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VISUAL ARTS ‌ Visual Data

A pair of local exhibitions appeal to both the head and the heart

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Blake Hurt created an original software program that reconfigures raw data about people's lives into digital portraits, including "East Meets West" and "Ted's Got Game"
  • Blake Hurt created an original software program that reconfigures raw data about people's lives into digital portraits, including "East Meets West" and "Ted's Got Game"

There are two kinds of art galleries in Charleston -- the kind that takes great care over the way the artworks complement each other, and the kind that throws in everything with the kitchen sink. The funny thing is that visitors will find their own corresponding connections between vastly different works, even if it's just on a subconscious level.

At Redux Contemporary Art Center on St. Philip Street, the confluence of ideas is often more important than, say, a complementary color scheme. This encourages the viewer to look at the exhibition on a more cerebral level, not just an emotional one. Of course, the best shows grab on both levels.

This week Redux is showcasing two artists who share a few common starting points and ideas. Todd McDonald and Blake Hurt are both from the Southeast and produce progressive work. They share a fascination with structure and sociology. But their art's physical differences outweigh the thematic similarities.

Painter McDonald's concerns are global in scale, as is apparent in the hyper-real architecture-based structure he's created for Redux's New Structures. The real attraction comes from seeing the marriage of McDonald's carefully developed concept and the outcome, an encapsulation of corporate greed and consumerism run riot.

Blake Hurt's digital work requires even more careful preparation and data sifting. He's created an original software program for this piece, which uses raw information about people's lives and reconfigures it into an uncanny image of the subject. As gallery director Seth Curcio puts it, Hurt's a "21st century Chuck Close" -- you can see specific details when you're near the artwork, and when you back away the portrait is accentuated. It's worth visiting the exhibition to appreciate the amount of data put into each piece, and also to see art with congruous themes and a vastly dissimilar outcome.

Curcio hopes that Hurt, who's currently in Japan talking at a new media and computer convention, will be able to visit Redux before New Structures ends on March 3. The artist would give a lecture on how he wrote his program and the forward-thinking methods he's used to update traditional portraiture. More than ever, we're all made up of the digital tools we work with every day, the account numbers we access, and the information we use. No wonder the theft of our computerized data is referred to as stealing our identity.

Curcio was showing his own work around town long before he took the helm at Redux. One of the best places to see his work at the moment is the relatively new Modernisme in West Ashley's Avondale area. Kristy Cifuentes opened the gallery at 21 Magnolia Road, next to Al di La, last year, peppering the regular running of the gallery with receptions and live music events. Curcio keeps good, contemporary company in Modernisme (pronounced moderneezmay, says Cifuentes), where the works on view share more visual parallels than conceptual ones in a bright white space. You can find pieces by Cifuentes, Kevin Hoth, Dorothy Netherland, Julie Henson, and others there, as well as a couple of paintings by Toby Penney.

"She's one of my most recognized artists," says Cifuentes, and she should be -- Penney's been nationally known for several years, with a collaborative piece in MOMA's permanent collection. Cifuentes has seen her pal Penney's work change and grow, particularly over the past couple of years. Penney partially chalks that up to "a lot of transition" in her life, evident in her recent work.

"Now I've found my rhythm," says the artist from her tranquil mid-Tennessee studio. "I paint every day, and in the last year or so I've also been sculpting and printing. I'm doing exactly what I want to do."

Brand-new examples of Penney's prolific output, which marries abstract painting with experimental monotypes and lumpy, faintly disquieting sculpture, will be on view in Modernisme's Recent Developments exhibit, opening on Sat. Feb. 3.

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