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52.5 Records thumbs its nose at propriety

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There's only one thing better than a new record store, and that's an old one revamped and reopened, with live music acts and subversive art on the walls. 52.5 Records has only been occupying its new location at 561 King St. for four weeks, but it's already played host to a bunch of bands and has become a temporary haven for local graffiti art.

"Graffiti" describes any kind of words or drawings on a wall. If someone doesn't want it on that wall, it's an act of defacement. Scrawl it on a canvas and it's bona fide art. As HBO's Rome viewers know, graffiti's been around since ancient times, ranging from crude scribbling — such as political slogans insulting opponents — to ornate images. Since then, graffiti's standing has improved about as much as that of mudslinging politicians. But a recent reappraisal of the form, helped along by increasingly ornate work by celebrated underground artists like Banksy, has helped to make graffiti respectable while it retains its antiestablishment cred.

Thanks to the City of Charleston's recent crackdown on sniping, the artists in 52.5's Graffiti show must be on its Most Wanted list. Public Enemy No. 1 is Proton, whose recurring Mario Bros motif has been sighted all over town. In one piece on display, Proton gives the plumbers opposing hues — Luigi almost grayscale, Mario more colorful — to create an attention-grabbing picture full of carefully balanced contrasts. Using the simple pop culture symbol as an insignia as well as a subject, Proton has included another strong piece where Mario goes solo, his green-skinned form standing out from a stark black background.

In their gusto to nab the art perps, the cops probably also have an APB out for Ishmael, whose favorite icon, Charlie Chaplin, makes a shady cameo here. There's also one of Ishmael's simian skulls leering across another contribution.

Alongside photographic evidence of his large-scale exterior work, Egroe provides variations on his tag for this exhibition — even one that's "Blureeee." Leder gives the metallic silver lettering of his own signature a multidimensional effect, stripping away a black background to reveal more letters underneath. John Pundt includes his own trademark creature (which looks like the bastard son of a demonic Pac Man) and juxtaposes angelic images with a pile of skulls.

Last time Pundt was keeping such talented company, he was part of the Hot Pressed Poster Fest at Redux. Now the Contemporary Art Center is focusing on a solo show by Young Kim; as if to show that they're just as good at exhibiting condiments as the Halsey, Redux has covered its own floor with salt portraits (executive director Seth Curcio swears that any similarities to the Halsey's Labyrinth is purely coincidental). Using a process similar to screen printing, Kim portrays people of all ages looking up from the floor, with a bowl placed below each one. Each bowl contains a different ingredient essential to human existence, such as wheat or oil.

Like artist Motoi Yamamoto's Labyrinth installation at the Addlestone Library (which is part of the Halsey's current 10-artist, five-site show Force of Nature), Kim's work at Redux is sophisticated, dainty, and precariously placed. One wrong shuffle from a visitor and his portraits are prone to crumble. Luckily, that complements the theme of mortality that the artist is exploring, and tiny animal tracks and drops of water have given the salty subjects some extra character.

For years, Redux has proved that live music and progressive art are a good mix. With plans for another graffiti-themed show in the near future, 52.5 is following that up with its paintings juxtaposed with T-shirts and movie posters. It proves once again that the atmosphere of a venue has a great sway over how art's received.

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