For many artists, achieving gallery representation is a milestone in their careers, while others would rather take care of the exhibiting themselves. A growing number of local artists are planning or taking part in underground exhibits in restaurants, coffeeshops, and alleyways. Typically organized by artists for artists, these shows represent some of the most exciting new talents in Charleston's scene.
Artist Lisa Abernathy, along with her husband Seth Corts, has curated several art shows at Oak Barrel Tavern and Muddy Waters (now Local) in West Ashley. She's also shown works in non-traditional venues like Artist & Craftsman, the parking lot of Read Brothers, a barn on Cannon Street, Lance Hall at Circular Congregational Church, and festivals.
"Non-traditional venues invite people to reinvent how they perceive art and the spaces in which it can be held," Abernathy says. "Galleries and museums are illuminating sites, but a coffee shop or bar can be more comfortable to someone who is new to the art world. The best part is our shows often stay up for a month and get exposure to anyone who wanders in for a cocktail or a latte — people who would often never know about the artists otherwise."
Phillip Hyman mostly sticks to North Charleston for his frequent shows. "I have taken 13 houses scheduled to be demolished and turned them into art exhibits with the help of other artists, and I've turned alleyways downtown and in North Charleston into venues for graffiti, sculptures, artwork, music, and shadow puppets," he says of his efforts over the years. His main inspiration has been to help new artists find their footing — something he wishes he'd had as a youngster.
"People tell me we need a show, I just do it," Hyman says of hosting art shows. "Try to make it about the art first, not about the scene. Always — within reason — do what you say you will do. This is a rare thing. People need this consistency. Go to every show you can so you can educate yourself on what's going on in the scene and worldwide. Support local art shows to find like minds."
To plan your own show, Abernathy recommends first deciding on a general theme for it and then inviting the artists you'd like to participate. Find a venue (preferably one that doesn't take a high commission), then decide on details — the name of the show, date, time, etc. Abernathy says the hardest part is getting the marketing materials together. "Then comes the final stretch of detail, detail, detail," she says. "Following up with everyone, hanging the art, making food, handling sales, and saying thank you."
Abernathy offers these tips for art show newbies:
• Give adequate time for planning.
• Stick to your vision for the event. Don't be afraid to do something unconventional.
• Focus on quality in all aspects of the event.
• Choose participants who are reliable and enthusiastic.
• Develop a timeline and build a little cushion into it.
• Get the word out.