galleries in Charleston. There’s a lot to see in a wide variety of styles. You can find days and times gallery spaces are open at Carolina Arts Online under our Gallery Listings pages.