Posts Tagged ‘Nina Liu and Friends’

A Visit to Downtown Charleston, SC’s Art Walks – May 6, 2011

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Even though I haven’t been to many art walks in Charleston lately, it’s still our backyard as far as art communities go. I don’t know everyone there now and many don’t know me, but for a lot of the folks who have been there more than a few years, it’s hard for Linda and I to just slip into a gallery and not be spotted. Gallery owners and artists seem to gravitate to us – one because we’re friends with a lot of these folks – at least we feel we are, and two, we haven’t seen most of these folks – face to face in a long time. So we’re like a blast for the past.

It would be nice to do an art walk and not be working, but the nature of these events is always social/working. I want to write the trip up for our blog and they hope I’ll write it up – everyone needs publicity. The problem in Charleston is we know and meet so many people we want to talk to that I end up doing more talking than taking photos. So, I have some images to not make this blog all words, but in no way all that I should have. I’m sorry for that. We got some from the galleries or their websites.

I’ll refresh people’s memory of the weather on May 6, 2011, in the Charleston area. A forecast called for scattered showers, but it seem to be raining most of the day up here in Bonneau, the headquarters of Shoestring Publishing Company on the shore of Lake Moultrie. And just as it was about time to leave, the rain came down hard, but the weather wizards said the system would clear out of the area by 6pm. This time I was hoping they were right. It rained pretty hard all the way to Charleston’s borders, but as we crossed that border the rain stopped and the sky opened up.

By the time we found the same parking space I used in visiting the April art walk, the sun was shinning. Thanks to whoever saved it for us. The rain had cleared the air and cooled it down to a very pleasant 75 degrees. We’ve had some great weather as far as temps go lately – although dangerous at times.  At least there weren’t any tornado warnings on May 6.

Our first stop, due to location, was Nina Liu and Friends, at 24 State Street. The gallery is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year. The exhibit being presented that evening was Defining Moments, featuring works by Susie Miller Simon of Colorado, on view through June 30, 2011. Simon couldn’t be there for this opening, but will come in a few weeks.

Nina Liu’s gallery is spread throughout three levels in her home – which is still up for sale – if anyone is interested in living in the heart of Charleston’s French Quarter district and wants to also have a gallery – or not. She’ll sell – either way. Liu is hopping to retire one day to the home she has waiting in Mexico – someday. But, we’re not in any hurry to see her go.

We noticed something strange going on. People were coming into the gallery, saying hi as they passed by, heading upstairs. Liu noticed the strange look on our faces and explained that they were regulars to her openings and they know the food and drink is upstairs. I rolled my eyes, thinking to myself that they could have at least glanced at the works in the exhibit before – running upstairs, but it doesn’t seem to bother her as another group zoomed by. Her food is very popular.

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Work by Susie Miller Simon

Simon’s works give reference to imagery of the Southwestern United States – a million miles from Lowcountry art, which is refreshing at times and I’m sure a reason why her works are so popular here. I’ve included an image, that I’m sure wasn’t in this exhibit. I got it off the Internet just to give you an idea of what the work is like. But you’ll see some images like this and some very different, but you’ll be able to tell it came from Simon.

It was reassuring to see some of those folks who rushed upstairs eventually filtered down to see the exhibit, one even asking about the price of a work found upstairs. A good time for us to move on.

For the second month in a row, I was focused on going to Smith-Killian Fine Art, at 9 Queen Street, at the corner of Queen & State Streets. Last month it was to see an exhibit by Shannon Smith and this month to see “abstract” works by her mother, Betty Anglin Smith, as well as works by a very strong group of SC’s contemporary artists including: Carl Blair, Eva Carter, Matt Overend, Laura Spong, Leo Twiggs and Scott Upton. The exhibit, Contemporary Carolinas – an Invitational Exhibition, will be on view through June 12, 2011.

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Works by Laura Spong (L) and Leo Twiggs (R)

The week before we had talked with Laura Spong at Vista Studios in Columbia, SC, during Artista Vista (read about it at this link) and knew she would be there. And, I was hoping to see and talk with Carl Blair, whom I haven’t seen in a while. Blair, was the one and only member of the Commission of the SC Arts Commission who listened to my complaints and tried to do something about them. The one and only! A true arts leader in SC – a rare exception. Unfortunately he didn’t make the trip from Greenville, SC.

That’s OK – I’ll take the hugs from Betty, Eva, and Laura any day.

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Work by Eva Carter

In my opinion, the day William Halsey passed on, Eva Carter became Charleston’s top “abstract” artist, if not one of the best in SC. After closing up her gallery a few years ago, this was the first of her work in an exhibit in Charleston. Although she has now opened a studio just around the corner from her old gallery, at 16 Gillon Street, we haven’t been able to catch her there when we were in Charleston – so we were also looking forward to seeing and talking with her and seeing what she was painting these days.

But, the real kicker in this show was to see more “abstract” paintings by Betty Anglin Smith. I mentioned in my write up of the April 2011 art walk in Charleston that we saw an unexpected work – an abstract painting by Betty at Shannon Smith’s show. We loved the work and I wanted to see if it was a one hit wonder or if we have a new abstract artists in town. Folks – we weren’t disappointed.

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Work by Betty Anglin Smith

Of course as Betty put it – she’s not quitting her day job of painting landscapes – just yet. We all know there’s a smaller audience for “abstract” art in the Carolinas. But, every day we see more of it all the time – and that means more people are buying it. I tip my hat to Smith Killian Fine Art for taking the risk to present such a show – during the Spoleto Festival season in Charleston. I hope it pays off for them – so they can do it again. I know I could have spent a good bit of my lottery winnings there that evening. Now all I have to do is win one.

This was a great show of works from some of SC’s best artists, not painting what most people expect to see when they go to Charleston to see or buy art. But, I’ve always said there is a lot of this kind of art being made in Charleston – you just have to work a little to find it.

What a good time to transition over to Corrigan Gallery, located at 62 Queen Street – one of those places you won’t find what some people call “Charleston” art. But, you will find plenty of art made by Charleston artists. The exhibit, Egg Meditations, the continuation of a ten year exploration by Yvette Dede, was being presented. The exhibit will be on view through May 31, 2011. I swear it’s been that long – ten years since I’ve seen work by Dede on view in Charleston. At one time she ran Print Studio South, which eventually turned into the Redux Contemporary Arts Center (which hasn’t sent a press release about its May/June exhibit yet). But, that’s what happens when you become an adjunct college professor. You spend more time teaching than exhibiting.

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Works by Yvette Dede

For regular readers of my views on art – presentation is a big factor with me and this exhibit was a top notch example of how to present a cohesive group of works – in this case based on the egg shape. Dede made special frames for her small works and in the intimate space at Corrigan Gallery they looked fantastic. I’m talking about the presentation of the art. I really don’t care what the wall looks like or the floor – as long as they don’t distract the viewer from the art, and in that case – that’s a bigger problem for the artist. There’s nothing wrong with the wall or floors at Corrigan Gallery – I’m just saying well presented art can look good in someone’s cluttered basement.

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Works by Yvette Dede

After checking out all the variations Dede presented, we checked out some of the other works being displayed at the gallery and I came across a work which really fooled me at first in an alcove between the two main rooms of the gallery.  There was a large abstract work on one wall – blue and red. You know how I like abstracts. When I got close enough to see who the artist was,  I was, well not totally surprised, but embarrassed that it was by a good friend of ours –  John Moore. I’ve seen a lot of Moore’s abstract photographs, but for some reason this image didn’t click, I was seeing it from the side and I had just looked through some of his works in a stack and this just fooled me at first.

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Work by John Moore

The real joke here is that Moore and I have talked a million times about the fact that it’s too bad he presents his work as photographs – more people would buy them if they were presented as paintings. A sad fact but true. And, the real tragedy is that many people think they are Photoshopped, but these are the real deal. He finds these outrageous colors – in man-made materials touched by nature. And, to top it off – Moore is color blind. Figure that one out and you can help me pick lottery numbers.

Moore is a purest, he doesn’t manipulate his images and he doesn’t want to fool people into thinking these are not photos just for the sake of sales. He just has a good eye, takes his time before he clicks the shutter and knows how to get the best out of his equipment and when the light is right. That’s the real art of photography.

After Linda coaxed me off the soapbox, our next stop was Horton Hayes Fine Art, at 30 State Street. We wanted to see what Mark Horton was painting these days. The gallery also shows works by Nancy Hoerter, Shannon Runquist, Bjorn Runquist and Chris Groves – all skilled painters. Now, I guess these works don’t fit the classic description of “Charleston” art in that although they are landscapes of the Lowcountry and still lifes – I just think of them as master works. You just want to be in these places put on canvas. You can feel them – smell them. We didn’t talk to anyone here – it was too crowded.

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Work by Mark Horton

Seeing the works at Horton Hayes made me want to go check out Mickey Williams Studio-Gallery, the next street over at 132 E. Bay Street, at the corner of East Bay and Broad Street. This was our old hangout, once the office for IF Labs, then for Carolina Arts newspaper and Carolina Arts Gallery. I spent many a day and night in that space. It survived Hurricane Hugo as if it was just a thunder storm. This was also Eva Carter’s old gallery space.

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Work by Mickey Williams

Williams paints some incredible Lowcountry landscapes. I wanted to go by and see his works and talk to him about facebook. Sometimes I get on facebook by 7am and most days by then Williams has been on for several hours – talking about the birds in his back yard, his garden or the colors in the morning sky. He’s like the good morning guy in the Charleston facebook family – which is funny – as he, like me, is technology challenged. But, he’s got facebook down to a science. I called him and asked him to send me a photo – he had to check with his wife. Sound familiar? We’re two peas in an iPod. We embrace technology – we just don’t know how to make it work.

Our last stop was at Lowcountry Artists Ltd, at 148 E. Bay Street. Their next exhibit is The Power of Glass, featuring blown glass  by Robbie Clair and etched and fused glass by Steve Hazard which will be on view from May 28 through June 11, 2011. This gallery has almost doubled in size since the last time I was in it. As a co-op gallery it has also seen many changes in the group of artists currently showing on the walls.

Another space where we could slip in and get a good look at the art first. Of course we knew some of the artists by name or work and there were a few surprises – like seeing works by Patsy Tidwell on the wall. Her gallery was one of the mainstays of the Charleston art community, but she sold it a few years ago and now it’s closed. I’m sure she is enjoying life now creating artwork vs. trying to sell other artists’ works. It’s not easy running a gallery as an artist – even when you’re doing it as a co-op of artists.

Another surprise was seeing works by Jason Luck, a Seagrove potter who has moved to Charleston. Those Seagrove potters are everywhere. Well they’re not really – but their work seems to be getting everywhere. But, you really have to go to Seagrove, NC, for Seagrove pottery. The chamber of commerce pays me to say that.

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Work by Jackie Wukela

Because we didn’t have to answer a million questions as to how the paper is doing we finally got to eat some of the goodies being offered during the art walk. But, our anonymity could only last so long as I had questions I wanted to ask so we went up front and introduced ourselves to – who I felt sure was Jackie Wukela (due to facebook). She is typical of most of the folks we “know” through the paper. We’ve talked on the phone and e-mailed back and forth, but never met – face to face.

The minute we did this, Carolyn Epperly, who I’ve talked to many times at Tidwell’s Art Gallery, but not in a while, said “I thought you looked familiar.” Jackie Wukela and Lynda English, who are members of Lowcountry Artists Ltd. are also part of the visual art community in Florence, SC, where they live and have a gallery. So this was a twofer – we got to talk about Charleston and Florence’s art communities.

Before long the end of the art walk was on us and it was time to head back to Bonneau. On the ride home a few things struck me. We’ve been to two art walks in two months in Charleston and the art walks have changed – as have the galleries and artists who fill them with works since the days when we went to every one of them.

Charleston’s visual art community is moving away from what many people have tagged it as being for years, a city of artists who are in love with the city, a bad rap in my opinion. Sure there is lots of “tourist” art here to be had – it’s what most tourists want and Charleston is a tourist town, but the artists have moved on to creating what they want – hoping that the more discriminating visitors will want to take that art home. And, a good number of the artworks are being made by artists who live elsewhere – all over the US. The so called “Charleston” art is no longer a novelty – it’s now moved into the realm of novelties – souvenirs.

And, the art walks as I knew them have also changed. There was a time when an art walk in the French Quarter was a near festival – one big party event. I used to equate them to going to the Mall during Christmas – you’d run into everyone you haven’t seen since the last one there, but not so these days. There is an art walk every month in Charleston and most galleries stay open whether they’re in the group hosting it or not. So, it’s not such a special occasion any more. Still, lots of people go to them and enjoy them, but if it rains a little it’s easy to say – I’ll just go to the next one.

Of course my memories are from the 1990′s – what I call the golden age of the visual arts in the Carolinas. It might not be fair to make comparisons to current times – an age where many people are attacking the arts to gain political points and the economy has suffered one blow after another.

I for one am glad to be able to go to them again, but it might be some time before I go to the next one. We’re a little exhausted at this point and there’s so much going on all over the Carolinas. If you don’t believe me – just check our paper out at (www.carolinaarts.com). See how long it takes you to get through it all – end to end.

The Day of April Fools and the Broad Street Art Walk in Charleston, SC

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

April 1st for us started on March 31, 2011, at about 10:15pm when we loaded up the April 2011 issue of Carolina Arts on our website at (www.carolinaarts.com) – all 71 pages of it. By midnight I had sent out an e-mail message to our growing list, posted notices on both our blogs,Carolina Arts Unleashed and Carolina Arts News, as well as making posts on our Facebook pages. At that point our job was done for another month and it was off to the races for May’s issue.

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Well, we actually got to go to bed for a few hours. The morning was spent dealing with all the return e-mails, with comments, a few problems, and some congratulations. The day soon turned to the normal operating procedures – more e-mail, processing press releases and photos, and answering a few people’s questions who are already thinking about the May issue.

Unlike some publications that throw a party every time they produce an issue – we go back to work.

In the old days, I would be heading for bed by 4pm to get up about 10 or 11pm to head out on one of my delivery routes – driving all night from city to town to city, dropping off papers at the door fronts of galleries, museums, art centers and tourism welcome centers. By the afternoon I would be back at home – reload the car, pack my breakfast and lunch, head back to bed to start the cycle all over again for four days. But, these days, once the paper is finished and launched it’s just another day at the computer. I miss my trips, but I’m finding other ways to get my road miles in – like actually going to galleries, museums and art centers – while they are open and writing blog entries about what I saw there.

And one of the benefits of this change is that Linda and I were going to be able to go to our first First Friday art walk on Broad Street in downtown Charleston, SC. In the past, once every blue moon a first Friday might fall on the 6th or 7th of the month, but depending on when we got the printed paper – I could still be on the road, so we were not getting to many art walks. Which was a shame as we, through Charleston Arts, our first version of our arts newspaper helped start the thing off in Charleston.

Just before we were about to leave the house to head for Charleston I got a call from our biggest supporter, Morris Whiteside Galleries on Hilton Head Island, SC, which was strange as we knew they were in Scottsdale, AZ, for their annual art auction in that city. I can’t go into the call’s details, but it was about a BIG problem with the April issue and they weren’t too happy. I could see my biggest supporter slipping away, but within a few sentences I stopped my caller and asked if he wasn’t making a fool of me and he couldn’t hold it back. Unfortunately for him and fortunately for me I had read an e-mail earlier in the day which usually goes to Linda from one of the other partners and everything was fine. It also helped that they have tried these crank calls a few times before and after all it was April 1st – the foolin’ didn’t last too long.

He had me for a few seconds, but I’m a natural born skeptic and as my old priest said a long time ago – I was named well – after the apostle known as “Doubting Thomas”. He always said I asked too many questions.

The good news today as I’m writing this is that the Scottsdale auction did over $15 million in sales. That’s no joke. But, I have to say, it’s nice that everyone in the art world is not always so serious. People can be professional and serious and have fun too.

But getting back to Apr. 1st, after my heart rate returned to normal, we got in the car and headed toward Charleston, which is usually a little more than an hour’s ride from the headquarters of Carolina Arts on the shores of Lake Moultrie.

I was giving us an hour and a half for good measure and once we hit I-26 around North Charleston we soon realized we were going to be late. It was the Cooper River Bridge Run weekend – cars were stacked up flowing into downtown Charleston. We were trapped in the slow moving parking lot until we got to a spot where I could turn off the main roads – East Bay, Meeting, and King Streets (in this case King Street). But having lived in Charleston for a third of our lives in this area we soon got to the Broad Street area – 30-40 minutes before most other cars in those lines would weaving through the back streets. And, we found a good parking space to boot.

The first place I wanted to stop at was Smith Killian Fine Art, which is not on Broad Street and not part of the Broad Street art walk, but I knew they were having an opening for the exhibit, Intersections: Figurative Works by Shannon Smith, featuring a solo exhibition by gallery artist Shannon Smith, on view through Apr. 30, 2011. She is one of my favorite artists. I love the way she paints light.

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Work by Shannon Smith from the exhibit.

But on the way, I noticed that the door was still open over at Nina Liu and Friends, a few doors down State Street from Smith Killian, so we stuck our heads in the door and as usual Nina Liu was showing off her new exhibit,Icons for Meditation, featuring works by papermaker Arthur McDonald, which wouldn’t officially open until Sunday, and would be on view through Apr. 30, 2011.

You see in Charleston, traditionally – things are done differently than anywhere else. Galleries are so condensed throughout the downtown area and parking is spread out throughout the downtown area that even if one area is having an art walk – all galleries in town may have their doors open and even when they are not open – people will knock on your door or ring your doorbell until you do open. If you’re downtown and you find a good parking space – you want to see all that you can.

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Work by Arthur McDonald

In Nina Liu’s case – her gallery is officially open until 5pm on a Friday and at 6pm – she still wasn’t able to close her door as people just kept coming and going. Just when you think the last person was going – another couple or group would stick their head in the door – “Are you open?” As a veteran of 25 years of managing an art gallery in Charleston, Liu knew she had no choice and was even gracious enough to be running up and down her stairs to bring a glass of wine to unexpected visitors. This was an opportunity for people who might not come back to Charleston for a Sunday reception to see Arthur McDonald’s show and Liu has a reputation of going all out for her artists.

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Work by Arthur McDonald

In fact, Liu actually retired two years ago and has been trying to sell her gallery/home in this historic district of Charleston, but in this housing market downturn has had no luck. Frankly, we don’t want her to leave, but if you would like to live in historic Charleston or would like to have a ready-made art gallery you could live in – give her a call at 843/722-2724. She’s had another home waiting for her for two years South of the Border. Perhaps you can help her leave, but like this evening – she just doesn’t seem to be able to close the door on this chapter of her life.

Soon we head back to the plan – Smith Killian Fine Art, the home to the most talented family in Charleston – Betty Anglin Smith, and her grown triplets – Jennifer Smith Rogers, Tripp Smith, and Shannon Smith. Tonight the spotlight was on Shannon. This exhibit was the first time an entire collection of oil paintings exploring the figure was being presented by this artist. And, with most of her works – it’s the glow of the lighting she paints which draws people to what might be considered ordinary scenes and subjects.

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Before our stay at the gallery is finished I made the mistake which has probably been made a thousand times in addressing Jennifer as if she was Shannon. After all they are two of triplets, but it’s no big deal to them at this point in their lives. They’re both very attractive, talented and poised. Their mother taught them well. Tripp Smith – he’s easy to spot – he has a beard.

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This is Jennifer Smith Rogers, not Shannon – notice her name tags – I didn’t.

It’s been a while since we’ve had the opportunity to socialize in Charleston’s gallery community so I was surprised to see a very abstract painting by Betty Anglin Smith. It seems mom still has a few tricks left to show us and if you’ve followed my writings you know how much I like abstract art. Betty does what might be called abstracted realism paintings – works with loose strokes, but plain enough to see what the work is, (Shannon’s works in this exhibit were like this too – abstracted realism) but in this case she had let loose and gone totally abstract.

Both Linda and I really liked this work, Currents III. My photo doesn’t do it justice. If you like abstracts, go see this fast before Linda and I find a way to put a second mortgage on the house.

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Currents III by Betty Anglin Smith

I’m not trying to take any of the spotlight away from Shannon’s show – her works are fantastic and they’ll be moving out the door pretty fast too, but I just get excited when I see well done abstracts. Most people can’t see the beauty of abstracts – they want them to mean something or represent something – like the public expects from all art. They just can’t see and enjoy the combination of colors and strokes placed on a canvas. They’re always looking for something in what you might call missing the forest to see a tree. So, I admire an artist who ventures into the world of abstracts, knowing that the potential for sales is much lower and when they are done well – I can’t keep my eyes off them. I call it the curse of William Halsey, but I thank William every time I see a good abstract – his works opened my mind.

I might be getting off track here – what else is new, but I think this is a good time to say – Eva’s back! I’m referring to Eva Carter, another great abstract painter who closed her gallery in Charleston a few years ago to settle into painting at her Wadmalaw Island home and studio. I don’t blame her one bit, but she recently opened a small studio at 6 Gillon Street, just around the corner from where her gallery was on East Bay street – now the home of Mickey Williams Studio-Gallery. I haven’t been able to catch her there yet, but I will. Yes I will.

OK – Broad Street Art Walk. Broad Street, once the home to Charleston’s lawyer community has become the home of a dozen or so art galleries. The lawyers, who make too much money in my opinion, but thank your lucky stars if you know a good one when you need one, have grown out of most of the smaller Broad Street spaces and have moved to towering palaces throughout Charleston. These Broad Street galleries, most members of the French Quarter Gallery Association (started 18 years ago), decided that four art walks a year were not enough so they started presenting art walks every first Friday of the month, so that during some months the French Quarter Gallery Association and Broad Street Gallery Row art walks are happening at the same time and during the month of November, it’s the Gallery Row and the Charleston Fine Art Dealer’s Association sharing a first Friday art walk. It’s quite a gallery community that can host three gallery groups – all in a four square block area.

I see another side track ahead. I almost forgot to mention this, but when I was at Nina Liu and Friends, Liu handed me an old copy of Charleston Arts, Vol. 5, No. 11, our Mar. 1993 issue. I know the copy well. The headline is – “French Quarter Gallery Association Forms”. The article goes on to talk about how the group came together and that their first art walk would take place on May 14 and 15, 1993 (not a first Friday). I say I know it well like I know the history of the FQ. You see we helped the group get started, I designed it’s first logo, I used to layout their invitations and got them printed and distributed them to the galleries and around Charleston. We even ran free ads to promote the art walks for years. So some of you might be a little confused when I said in the previous paragraph that the FQ was only 18 years old.

You see, some folks decided to celebrate the FQ’s 2Oth anniversary a few years back. I didn’t make a big fuss about it then and I won’t now, but I wouldn’t take any part in it. The economy was crashing and they felt they needed a little boost to celebrate – hoping to bring people into the galleries. I wonder if they’ll do it again in 2013 or will they shoot for a 25th anniversary? I’ve told you before – running a gallery and keeping the doors open – is a tough business. And most art communities don’t have to deal with someone who has been around as long as I have and has an archive of accurate records of what took place – and when it took place. Most people writing about the arts today weren’t even here five or ten years ago. Most were still watching the Smurfs 20 years ago. That’s right, I’m old.

Nina Liu wants me to write a book about Carleston’s art community – more like a history of what was going on during the years we’ve been publishing an arts newspaper here. It would make for some interesting reading. A few chapters would be revealing, to say the least, and I might do it – when I retire.  But, until them – a few of you still have time to leave town before the truth is told. If you think I don’t pull any of my punches now – just wait. In Charleston, the truth is stranger than fiction.

Back on the main track. A few months back when we were making the transition from a printed newspaper to an electronic paper I was talking with Jerry Spencer of Spencer Art Galleries on Broad Street. He mentioned that it had been some time since he had seen me or Linda in their gallery, which was true – for good reasons as I have explained, so we definitely wanted to change that. He and his wife Catherine have two gallery spaces, next to each other on Broad – actually South of Broad – it’s a big difference being South of Broad, just read Pat Conroy’s book. They are both gallery owner/artists – which is a trick.

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Outside one of their galleries was a musician playing a guitar. Music has become one of the differences between Gallery Row art walks and FQ art walks. It’s a nice way to stop people walking the sidewalks and get them to wonder what’s going on inside the galleries – if they didn’t know about the event ahead of time. In a tourist town – that happens a lot. People can be out just enjoying walking around the city – the next thing they know – they’re in a discussion about art and maybe having a glass of wine. But not at Spencer Art Gallery. They have made the decision to return the arts walks to – all about art – not tasting wine from gallery to gallery. And, I agree on that. The art walks were becoming an event where the art galleries were throwing a party for Charleston and College of Charleston students. It was becoming less about art and more about a party. That’s changing.

As usual, when viewing lots of art all in a short span of time, I’m drawn to what is different and unusual. It might be a disservice to all the good art I see along the way, but it’s just the way I am and at Spencer Art Gallery I found two artists who’s works stood out. It’s not that they were better than others. All art is subjective to the beholder, but some items catch your attention more than others for one reason or another. The first was a display of fine art prints by Pat Van de Graff. I just don’t see fine art prints much in galleries. You see lots of paintings, crafts, and sculptures, but not that many prints. At least I don’t see them that often. I’m not talking about reproduction prints of original paintings, I’m talking about images made by fine art printing processes. Van de Graff was showing some very nice works and some other folks were in agreement with me as some were being sold – right in front of me.

The other artist who caught my eye was Uriv Petrov, a Russian immigrant who now lives in Myrtle Beach, SC. I’d swear I’ve seen his work before, but I can’t put my finger on it. It will come to me next week in the middle of doing something else.

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My photos again don’t do justice, but the works are very colorful and the imagery and patterns of the works just seem to jump off the canvas into your eyes. They demand attention and the style and technique is different – something hard to pull off in a region full of talented, creative artists. Perhaps his edge is coming from a different environment – a different school of thought when it comes to art. But, this artist was untrained – maybe that was the key.

Anyway, it was a long eventful day, capping off a very long work week for us and we were headed to Myrtle Beach, early the next day, so we headed back to Bonneau.

If Linda and I could break away from our busy schedules to go see some art – so can you. You don’t have to wait for an art walk.

A Trip to the Gibbes, Nina Liu and Friends, and Cone 10 Studios in Charleston, SC

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

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On another bone chilling, rainy Saturday, I headed south toward Charleston, SC, this time bypassing North Charleston to head to one of the Gibbes Museum of Art’s free Community Days. Thank you, Junior League of Charleston.

You ask – don’t I have a membership at the Gibbes, or for that matter a membership at every art museum in the Carolinas? You might also ask – as a member of the press, can’t I get into every art museum in the Carolinas? – don’t they want you there? – don’t they want all the members of the media to come to their museums? Well, the answers are yes and no. You figure it out.

No, first off, getting something for free is one of the greatest feelings in the world. Most art museums in the Carolinas offer some free admission days. I like to see who comes on those days besides me. Secondly, yes, I probably could get into any art museum free, but that takes scheduling, which is hard to work out at times and I didn’t know I could make this trip until Friday evening. Thirdly, I think in our 23 years of covering the visual arts in the Carolinas I’ve earned the cost of any level of membership there is and some. And, finally, I just don’t get to go that much.

Although many people still think as an editor/publisher of an arts newspaper I get to see everything – I don’t, there is not enough time in the world. I see more than most people, but a lot less than many. But, I think lots of other folks should have an art museum membership card on them at all times. In fact they should never leave home without it.

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I arrived at the Gibbes Museum of Art, located at 135 Meeting Street in downtown Charleston, just as the Blessed Sacrament School Children’s Choir was finishing and little girls were “running” everywhere keeping the security people on their toes – no running! Beside parents trying to gather their children together there seemed to be lots of couples of all ages in the galleries. There must be something about a rainy day that attracts couples to art museums. Before long the children were doing art activities and that left the art galleries to the parents, the couples and me.

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In the Main Gallery was the exhibit, Art of Our Time: Selections from the Ulrich Museum of Art, which was a collection of familiar names and not-so-familiar names. On one wall was a group of what I would call the who’s who of the modern art world – Alexander Calder, Andy Warhol, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Joan Miró, and Jacob Lawrence. Looking at the works I wondered what some of these parents might be thinking. A lot of the works looked like the kind of stuff you might see in a children’s art class with the exception of the Warhol. They may have works at home – on the refrigerator – that look a lot like these works. But, then I remembered something William Halsey once said in his later years (80′s) – that he was just getting back to painting child-like with no inhibitions.

Speaking of William Halsey, the Gibbes had a nice display of his works in an area which has been used as a sort of hands-on or education area. It’s now being used as an Artist Spotlight area. A lot of folks in Charleston need to be educated about who William Halsey was and the work he left us. One of the works in this display was once featured on a color cover of Carolina Arts.

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On the other side of the main room were works that looked more like art you see being made today. My favorite work of the day was a set of nine large photographs hung 3 x 3 entitled, Family Tree, by Zhang Huan, a Chinese artist who did a self portrait where he had three traditional Chinese calligraphers make kanji characters on his face – all in one day. They told traditional stories – until his face was totally covered in ink – totally.

After the children’s choir cleared out of the area where they sang, I was able to view the exhibit, J. Henry Fair: Industrial Scars. This exhibit was depressing. It’s a photographic exhibit with bird’s eye views of industrial waste areas around the country and views of the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. They are of areas we would never see driving by these industrial sites. They keep this stuff hidden. Although the images themselves are interesting and often beautiful due to the unusual colors and patterns, they are disturbing and shocking when you discover that one you are looking at is in your own backyard. I mean it – one was about 20 miles from our house.

There is a coal burning power plant right across the lake from us and one of the images was of its ash spillway. It was ugly and frightening to think that this stuff was so close to the lake, but at the same time, I sure was glad that power plant had enough power to keep our home warm during the below-freezing temps of just a week ago. It’s like no one would eat meat if they visited a slaughter house every week. There are trade-offs for everything we do, but you would hope that one day we’d learn to do things better. That’s why this country needs to develop more wind and solar power – and fast.

On that note – I was out of there.

Next, I went over to Nina Liu and Friends gallery at 24 State Street. Nina Liu is celebrating her 25th anniversary in Charleston with an exhibit of her own work. They sent a press release about her exhibit which will be in our Jan. 2011 issue of Carolina Arts, but they didn’t have any images, so I wanted to see if I could get some to use.

Usually a rainy day is not the best day to do any photography, but I knew if she had a spot outside that wasn’t being rained on, the light would be nice and even – at least that was the theory. After the shooting, we talked about what’s going on in Charleston and how fast 25 years seemed to go by. She came to Charleston two years before Linda and I started our first arts newspaper. In fact, her gallery and Lowcountry Artists Ltd. in Charleston are our oldest continuous running advertisers – both since May 1988.

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While I was at Nina Liu’s a man came in looking for a special kind of pottery cup, which Liu didn’t have. We both suggested he check out Charleston Crafts, just around the corner and Cone 10 Studios at 1080B Morrison Drive. But, while he was there he found a small sculpture by Aggie Zed that he liked and purchased it. Not bad for a cold rainy day in Charleston – in this economy.

On my way out of Charleston I thought I might stop by Cone 10 Studios myself. They moved during the summer from Meeting Street to this new location – twice the size of their old gallery/studio. I had not been to the new location since they opened – except very early in the morning – long before they would be open – dropping off papers, so while I was going that way – in the middle of the day – I stopped.

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Their new gallery space is very airy. Good thing too – I got my best photos of the day there. I talked with Betsey Carter and got the 10 cent tour around all the artist’s stations and some of the common areas. I’m always amazed how much space and equipment it takes beyond a spinning wheel, which is all most people think it takes to make pottery. Like most forms of art, if people knew how much equipment and process is involved in making art – they would appreciate it more.

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The other nice thing about their new location is that they have lots of parking spaces. When they were on Meeting Street, you might get lucky if you could find an open space within blocks from their door. Carter says they’re calling this part of Charleston NoMo – North Morrison. A few other art related busineses are also located in the area.

If you haven’t been there yet – go by and see them. Besides being a working studio for over 20 artists, it’s a gallery and a learning center. They hold pottery classes. While I was there a few excited students came by to see works that had just come out of the kiln. What a wonderful feeling to see something you made for the first time – and it looked like work you could have found in the gallery. I’m sure they all don’t turn out that way, but what I saw looked very respectable.

Well, as with all my adventures – I needed to get back home. We have a Jan. 2011 issue to get ready.

A Day of Visual Arts in Charleston, SC, to See Works by Brian Rutenberg, Aldwyth, and More

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Well, the wintery weather continued on Saturday Dec. 12, 2009, so Linda and I traveled to downtown Charleston, SC, to see some exhibits that she and I did not have a chance to see when they first started. Our son decided to skip this trip – two days away from the XBox 360 and his computer was just too much.

Dec. 12 – that’s deadline day at Carolina Arts. How could we be away from our computers on that day? Well, unlike some of the people who wait until the last minute to send us their info – we had already processed all the info we had received and the 12th for us is usually a day of waiting for the 5pm deadline to come – checking e-mail every other hour. We decided our day would be better spent going to see some exhibits before it was too late. And, unfortunately, our Jan. 2010 issue was going to be smaller than issues in 2009. It woudn’t take that long to put together.

Our first stop was the Gibbes Museum of Art in downtown Charleston – after a few trips around the neighborhood looking for a parking space. We both were dying to see the exhibit, Brian Rutenberg: Tidesong, on view in the Gibbes’ Main Gallery through Jan. 10, 2010. There was no better day to go than one of the free admission Community Days, sponsored by the Junior League of Charleston. (Read an article about this exhibit at Carolina Arts at this link.)

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Fading #3

The place was packed with lots of children and parents as there were many school groups performing there that day and many art activities were being offered by the Gibbes – so I guess parents could view the exhibits, but I don’t think the children were letting their parents get too far away from viewing them – either performing or making art. Look mom – look dad – I’m making art! And, who knows, maybe one day that child will become an artist who has their work shown on the walls at the Gibbes. Look at Brian Rutenberg – I’m sure his parents made trips to the Gibbes from Myrtle Beach, SC. And, I’m sure he came to the Gibbes when he was a student at the College of Charleston. He may have wondered if his works would ever be shown there and here they are and man, the walls of the Gibbes come alive with his works – a few were thirteen feet wide. Not many artists can do justice to those walls in the Gibbes’ Main Gallery.

This exhibition was organized by the Jerald Melberg Gallery in Charlotte, NC, where they represent Rutenberg in the Carolinas, if not the Southeast. So, if you’re a fan of Rutenberg’s – that’s where you can see more of his work – that’s where you can buy his work. But, I’m sure if you see something in this exhibit you can’t live without and you’ve been a very good person this year and Santa has you on his A-list – the Gibbes can put you in touch with the gallery or you can just contact them. Here’s a link.

A lot of folks don’t know that works on display by most contemporary artists (meaning a living artist) in Museums can be purchased. As long as they are not already on loan by some owner or in a traveling exhibit, and even then, you can probably buy it – you just may have to wait a year or so before you can take it home.

While we were there gazing at one of the thirteen footers, Pavillion, 2008-09, one of the Gibbes staff members or volunteers came up to us and asked if we liked abstract art. A valid question, but in my mind I’m thinking – do I like abstract art – doesn’t she know who I am? Then when my bubble popped and I came back down to earth – I said yes – we like it a lot. And, of course the next logical question offered is do we know Brian Rutenberg’s work or are we familiar with his work? Again, my mind was spinning like crazy with witty replys, but just answered – yes we are. After a few more questions I introduced ourselves – avoided saying something funny.

A lot of folks don’t like or just don’t get abstract art, so these were questions worth asking to visitors – it gives the staff/volunteer an opportunity to educate the viewer or open them up to looking at the work with a new perspective. She was preachin’ to the choir when it came to us and she soon moved on. But these free Community Days attract a lot of folks who may have never paid to come to the Gibbes or don’t come that often – so it is a teaching opportunity. And, most folks wouldn’t expect that regular members of the Museum or the owners of an arts newspaper would come on a free day, but then they might not realize the poor state of newspaper publishing these days.

By now you might be thinking – when is he going to talk about the art? But again, like with the Ansel Adams’ photographs I talked about in my previous blog entry – I just don’t have the words to describe Rutenberg’s works. All I can say is, if you  have not seen his work before and you like abstract work – go see this exhibit. Even if you’re not a big fan of abstract work – here is an exhibit that could change your mind.

One interesting factor about going to see this exhibit on this particular day was getting to overhear some other people’s comments. One was about the dates on a few of the larger paintings which read (2008-09). They were wondering how long it took Rutenberg to do these works. For one thing Rutenberg works in oils – a slow drying medium. Some of these works had several inches of paint stacked up off the face of the canvas. So I’m sure with works that large and with that much paint on them, they had to be done over a period of time (maybe a year) – giving the layers of colors time to dry. He probably works on several of these large canvases at a time – going back and forth from one to the other. Usually at an exhibit’s reception or opening most of what you hear is about the food and drink and people wondering how much a painting cost and how someone who is listed as having a work on loan could afford it. You can hear conversation about just about anything else but art at a reception. I liked the conversations I was hearing bits and pieces of that day better. It was about the artwork and the artist.

Go see this exhibit, ask questions and listen to what other people are saying – there are no stupid questions in art. Well, sure there are, but we all have to be stupid at some point to learn something. I’m stupid all the time, but I’m getting less stupid all the time too.

If you want to learn more about Brian Rutenberg the Gibbes’ Museum Shop will sell you a copy of, Brian Rutenberg: The Sensation of Place, the first ever major monograph on the artist’s paintings and drawings. A copy was also sitting on a bench in the middle of the Main Gallery for visitors to look through.

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The book

OK, our next stop was at Nina Liu and Friends gallery in Charleston’s French Quarter, an area totally made up for marketing an art walk in Charleston. Nina Liu has an exhibit up called, Creatures Large and Small, on view through Jan. 31, 2010. This exhibit features paintings and ceramics by artists from around the country including works by Pat Benard, John Davis, Diane Gilbert, Jeff Kopish, Susie Miller Simon, Cynthia Tollefsrud, and  Aggie Zed.

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A work by Aggie Zed which may not be in the exhibit

We did more talking here than looking to write about, but if you’re into creatures, you couldn’t do better than the pieces by Aggie Zed. And, for fans of Cynthia Tollefsrud, there were a couple of small paintings there that won’t be available for long – that is if you’re looking to buy – her works sells fast. Plus there are lots of other interesting works in the exhibit, besides all the usual items carried there.

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A work by Cynthis Tollefsrud which may not be in the exhibit

Nina Liu was supposed to be long gone from Charleston by now, she was planning to sell her gallery/home and move down to her new home in Merida, Mexico – of course that was before the real estate market fell apart. She was slowly closing down the gallery operation and then had to start it back up again. If someone wanted to open a gallery in Charleston’s gallery district with a home to live in too – this is a great opportunity. For details by interested parties call 843/722-2724.

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A work by Aggie Zed which may not be in the exhibit

So for all the folks who may have heard last year that Nina Liu and Friends was closing – she’s still open and the gallery is full of all the same interesting work you have always come to expect. But, she won’t mind selling tomorrow if a buyer should come forth, but until then – it’s business as usual.

Last stop on our art tour was the new Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, at The Marion and Wayland H. Cato Jr. Center for the Arts, at the College of Charleston. The first exhibit presented is, Aldwyth: work v. / work n. Collage and Assemblage, 1991-2009, on view through Jan. 9, 2010. This is the first of many events celebrating the School of the Arts’ 20th Anniversary, and it’s the inaugural event in the new building. (You can read an article about this exhibit at this link.

The exhibit curated by Mark Sloan is exactly what we have come to expect from him – an exceptional display of unbelievable art created by someone who is driven to an extreme in their creativity – and on the funky side. And, that is exactly how I would describe the work made by the artist Aldwyth, a woman in her 70′s who lives on St. Helena Island, near Beaufort, SC.

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Casablanca (classic version), 2003—6, collage on Okarawa paper with silk tissue, 78.5″ x 71″*

Carolina Arts first reported on this exhibit when it was at the Ackland Art Museum at UNC – Chapel Hill, in Chapel Hill, NC.

Again, my words would fail to adequately describe this work, but the title says it all – Aldwyth: work v. / work n. Collage and Assemblage. Aldwyth’s creations are – whether large or small – elaborate collages of items assembled – lots of items – eyes, faces, tiny hands, numbers, you name it. The collages tell stories – some are plain to see and others are very deep – too deep for me to figure out.

It is hard to imagine how much time this artist spends searching through books, magazines, manuals – any printed materials looking for images of faces, eyes, objects, phrases – to cut out and assemble into one of her collages. The word work is definitely a verb to this artist.

The large wall collages are massive – filled with information for the eye and brain – almost information overload.

There were a series of cigar boxes which except for the shape of the box, Aldwyth had transformed into little worlds about a certain subject. Every inch of the box is covered with items from other purposes or functions to create another receptacle for a number of related or unrelated objects – it was hard to tell at times. You could spend hours trying to figure out each box.

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Cigar Box Encyclopedia-Letter G, 2000, collage, found objects, various sizes*

One room in the gallery was presented as an installation – a gathering of objects made of numerous other parts and pieces of other objects – all collages and assemblages of more found, cut out, or collected objects. You get the idea that this artist is not satisfied with anything – the way it is.

My overall impression was to just be overwhelmed as to how much time and thought this artist must spend on each of her creations. It’s not hard to believe that this exhibit was being produced over the last 18 years.

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A Walk in the Woods, 1990, things picked up while a visiting artist on Spring Island, SC, 8″ x 7″ x 7″*

I’m not usually a fan of assembly art. I tend to think of it as objects or piles of objects – new or found – as something put together by a person with no other real artistic talents, but in this case you just have to appreciate the artist’s efforts to get her message across – whether you get that message or not. I would consider her a master at her craft. I haven’t seen anything like it in my 20 plus years covering the visual art community in the Carolinas. That’s not saying much on a world scale, over the history of art, but I found it impressive and I’m not easily impressed. In bigger cities and other countries – artists like Aldwyth could be a dime a dozen, but I doubt it – or she wouldn’t have impressed Mark Sloan, who I’m sure has seen much more than I have.

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View of gallery*

No matter what your tastes in art are I would say this is a must see exhibit. In fact, I would say it’s probably a must see – several times exhibit. I hardly feel the time I spent looking at the works shows enough respect to the artist. It’s not as if I feel a responsibility to see all art artists create, but I hope to see this exhibit again. Like a complex movie – the second and third time you see it you pick up so much more information that you missed in the first viewing.

The new gallery space is larger than the old Halsey Gallery, with many new additions, including a reference library, a video viewing room, and all on one level. The reception hall is expansive and I’m sure it will be filled with each new exhibit. But, even on a dreary Saturday afternoon we had to drive around looking for a parking space and ended up a ways from the gallery, but that’s expected in Charleston. There are parking garages not too far down the street from the gallery in several directions.

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View of gallery space*

You can see more images of the gallery space and this exhibit at this link.

The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art will be closed during the College of Charleston holiday break Dec. 26 – Jan. 2, 2010. If you miss it in Charleston, the exhibit will move on to Jepson Center @ The Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, GA, on view from Feb. 10 – May 17, 2010.

On Jan. 9, 2010, from 1-4pm, the College of Charleston’s School of the Arts will celebrate the grand opening of its new building the Marion and Wayland H. Cato Jr. Center for the Arts, 161 Calhoun Street (Calhoun at St. Philip Street). The community is invited to explore all five floors of the $27.2 million building while enjoying sweets and mini-presentations of music, theatre, dance and other events. Guests will also enjoy the final day of an exhibition of works by Aldwyth, in the Halsey Institute. This esteemed artist will give a lecture at 2pm in the Recital Hall of the Simons Center for the Arts, adjacent to the new building.

*All photos of Aldwyth’s works were taken by Rick Rhodes and are courtesy of the artist and the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art.

There was another exhibit up in the reception hall entitled, Illuminating Pages, part of a class project I guess, but it’s one of the problems at the College – they have a habit of not putting too much effort into publicizing internal exhibits – like student work. Just being at the Simons Center every month delivering papers I’ve seen many a student show which I’m sure most of the community was never aware of – offering some good work at times. They should put as much effort into letting people know about these shows as they do the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art exhibits. Like I said earlier, a former C of C art student, Brian Rutenberg, is now being featured at the Gibbes Museum of Art and all over this country. So, you never know who the next super stars of the art world will be.

Well, it was quite a couple of days of viewing art – quite a variety too, but it’s always enjoyable when that happens, as it doesn’t happen that often. When you do an arts newspaper it’s kind of like being a shoemaker – you don’t get to walk around so much.