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National Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition

Land of the Living: North Charleston's outdoor sculptures brim with imagination



National Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition
On view through March 28, 2008
Riverfront Park, North Charleston

Riverfront Park's looking a lot prettier these days. It has a new playground and dog park, a sandbox and a performance space all constructed in a funky, contemporary style. Instead of a standard arch or geodesic dome to climb on in the playground, kids have weird knobbly ropes and curved, spinning poles.

It's also populated with the 13 winners of this year's outdoor sculpture competition entries. They'll be up until 2008, weather permitting. Wisely, judge Mary Catherine Johnson has chosen sturdy sculptures for the show, save for two — a metal tree called "Light of 1000 Souls" and the mobile "Hanging Totems" — which are looking a little wonky after the recent thunderstorms. "Souls" is best seen under a dark sky anyway, when the solar panels stored in the sculpture light up LEDs at the top, flashing in pre-programmed patterns.

As with all good art in this medium, their silhouettes and the way they use the space around them is just as important as the structures themselves. "Anchors and Gears" is the toughest and lumpiest of the lot, but because of the way artist Brett Hunter has piled the granite and steel materials on top of each other, it looks organic — a solitary living form bowing under the weight of its own existence.

Compare that to Jeffry Loy's delicate "Light of 1000 Souls." Although it's made of stainless steel, it looks like it could be blown over by a strong sneeze. Loy uses his lights to represent the souls of the recently dead, in line with the Native American belief in luminescent essences. Its large-leafed base makes it look like a giant alien cornstalk.

Liz Vercruysse's "Hanging Totems" maintains the spiritual symbolism with a group of clay and steel objects dangling like a sea-themed mobile. The totems are weighed down by a pendulum point, and some of the objects seem drawn from shell and sea urchin shapes. Like "Anchors and Gears," an organic content is suggested despite the solid materials. Colorful pieces like Adam Walls' "Self Portrait" and Wayne Trapp's "Lunar Landing" help maintain a sense of fun and appeal to a wide age range. "Lunar Landing," made from powder coated steel, even has a sound quotient — if you tap it, it makes a satisfyingly loud hollow clang.

The outdoor sculpture competition and exhibition were organized by the City of North Charleston's Cultural Arts Department, ensconced just down the road from the park at the Old Navy Base. Top prize of $1,000 went to Philip Hathcock for his "Dry Canyon Waterfall," proudly hewn from North Carolina slate. Second place went to Brett Hunter of Alfred, N.Y., for his "Anchors and Gears." An honorable mention went to James Burnes of Sante Fe, N.M., for building a bear from cedar wood and cor-ten steel ("Tashtego"). Loy and Ralph Berger ("Buoy") also got honorable mentions.

None of the artists are local. In the two years this competition's been running, North Charleston hasn't been represented by a native artist. Last year a few strong sculptures came from South Carolinians: Adam Walls, Jason Blalock, and Ted Pickering. This year, only Walls of Spartanburg represents the state with his "Self Portrait."

If this accessible exhibition continues next year, it would be great to see more locals submitting their work. That would foster interest in the contest and the show. Fortunately, at the moment, there's plenty of imaginative stuff in the park to inspire the next batch of winners.

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