Editor’s Note: Usually I would be posting this at Carolina Arts Unleashed, my blog for doing posts like this, but when we launch a new issue of Carolina Arts, which we did June 1, I usually don’t post on our blogs for five days. However, due to the limited exhibit time of some of these shows – I’m using Carolina Arts News to post this commentary. This is not news – it’s just my opinion, so take it for what it is. And, for the record, I received a press release on Piccolo Spoleto Visual Arts by one of those Constant Contact e-mails, Friday May 30 – a week after the Festival started. Attention ArtFields – don’t look to Piccolo Spoleto for suggestions on how to market your event.
All righty – I checked my weather app on my smart phone and it looked like my only window of opportunity was to get an early start on Saturday, May 31. Our June issue was finally finished, but we would be launching on Sunday and that’s an all day operation.
As I walked out the door at the headquarters of PSMG, on the shores of Lake Moultrie in Bonneau, SC, it started to rain. It had been thundering for about 30 minutes so I just got out in time. Not a good sign, but the closer I got to Charleston the rain was behind me and the skies looked better weather-wise. The highway into Charleston is cluttered with billboards so it’s not a scenic ride. There was even one for a certain Piccolo Spoleto art show – not to be mentioned here. I don’t like billboards – never have.
I have to say this. Coming into Charleston from I-26 on Meeting Street is still a shock to me to see the over-development on this street. It’s like driving through a canyon and it’s only going to get worse.
I found a parking space near Wragg Square where the second Piccolo Spoleto Crafts Show was going on, but I wasn’t attending this day. The Piccolo Spoleto Craft Show is always a top notch show filled with excellent works, but it would be over before I could post this – so I couldn’t help draw people there. I had to make the most of my short time. Thank you – to the folks who left an hour on the meter I found, which with the little bit of change I had on hand would give me two hours to visit the 2014 Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Show in Marion Square Park.
I was in the park by 9:30am – well before it officially opened, but it was already in full gear – as was the Charleston Farmer’s Market, which they share the park with on Saturdays. So there were lots of people in the park – some for the art – some for the Farmer’s Market.
Having attended this show for many years in many different locations, it didn’t take long to run into some folks I knew, but there were lots of new artists that I didn’t know, and they could have been doing the show for a few years or more. I tend to talk with the folks I know to get a good reading of how things are going. Throughout the years this reading never seems to change – some are doing poorly, some OK, while others are doing great, but from year to year it’s like musical chairs. Each year, it’s a different judge and a different audience. Some artists have a faithful following and people come see what they are up to every year. Some years they buy, some years they are just looking. The thing is, they must do well or something draws them back to this place year after year, because no one in their right mind would put themselves through 16 days of questionable weather, heat and humidity, long hours of set up and take down, and the hours of just waiting for someone to take an interest in your art. Not to mention the questions of the general public – the looky lous – who are never interested in buying art, but just like being an art critic for the day.
Wait a minute – I guess in the eyes of the artists – I might fit in that category. But, remember my mission is to get other people to go see art and it’s not my problem if they don’t buy. Besides I own an arts newspaper – I have no money.
My preferred view of Marion Square with Francis Marion looking down
So, why should people go to one of these outdoor shows? After all, Charleston is full of art galleries – all over the city. Well, it’s like going to an outdoor shopping mall. As far as 2-D art goes – you’re going to find it all here – even nudes. So be aware – all you folks who have a hang up about seeing nude folks on canvas or on paper – there are some there – in the park. After all this is a fine art show – of art. Whether it be a veteran of this show or a new first-timer, I’m sure you’ll find some art you like and even some you just might need to buy. And, the artists are there just waiting for a decent conversation about art.
Remember, no one needs to buy art, but some of us just find that sometimes we have to. We’ll give up some necessities to buy art – we just can’t help it. Now don’t you want to be one of those folks?
So where are all my images of art? Well, you see there are 80 booths full of art – art under glass, art inside booths, art in divided sunlight and shade – all a photographer’s nightmare, but I wouldn’t be an editor and publisher of an arts newspaper if I didn’t tell you that the one individual artist who took out an ad in both our May and June issues – sold the work they put in their ad. Besides I’d take pictures of stuff I like and that wouldn’t be fair to everyone. I’ll show you those kind of images later.
I’ll say this, the judge who selected the awards this year took some risks in selecting unusual works – especially small works showing that some good things do come in small packages.
You still have until June 7, 2014, to go see this show. It’s open from 10am-6pm, but they’ll be up early next Saturday again with the Farmer’s Market, and some artists take their time closing up – depending on how many folks are in the park.
The one thing I didn’t plan on this day was parking in metered spots all day. I used up all my change on the first meter. Good thing I know where and how to park free in downtown Charleston. I’m a 40 year veteran of parking in Charleston and early on I paid my dues to the City of Charleston – a lot of dues.
My next stop was to head over to Nina Liu & Friends gallery in the French Quarter area of the downtown. I wanted to check in on the long-running story of Liu trying to sell her building. She moved to Mexico years ago, but a recession got in the way of her selling her building – usually not a problem in downtown Charleston – especially where she is located on State Street. The catch is she would like to sell it to someone who would keep it a gallery and perhaps keep some of her artists, which would be a good deal for anyone in the gallery biz. The gallery represents some great artists. And, before I even entered the door of the gallery, I was looking at many new works by Aggie Zed in one of the gallery’s windows. Zed’s creatures are very popular in the Charleston area. A new shipment had arrived just in time for Spoleto, but they won’t last long. So if you haven’t gotten one or two for your collection – you better hurry on down to that gallery.
Works by Aggie Zed
There was also a collection of Cynthia Tollefsrud’s paintings on display – works from a collector who was now selling these works. I’ve been in that situation and it hurts, but it is sometimes necessary. So, this is a great opportunity for others to add to their collections.
Work by Cynthia Tollefsrud
More works by Cynthia Tollefsrud
There are also some good works by Diana Farfan on hand.
Works by Diana Farfan
Are you beginning to see a pattern yet? All three of these artists offer an unusual take on our world – a little weird, a little naughty, a little twisted. I love the work of all three. Gosh, what does that say about me? Hey, that’s what happens when a mid-western boy from Michigan comes to the South and lives in the Charleston area for 40 years. And they say the South is for moral values. Who says that anyway? Where have they been living?
Oh, that reminds me – you might see some nudity in this gallery too – it’s full of art. Of course the main exhibit on view here is The Last Picture Show, featuring black and white photographs by Michael Johnson, on view through June 30, 2014. Don’t tell anyone but Johnson specializes in capturing Mother Nature – in the nude. And, at times it’s very graphic and seductive. All these works were behind plexiglass – so I have no images.
While Liu and I were chatting about things, we were sitting next to one of Johnson’s works of a canyon from out West from a very high viewpoint. After a while I kept glancing down into the canyon and had the feeling I was high up on one of those ridges looking down. I don’t suffer from vertigo, but I know a few folks who would have been uncomfortable sitting there. Liu and I thought it was kind of nice.
My next stop was the City Gallery at Waterfront Park, which was displaying the 2014 Piccolo Spoleto Juried Art Exhibition, on view through June 8, 2014. But I’m going to save my remarks about this show for last. Don’t start trying to read between the lines – I have my reasons.
My last stop was at Corrigan Gallery on Queen Street. On view here was Look Back, featuring new works by Joe Walters, an artist who lives and works in Charleston, but his works are probably seen more outside of Charleston, all over the country. I’ve always liked Walter’s sculptural works of flora and fauna and his primitive looking drawings or paintings on paper. This exhibit is small, but interesting nonetheless. The gallery itself is small but packed with lots of interesting art you won’t see anywhere else in Charleston. If you stay there long enough looking, you’ll begin to feel like you’re on a treasure hunt discovering more gems – pealing back each visual layer.
Work by Joe Walters
Works by Joe Walters
I didn’t have to peal back any layers to discover some new, large, “abstract” works, just delivered by Gaston Locklear, of Ebb & Flow Art Co-op in the Murrells Inlet area of SC. I’ve seen work by Locklear before and these works were very different – very nice. Like I’ve learned over the years of doing an arts newspaper – you can never tell where an artist will go – so I’ve learned not to judge too much from first impressions or even second ones. And, Corrigan says collectors in Charleston like his new works too. I bet they do. Go check them out while seeing Walter’s exhibit.
Lese Corrigan, the gallery owner and an artist, figured that it had been about a year since my last visit, which isn’t bad figuring the area Carolina Arts covers. There are many galleries that we have featured articles about their exhibits in the paper that I have never stepped foot into – not even when I was delivering papers – a physics problem I don’t think I’ll ever solve.
We at Carolina Arts strive to bring you the news about exhibits taking place in North and South Carolina – at least the ones we know about. No one ever promised we would get to see many of them. And we don’t get to see many, but I’ve seen a lot in our 27 years which brings me to the exhibition at the City Gallery at Waterfront Park, a gallery managed by the City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs.
This gallery space is the City of Charleston’s best and currently their only exhibit space. It’s a very nice space, except that one whole wall of the gallery, on two levels, is glass so guests attending parties there can look out at Charleston’s Waterfront Park and Charleston Harbor. It’s a pretty nice view, but not something a designer would do when creating an art gallery.
I have seen some outstanding exhibits in this space despite its handicap and some where every inch of the space was filled – even in the stairway to the second floor. That never bothered me. And, since the Piccolo Spoleto Festival runs concurrent with the Spoleto Festival USA – a pretty big deal in the art world, you would think a juried show in this space during the festivals, open to all visual artists in SC, would draw a fair number of entries. But not this one. They got less than 150 entries and the juror, local Charleston artist, Linda Fantuzzo, selected 35 of those to be put on display and that restriction may have been placed on her. In fact, that low number was for other reasons.
On the left, work by Laura Liberatore Szweda, and on the right, work by Marge Loudon Moody, selected Best of Show. There’s a lot of space left on this wall.
Now I will say this with all my heart – there is nothing wrong with any of the works on display. I’ve seen some in other exhibits and a few knocked my socks off. They are all worthy of display, and not seeing the rest of the works entered, I will never know if more works were worthy of display, but I would have to think there were some more that could have been included. My overall complaint is in the way the works were displayed and why didn’t this opportunity draw more entries.
Work by Reynier Llanes – my personal favorite from this exhibit.
First off, a good bit of the gallery’s wall space was taken up by displaying four youth art exhibits. These shows should not be in this venue – not with what should be a major fine art show. As you’ll see – some of these works were worthy of being in this juried show – when the artists come of age and they have had a chance to earn their spot in the visual art community. Some of them, although talented, may never create art again and never pursue a career as an artist. So these shows should have been displayed somewhere else.
Work by Julie Dotson, part of the “C.E Williams Collaborative: Reflection” exhibit
Work by Ava Leach, part of the “C.E Williams Collaborative: Reflection” exhibit
Work by Ava Leach, part of the “C.E Williams Collaborative: Reflection” exhibit
Secondly, three major wall spaces were left completely empty and another misused by placing an installation piece sideways against a wall and a back window. This work is only meant to be seen from the front, so it could have been placed fully in front of one of the window walls in the gallery (finally, a good use for them).
A view of some of the empty walls in this exhibit space.
When I asked about the center walls of the gallery not being used I was told that was because the space was also being used as a performance space and they didn’t want people in chairs up against artworks, and – get this – I was also told that placing works on those two central walls might make visitors think those artworks were better or more important than others. A problem I guess others have never experienced in other gallery spaces while hanging shows. Let’s see if those impressive walls are used in the next group exhibit.
Well, these explanations will also sound pretty shallow to one artist whose work was placed in a very unique space in the gallery. For some reason works that represent printmaking, photography and drawing were all placed on one wall – I’m not sure why. Several works on this wall were stacked on top of each other (they were small – so that was OK), but there was one work that couldn’t fit on this wall so it was placed around a corner, up against a window wall – all by itself.
Look to the far left where the wall almost meets the window – around that corner is one work of art.
Now, if the central walls would place too much attention on works shown on them- what did this corner space say about this work on it? I’m not mentioning the artist as I hope by the time you read this they have complained enough and had this disservice corrected.
There was a lot of good art on display and I want you to go see this show, but I hate to spend all this time talking about how it was displayed and how little artists around this state might think of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival or this gallery space. I’m beginning to think I’m channelling Jeffrey Day – complaining about how the old Columbia Museum of Art hadn’t painted the electric socket covers in a while when reviewing an art exhibit in their old building. I used to say when someone walks into a gallery and starts talking about how bad the carpet looks or about holes in the ceiling – there is something wrong with the art on the walls, but there was nothing wrong with the art on these walls.
A lot of artists in the region have been waiting for years to have the Office of Cultural Affairs take this juried show serious – taking it out of the hands of the Charleston Artist Guild and out of the Visitor Center where it used to be displayed. Now that it has moved to a much better space – we get this.
Of course a lot of visual artists in the area are well aware that Charleston is a performing arts town – at least in the City’s mind and where they put their funding and support, so this will be no surprise. They once placed the Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Show on the sides of King Street.
OK, on to another pet peeve I have for juried shows in the greater Charleston area. For some reason when it comes to providing info about artists participating in these shows – organizers don’t seem to think it’s important to provide info on where the artists are from. Do they want viewers to think all these good artists are from the Charleston area? Do they do it so artists from outside the state can get local relatives to front for them by using local addresses – that happens in some shows. What’s wrong with letting us know where they live?
Now for the real kicker of this exhibition. I haven’t mentioned the title of the exhibit. This was the 2014 Piccolo Spoleto Juried Art Exhibition, but the title is Charleston: Cradle of Creativity. If that’s so, what have we become? Some people just seem to be going though the motions of presenting art exhibits. I found no connection with this exhibit and that title.
Enough is enough. Go see this show and see what you think. Maybe I’m just nuts. Maybe I’ve been doing this too long, but I get tired of seeing opportunities wasted.