Despite its two floors of wide white spaces and inviting, broad glass doors, the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art is like the reclusive great uncle in Charleston's inbred family of local galleries. Tucked away in the College of Charleston's Simons Center for the Arts, it's been doing its best to get noticed recently, hosting weekly artists' lectures, prepping an ambitious new show, and planning a move to a new, larger location.
The free lectures are a great way to get inside an artist's head and derive some extra pleasure from their work. Over the past few weeks, three contributors to the Halsey's current faculty exhibition — Erik Johnson, Yvette Dede, and Sharon Lacey — have each taken a spin around the gallery. Next up is Lynne Riding, who'll be discussing the transition from her earlier, traditional work to the abstracted art she makes today.
Before the corpse of the Recent Works show is even cold, its successor is being warmed up. Force of Nature doesn't officially start until Oct. 7, but this is no ordinary exhibition. Four years in the planning, it's an environmentally-based, site-specific, multimedia miasma developed by Halsey Director and Senior Curator Mark Sloan and Nature co-curator Brad Thomas.
Ten progressive Japanese artists will participate in the show, which is spread over seven different Carolinian institutions, including UNC Charlotte and the Clemson Architecture Center in downtown Charleston. The two artists who'll be based at the Halsey both have an intriguing way of combining past art forms with their contemporary sensibilities; Noriko Ambe carves paper pages to create "book sculptures" and creates installations that use the natural environment. Motoi Yamamoto is a salt artist, making intricate, maze-like patterns with the versatile condiment. (Habitual sneezers are urged to blow their noses before they enter the gallery.)
If you don't fancy traveling to, say, Rock Hill to view Winthrop's selection of mechanical "wind instruments" (by Rikuo Ueda) and art on copper disks (by Yumiko Yamazaki), don't despair. All the installations and their construction are documented on a user-friendly preview website complete with a blog and a dedicated Flickr page, reinforcing the marriage of ancient techniques and modern forms of communication.
If the Halsey gang have their way, we should be able to sample Force of Nature's electronic leftovers when the gallery moves to the Marion and Wayland H. Cato Jr. Center for the Arts, due for completion next door to the Simons Center in 2008. A media room will include a computer with access to the Institute's website, as well as any videos that accompany future exhibitions. A wealth of extra elbow room — twice the amount they have now, spread out over the new facility's ground floor — will also accommodate a smaller, more intimate space with lower ceilings and hardwood floors, plus a library with supplementary literature.
Best of all, the curators hope to commission two artists to provide furniture and lighting for the rooms. If everything comes together as planned, this reclusive uncle may well become a favorite.