Monday, June 15, 2009

The (art) year that was

This morning (both too early and too late) while out picking blackberries (damn it’s already hot and now I’m bleeding) the wonderful mix of pleasure and pain (don’t get any ideas) naturally made me think of the art year that just ended.
Frankly, it’s a little hazy, but I’ve been out in the sun and I’ve been through a couple decades of these art years. (It has also been a very strange spring, having lost my job and broken my car.)
Let’s see what I can dredge up with only three cups of coffee. If you’re had more coffee than this and want to add to my list or take me to task please do. (There’s a place for comments at the end of this.)
The two big deals this year were about the big deals in Columbia: The Columbia Museum of Art and the S.C. Philharmonic. Both entered this dismal economic year with big plans. The museum was spending a half a million on the exhibition “Turner to Cézanne” and the Philharmonic had a new music director, Morihiko Nakahara, (left) leading his first season.
The museum set all- time attendance and membership records and attracted a ton of new people. (You may already know that I don’t think the show was very good, but I have to say it here for the record. You can find full of it in archives of The State newspaper. It ran March 10.) That wasn't the only thing the museum did either - it put together a beautiful exhibition of its recently expanded Asian art collection.
The philharmonic was energized to say the least. The concerts were mostly very good, with some of the rough spots to be expected as a new conductor and the other musicians learning about one another. What really counted though was the final concert when the orchestra played Gustav Mahler and Philip Glass and played both very well. But for me what almost exciting as the music was that I ran into a lot of younger people (say 30s and younger) who were at the Philharmonic for the first time – and they loved the concert.
The S.C. State Museum has put together another great retrospective by the South Carolina a native. The show covers 55 years of the career of Robert Courtright, a native of Sumter who has spent most of his life in France, New York and Edisto Island. The show is a tremendous tribute to the artist who has too long been overlooked.
A couple other great visual arts shows popped up recently in Charleston.
“Contemporary Charleston” focuses on five fairly young artists in depth. The art is good, the show well thought out and displayed.
Another is “Prop Master” (left) at the Gibbes Museum of Art. This installation by Juan Logan and Susan Harbidge Page uses the museum collection to explore issues of class, gender and race. My favorite part is the long line of portraits of people with famous Charleston names like Manigault, Pinckney and Middleton. All the people are black.
One of the biggest events this year was opening of the 701 Center for the Contemporary Art with an exhibition based on textiles, appropriate since it is in the former community center for the Olympia Mill Village.
The center has so had three exhibitions, including two by artists who spent several months living and working in the center. While the opening show by a group of artists was strong, I’ve been under whelmed by the exhibitions that followed.
The center suffers from a few problems, most of which aren’t its fault.
This is a tough time to start any kind of art endeavor. (Don’t I know it.)
The center is in a building that once housed the doomed 701 Gallery and many people still think of it in those terms. The 701 Center for Contemporary Art is also not 701 Whaley although it is in that building. Just because an art-related event takes place in the building doesn’t mean it is part of the center’s art program. While the center might benefit from some of those events downstairs (and they've attracted many people) when those events include an erotic art show that isn’t very erotic and a drunken MC at a fashion show that doesn’t help the center (or 701 Whaley) much.
I wish I could say there were all kinds of smaller exhibitions, at commercial galleries, at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios, the USC Art Department Gallery and so on that I was jazzed about, but I can’t.
The best exhibitions at the art department gallery continue to be those by graduate students and are only up for three to five days, jammed in at the end of the year.
Of all the grad student shows the best one was not at the department, but at Gallery 80808 by Leslie Hinton and her crazy, colorful, happy and sad world. (That's me, knocked out by it.)
“Perceptual Painters” at City Art Gallery is the only show at a commercial gallery I can remember.

If I can barely remember any plays I saw this year, what does that mean? Did I not see all that much? True. Were the plays and productions just not that memorable? True. Is my memory failing? I don’t recall.
Elephant’s Graveyard,” the most recently play at Trustus, was a unique work director with his usual good eye and hand by Robert Richmond. Still, the cast was uneven and it’s a very short show.
The season at Theatre South Carolina at USC was a bit underwhelming to me, but I really loved “Fen,” set on British farms in the 1970s, but feeling more like medieval times.

Going to local dance performances isn’t at the top of my list and I’ll try to do better next year. Some of the smaller things, like the performances at 701 CCA, I heard good thing about. One thing that kept me away from those were the high ticket prices.
I saw a terrible show (well half a show since I didn’t last past intermission) by the Power Company and then a pretty good show that needed some editing. The annual Life Chance evening by the Columbia Classical Ballet was a of old and new(er) works. I’m a fan of modern and contemporary dance (and was have been pleasantly surprised at the Classical Ballets offerings in this area), but the excerpts from the old works, danced as well as they were, may eventually convert me.
As usual, I didn’t make it to the Columbia City Ballet’s various entertainments, but promise to do better next year. Depending on who you talked to the “Hootie” ballet was either fun and pretty good or a disaster. The City Ballet has a tendency to split folks right down the middle.
The USC Dance Company did a great program in the spring. The highlight for me was the new work "Metastasis" by choreographer Ivan Pulinkala. For the first time ever (on vacation) I missed the visit by the dancers from the New York City Ballet.
One thing that has greatly improved is the quality of the student-dominated audiences at the performances. On the other hand, I’m still trying to figure out the exact function of the USC dance program. The key word being "exact."

The Spoleto Festival didn’t completely bowl me over this year. Maybe with 17 performances in six days I didn’t do enough. Still some very good concerts, and the chamber music was better than usual, one great play and a few other things. I’ve written so much about the festival I don’t want to bore you. If you want more details you can find them in the May stories on this site.
(left, retiring chamber music series director Charles Wadsworth and his replacement Geoff Nuttall.)

I go to so many concerts, it’s kind of hard to keep them all straight. And so many of them are so good (or maybe I just understand classical music so little) that it’s hard to pick favorites.
The name and aim of the Chamber Innovista series at the USC School of Music is all too unclear, but when the concerts are like the last one, with works by Andre Mehmari, Silvestre Revultas and John Cheetham played expertly, it doesn’t matter.
The Southern Exposure series was abbreviated this year with three concerts, all good, but the late one by Music From Copland House playing music by Sebastian Currier, Derek Bermel and of course, Aaron Copland, was way up there.
I was also blow away (bad pun intended) by new music school faculty member Jennifer Parker-Harley’s concert. And I don’t really like flutes. Well, didn’t anyway. And way up on my list was USC faculty member Charles Fugo performing Beethoven’s "Diabelli Variations."
Last week Christopher Taylor played “The People United Shall Never Be Defeated” by Frederic Rzewski (complex, beautiful at times, stirring) back to back with Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” Thursday night at the Southeastern Piano Festival: an stunning way to wrap up the arts season.

Since we’re on USC here, one of the most important art developments of the year was Harris Pastides becoming president. He and his wife Patricia have been involved in the arts here and both their children work in the arts. If he can ever get out from under this economy that’s crushing the university (and the rest of us) I think we can hope for great things.



  1. Go Carolina's your birthday....

  2. Hi Jeffrey -- I think the exact function of the USC Dance program that you're looking for is "education." USC offers two Bachelors of Arts options for undergrad students: a concentration in performance and choreography and a concentration in education. It should also be noted that USC has one of the most prestigious faculty line ups in the country, bringing in world renown choreographers to work with their students, many of whom have also come from highly selective programs and professional companies. If you'd like more information about the program, visit the site at


  3. Happy birthday and keep up the good work!

  4. Love the blog!
    Where did you find the blackberry bushes?!

  5. The berries are beneath the power lines at the end of my street. You can only pick for 30 minutes at a time or you'll get a brain tumor.

  6. Jeffrey,
    I am so excited about your blog, because it is really going to be great. I am forwarding you this press release and will be sending you a lot more material closer to when the season kicks in. We definitely want to advertise on your blog site as well. Skot Garrick is no longer with us. We are going to be beginning our search for a new Marketing Director in mid August. Also, I am going to be sending a press release soon about my new television show on Wach Fox 57. It is called Arts Wach with William and will start airing on July 2nd. It is supposed to air every Thursday morning at 7am and 8 am, and hopefully eventually at 10pm. You will be getting an update about all that soon. All my very best!!
    William Starrett

    Columbia City Ballet Reports
    Record-Breaking Ticket Sales and
    Major Debt Reduction

    COLUMBIA, SC— Columbia City Ballet completed its 2008-2009 season with the Hootie & the Blowfish Ballet in early April, showing increases in Koger Center ticket sales of over $118,000 from the previous season, according to Finance Director Pat Freeman.
    Ticket sales for all Koger Center performances, which included Dracula: Ballet With a Bite, Nutcracker, Off the Wall & Onto the Stage: Dancing the Art of Jonathan Green, Don Quixote and The Hootie & the Blowfish Ballet, increased by 20.2 % over the previous season. Additionally, Columbia City Ballet reduced operating expenses and came in under budget expense projections by more than $55,000. Long-term debt was paid down by over $80,000, which satisfies all the expenses affiliated with the original 2005 Off the Wall & Onto the Stage: Dancing the Art of Jonathan Green ballet.
    Opening the season in October, Dracula: Ballet With a Bite earned its highest ticket sales in five years and exceeded projected returns by 12%. The Educational Outreach student discount program, offering high school and college students tickets for just $10 on Thursday, October 29th proved to be an enormous success, with student sales accounting for a third of all tickets sold that evening.
    Nutcracker brought holiday magic to the Capital City for two weekends in December, with tickets sales proving the highest in twelve years and showing a 4% increase over the previous season.
    Columbia City Ballet’s 2009 – 2010 season will be Dracula: Ballet With a Bite performed on October 29th – 31st, Nutcracker performed December 11th – 14th and 18th – 20th, Cleopatra on February 5th and 6th, and the world premiere of The Little Mermaid on March 12th and 13th. Season memberships for Columbia City Ballet’s 2009-2010 season are now available. For membership information, call (803) 799-7605 or (800) 899-7408.


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