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The visual arts scene heats up during Spoleto

Boredom Banished

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Don't be boring. That's what Spoleto Festival founder Gian Carlo Menotti demanded of his staff. And for 35 years, the festival has responded to that challenge with innovative theater, music, dance, and visual art, usually in that order. As traditional festival underdogs, the visual arts offerings seem to fluctuate each year. Some are stronger than others, and festival-goers will remember Nigel Redden's 1991 site-specific Places with a Past; that season was particularly strong for visual arts at Spoleto. This year, a few local galleries (some official, some not) have succeeded in taking Menotti's mantra to heart.

This year's dual exhibition at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, Winter Stories and Kcymaerxthaere, has blurred the lines between fact and fiction, transporting viewers to imaginary worlds. Halsey Director Mark Sloan consistently brings innovative exhibitions to the Lowcountry, encouraging venues like the City Gallery and Redux to follow suit. Under the Radar at the City Gallery has attempted to combat boredom by offering eight emerging artists in a variety of styles from glittery mylar murals to mixed-media photographs with pieces of lace and butterfly wings. The collaborative efforts of judging, curating, and assembling this group of relatively unknown artists deserves kudos, even if it paled in comparison to last year's exhibit, Influence. Redux has continued to introduce innovative art to the local scene, and their renovation efforts will expand studios, classrooms, and gallery space. However, the ongoing construction has left a noticeable void in this year's festival.

Picking up where Redux left off, local artist Phillip Hyman believes that local underground artists have been overlooked during the festival, and he has organized a group of artists to do something about it. This weekend, he hosts LOCALES, a multivenue event ranging from Jimbo's Rock Lounge to the Mill with highlights that include outdoor sculptures, music, comedy, and puppetry. Hyman's dedication to the underground art world always results in out-of-the-ordinary events.

Smith-Killian Fine Art is an unexpected contender for innovation with their exhibit Contemporary Carolinas. This seemingly predictable gallery, always filled with marsh scenes by the talented Betty Anglin-Smith and her brood, has shaken things up with an invitational exhibit. Included in the show are stunning large-scale abstracts by Eva Carter, batiks by Leo Twiggs, and oil paintings by Matt Overend, Lara Spong, Scott Upton, and Carl Blair as well as Smith. It's refreshing to see this gallery open its doors and enhance its offerings with this group of abstract artists.

Lese Corrigan, a long-time Spoleto participant and gallery owner, has built a show around the theme Lowcountry Influence Abstracted, featuring works from eight to 10 artists including Lynn Riding, photographer John Moore, and abstract printmaker William Meisburger. "I usually have a solo show the first part and a group show second, so everyone is seen during Spoleto," Corrigan says. "I try to have the more abstract of the artists showing to appeal to the art connoisseurs visiting for the festival. High-quality nontraditional pieces are given the forefront as there is the concentration of broader minded, connected viewers."

The Footlight Players Theatre has transformed their lobby space into a gallery featuring the work of Piccolo Spoleto poster artist Dee Schenck Rhodes displayed on the walls. Rhodes says her abstract oil paintings explore the edges of landscape, and her interpretation is texturally rich. Another strong visual presence is Ben Ham's photographs at the Martin Gallery. Ham is a well-known favorite whose large-scale black-and-white landscape photographs are taken with a wooden field camera. The usually crowded Broad Street gallery has cleared out space for the exhibit, and stretched across the walls, Ham's images are arresting.

Celebrating their second anniversary, SCOOP is bringing hot and sweaty viewers a burst of cold with Antarctic, their first group show featuring original works of art by each of their artists. This diverse group has interpreted the theme in a wide range of styles, including a group of early explorers in ink and acrylic on glass by Dorothy Netherland and bikini-clad tubers by Joel Parker. At Rebekah Jacob Gallery, Kevin Taylor's tribal Gullah oil paintings and Tim Hussey's provocative mixed-media images are unlike anything else in Charleston. The success of these two galleries show the Lowcountry's growing appreciation of contemporary art.

Gallery Row has decided there is strength in numbers. Made up of roughly 20 galleries on Broad Street, this group of determined artists and gallery owners has created the inaugural Spoleto Soleil, a series of art-inspired events including pottery, sculpture, glass blowing, and painting demonstrations, and lectures to take place every evening during the festival. Many of the artists have been packing up their tents at Marion Square and hustling back to Gallery Row to participate in the nightly demonstrations. Back in their galleries, painting, sharing tips, or pouring wine for onlookers, this is the epitome of visual art in Charleston. Small, dedicated gallery owners, who after a full day in the sun and thick heat of the festival keep their doors open a while longer to let the rest of the world see what's inside.

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