Friday, April 17, 2009

Living artists in a dead space

A dozen artists, most members of the About Face art group that meets in the basement of the Columbia Museum of Art, have been working in an unused second floor space of the museum for the past month or so. Both the basement and the second floor area (usually dubbed the ‘dead space’) are open and raw with exposed ducts and pipes, concrete floors, flourscent lights. The artists have transformed the second floor. They’ve painted art on walls and pillars, put up a floor-to-ceiling art gallery and created makeshift studios constructed of packing crates.

You can see the art and the artists during the museum SoirĂ©e du Soleil gala Saturday night. The artists will be playing painters of the period that produced art in the exhibition “Turner to Cezanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection, National Museum Wales” which is at the museum. Those artists were mostly French, working in the late 19th and early 20 centuries. You might have heard of some – Monet, Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh.

This is the second year the museum has done a big blowout, high ticket gala. So far about 700 tickets have been sold. At $150 a head, it isn’t cheap, but it certainly should be fun. I had a blast at last year’s gala. But make up your mind – it’s $175 at the door.

(Full disclosure: I am not a member of About Face, but I regularly, even religiously, attend the group’s figure drawing sessions. Otherwise I’d never make art. It’s usually not OK for a journalist to belong to any group he or she might cover. I DO purchase a basic annual membership to the art museum. I also climbed ladders and painted on the pillars upstairs.)

The museum wants 35,000 people to pass through the door before “Turner to Cezanne” is sent along to the next venue in June.

The week the show opened in early March the museum offered a “pay what you wish” evening – pretty good considering the normal price is $15. I figured there would be a big line waiting to get into the museum, but when I arrived shortly before the doors opened at 5 p.m. only about ten people were lined up. I was shocked at the lack of interest considering the buzz about the show. A few weeks ago, the museum did a similar promotion with even less response. The museum has led the horse to water, hell it’s led the horse to whiskey, but…

People are obviously avoiding me because about 17,000 have attended “Turner to Cezanne” which means the 35,000 figure is well within reach. The 35,000 figure was picked because that was the highest attendance for any show at the museum. One big difference is to see the earlier show cost about $5 and to see this one it’s $15. The show is also drawing from all over – 40 percent from others states. I’d say this is a hit.

Public radio on stage

Hours before I dress up and head to the museum Saturday, I’ll be watching the public radio program “What’ya Know.” Yes, watching. The show is making a stop at the Koger Center Saturday morning and it will be broadcast nationally. Nice, but kind of a day late and a dollar short.

“What’ya Know” has been in South Carolina several times, but never in Columbia. And while we’re getting this show, other places around the state are, and have been, bringing in various public radio show and personalities for several years. Ira Glass of “This American Life” was recently in Greenville, as was writer and frequent “TAL” contributor David Sedaris and Garrison Keillor, host of “A Prairie Home Companion.” Most of these shows are sponsored by the SC ETV radio network, but ETV isn’t certain why Columbia hasn’t hosted any before. They do say that the management of The Peace Center in Greenville is very connected always takes an interest in the public radio folks.

Look at the Peace Center calendar some time and you’ll see there’s a lot they’re interested in booking a lot of interesting and varied acts.

The Koger Center, which is owned and operated by USC, isn’t in the booking business. If business comes and space is available, things will come to the Koger Center. But it is a university and a rental facility – the Koger Center doesn’t put on shows. If you’d like to see the Koger Center take an active role in bringing in people like Keillor, Glass and others, you’ll have to find out who at the university is actually in charge of the center. After several years of trying I was never able to.

If you want to know about “Whad’Ya Know” you’ll have a hard time doing so at the Koger Center, which has the program listed simply as “Michael Feldman” on its website. (After a couple emails to the Koger Center, they tell me they’ve changed the listing.)

Even if you don’t know Feldman you probably know Drink Small, the blues player who will be a guest. Also onstage will be Mark Smith, a USC history professor who tastes and smells history in his books.

And of course the ladies will be throwing their undies at my former colleague and “Whad’Ya Know” guest Brad Warthen. Warthen used to be editorial page editor of The State and is creator of the t-shirt that says “Accountable to No One” all state government employees issued upon hiring.

Warthen is now raking in the big bucks with his own blog at

So is another former colleague, and a guy I could really talk to, the fine, funny and first-rate editorial cartoonist Robert Ariail. He’s at

His cartoons would be good on the radio as well, but what does Feldman know? Not much. You?


  1. One of the advantages Peace Center has as a presenter over the Koger Center is the existence of the smaller 400-or-so-seat Gunter Theatre as a venue for chamber music or other things they can bring in that wouldn't fill the big hall. For example, I saw eighth blackbird in that hall and it was an exciting event with that smaller hall pretty full. In Cola we don't have that size venue, which would open up tremendous possibilities for certain kinds of theatre and music that fall somewhere between, oh I don't know, an all-Giacinto-Scelsi program and Cats.

  2. Welcome back Jeffrey!!

    A former coworker.


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