"When we first opened the gallery, we wanted to flip the system on its end."
So went Robert and Megan Lange's guiding mantra when they opened their gallery Robert Lange Studios (RLS) 10 years ago. To mark the anniversary, the owners have organized Ten, an immense group show featuring over 70 works from more than 20 artists. Such a large show serves to not only celebrate RLS's first decade, but it reaffirms the Langes' commitment to the Charleston art community and elucidates their ideals for running an art gallery.
When they set out to open RLS, the Langes were eager to contribute to Charleston's small, yet flowering, art scene. Exhibition spaces like Redux Contemporary Art Center and the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, which generally focused on out-of-town artists, existed, but the Langes saw an opportunity to establish a platform for the many talented artists in the area. The timing was auspicious. "It seemed as though we were witnessing the birth of a progressive movement in the works. It only seemed natural that the [art] scene would continue to grow and evolve," Robert says.
After spending time in Boston, Providence, and New York, the Langes knew exactly what they wanted to achieve — and particular aspects to avoid — with their own gallery when they arrived in Charleston. Eschewing a conventional blue-chip contemporary art model, they adopted a creativity first, business second mentality. "We hoped that if we saw the gallery much like a library and made our goal to propel creativity, then hopefully the business end of it would produce enough sales that we could continue to meet our goal," Robert says.
Ten years later, this model seems to be thriving — the gallery has organized over 90 shows, expanded into a 6,000-square-foot exhibition space, developed an artist-in-residence program, and held events including concerts, book signings, and fashion shows.
The gallery's success over the years has allowed them to work with more and more artists, but it's also paved the way for other significant collaborations, including their current partnership with the new, boutique art hotel the Vendue. The Langes act as curators for the Vendue, organizing biannual group art shows featuring local, national, and international artists.
In addition to putting creativity first, the Langes have also striven to make RLS a democratic space. "When we made the decision to open a gallery, we knew we wanted it to feel democratic, allowing every person who walked through the door to feel equal and inspired by what they saw," says Robert.
This egalitarian position pervades their February exhibition, Ten. The Langes asked each of their invited artists to submit a work of the same size — 10 inches by 10 inches — creating a show that, rather than focus on any artist in particular, offers an expansive group of works collectively pointing to the ethos of the gallery. The small format of each work also makes them more accessible for new collectors. Ten percent of the proceeds from this show will be used to create a scholarship for graduating seniors of the College of Charleston, helping to cover art materials after they graduate, provided they stay in Charleston.
In what is a very strong show overall, several pieces stand out. Mia Bergeron's "Benevolent" (2014), juxtaposes a delicately composed portrait of a woman with a brashly-painted, highly gestural abstracted background. The initially cool palette is belied by strokes of vivid color arranged throughout the composition. "The Dollhouse" series of pieces by Joshua Flint are also visually and conceptually stimulating — each portrays a young girl painted on top of impressionistic city nightscapes. Here, Flint portrays the girl playing with the city as if it were a dollhouse, disjoining space and time within each composition. Toronto-based artist Sara Golish's portraits of black women on decorative gold-leaf backgrounds canvases are aesthetically scintillating — the canvases are rotated 45 degrees, creating a subtle shift that makes the works even more interesting.
A familiar aesthetic in the show is that of Nathan Durfee's works. Durfee's style is continually experimental, as he is always considering new techniques and styles within his work. For Durfee, Robert Lange Studios has been a good fit. "Seven years ago, they took a risk in adding me to their roster, and I've been forever grateful," he says. "The Langes always think positive, so I'd like to say they 'encourage' me instead of 'challenge' me."