Monday, August 31, 2009

Faculty exhibition a big mess for everyone

I’m trying to determine who should be the most embarrassed about the University of South Carolina art department exhibition. There's the McKissick Museum, where the show is on display; the art department which isn’t very engaged in this excellent exhibition opportunity; and the university which should be chagrined at is being represented in such an unflattering and public manner.

That said, both the museum and the art department are in a tough spot with this every- two-year show. The museum has little control over what’s submitted. And while it doesn’t appear that the artists spent much time considering what they would put in the show, why should they when they can only have one piece in the show and have no control over what the other artists submit?

The generically-title “Biennial Department of Art Faculty Exhibition” consists of about 20 fairly recent pieces most in traditional mediums of painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture along with two videos.

Given that the museum and art department have two years to create this exhibition, it’s hard to understand why it is so pedestrian. Shouldn’t the museum come up with some unified theme for the show? Shouldn’t the artists create specific pieces for this show? And shouldn’t there be a range of work that shows everything the department is about?

By and large the art is fine, but nothing to get excited about or worth making a special trip to see.

A few works rise above the rest such as Pam Bower’s funny and disturbing painting of a pig head and Marius Valdes’ laugh-out-loud image of colored eggs held captive. (Upper left) Ann
Hubbard’s abstract oil stick paintings are always well crafted and the one in this show, “Time Channel,” is particularly good. The surface is thick and slick and the imagery blends the abstract, and rather otherworldly, with a landscape reference. You’d be hard-pressed not to be impressed and slightly disturbed by David Voros’ “Icarus,” (left) a nearly-life sized man flying horizontally across a black background. (The museum was unable to provide images of all but one of these works. It also has the incorrect dates for the show listed on its website.)

It’s not often you get to wear 3-D glasses in an art gallery, but that’s what Simon Tarr’s intentionally-disorienting film asks you to do. But 3D movies have the same problem they did when “Bwana Devil” hit the big screen back in 1952 – you have to wear those stupid glasses and it still doesn’t look that good. The other cinematic experience is the public-service documentary “Why We Smoke” by Susan Hogue. It’s unimaginative, providing no new information or unique viewpoints and is poorly constructed in every sense.

Several artists have managed to sneak in more than one piece by saying a group of works is actually one piece. I don’t buy it, but I’m glad to see more than one piece by an artist.

With only one work per artist it’s hard to get a real sense of the artist’ overall quality or concerns. I’ve seen many pieces and shows by a lot of these artists over a long period – but that doesn’t do a normal museum visitor much good. These artists are better than this exhibition shows. I’m assuming that any art department faculty member who wants to be in the show can, but four or five are missing.

One has to sympathize with the museum staff. This is a show that somewhere along the line the museum agreed to do as a service to the art department, but isn’t a priority. For the artists it looks like both an entitlement and an obligation. Considering that, everyone does about as well as they can, but you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. (Although in the case of Bowers’ painting, a sow’s ear is much nicer than a silk purse.)

This exhibition should be THE showcase for the art department and the university – the place where people can see the best the department has to offer. Someone – the museum, the art department, the university- needs to make this show a priority or make it disappear.
But it won't soon disappear - it's up until Jan. 9.


  1. The Art Department faculty, first of all, consists of more than art makers. The art making faculty produce art for exhibition in local, regional, national, and international contexts--the latter-most being the most prestigious and important for their careers. That is why the idea that they would produce art specifically for the McKissick Museum's show is ridiculous. The artists submit what they have--things that are finished but not already engaged in an exhibition elsewhere. Could the McKissick jury the show? Yes. Would the faculty submit their nationally and internationally renowned work to a local jury? Probably not, and for good reason. The exhibition, within the scheme of university life, is meant to be a sample of faculty achievement--the equivalent of a publication highlighting faculty research. No other faculty member would cater their research and publications to a single university-wide theme. So why should the artists? The exhibition is like a puff piece for the faculty, not the kind of thing that is highly valued in a university career for either the McKissick or the artists. But it is still nice to have, even if only for ourselves.

  2. I do not completely disagree.But why should a university museum be engaged in creating 'puff pieces"?

  3. I agree with some of what you said, especially about the lack of engagement on the part of the faculty. If memory serves well, the McKissick once hosted a biennual student art show which I thought was MUCH better. Students provided amazing works so that they could start to carve a niche for themselves in the art world, and often the pieces could be quite bold and daring. You really never knew what you would see from one year to the next. Would really like to see that come back there.

    That being said, I think that visitors should be encouraged to see the exhibit for themselves. Let us also remember that Columbia, South Carolina is not exactly a "hotbed" for the arts scene. For artists around the area, it is hard to get people to come out and enjoy the arts in a city that struggles in supporting it. Even if the show is bad to critical standards such as yours, there should never be so much criticism that it keeps people away from walking in the doors to see the arts in the first place. In a city that needs more art support would it not be better to at least state your opinion and encourage the reader to see an exhibit or art show for themselves, instead of verbally tearing down each art show that comes up? It seems your art criticism is actually counterintuitive to the promotion of the arts scene in Columbia. This is not New York City where a plethora of art is available.

    Columbia needs more art SUPPORT, not bashing. I think the arts in Columbia gets enough of that from people who don't respect or understand art in the first place. Please do not think that I feel you should write something glowing on something that is not, I just simply think you should do more to encourage people to see the arts and decide for themselves even if you don't like the exhibition or art show yourself. (which seems to be with most things you write on.)

  4. "...I just simply think you should do more to encourage people to see the arts and decide for themselves even if you don't like the exhibition or art show yourself."

    Isn't the purpose of a blog to give the blogger a venue to post your opinions and viewpoints? I see nothing wrong with Day stating his opinions on an artwork or show. A blog doesn’t come with an editor to make the written word more appealing to the publisher’s stance, endorsements, sponsorships, or advertisers.
    Reading his detailed blogs and concise opinions only makes me more interested in seeing the subject for myself. Just because Columbia needs a better arts community doesn’t mean one should have an opinion about it.

  5. At the risk of sounding defensive, I'd say that anyone who wishes to take me to task for "making things worse' for the arts should look at all the things I've written. Overall it's pretty darned balanced. I've been doing this too long to ask stupid questions like this, "But where the heck were the comments when I wrote three very positive reviews just a few days ago."
    (I'd also suggest that folks sign their comments)

  6. I need to clarify some things from my earlier post. First, please do not think I am slamming your comments and criticisms on your blog. In fact, I am quite happy you have a blog, especially as it allows people to post additional comments. Many of your comments I actually agree with. However, having been involved in the Columbia arts scene for over ten years and working with various galleries and museums, I have seen the rolling of the eyes and sighs many in those institutions make about your criticisms, largely because they have come to expect the news to be negative and in locations the general public can read to learn about what is going on with the arts in Columbia. Are all of them negative? Definitely not. But many have been, and that can be detrimental to those who work in galleries and museums.

    Knowing that your blog is read primarily by those of us already heavily involved in the art scene here in Columbia, I find that it is the perfect place to listen to your reviews. As mentioned earlier, your assesment of the exhitbition at McKissick was pretty much how I see it as well.

    I guess my criticism stems more from how you once wrote where the majority of your readers knew little or nothing about the arts. So many times, I and others were a little bothered by how much you seemed to bash certain exhibits and shows in the area. If it were in an Art magazine or a blog, then there would have been no problems. But The State was read by a wide audience, most of whom knew nothing of the arts scene in Columbia outside of what you wrote. And if the news of the art scene was bad then people did not come into the doors, and that can hurt already struggling visitor attendance at museums and galleries. That being said, however, I will admit it is unfair to make such a criticism to you since you no loger work for The State. It was unfair and I offer my sincerest apologies. Your forum now has a different audience who knows a little something about the arts. A forum where your comments, good or bad, not only should but NEED to be heard and discussed.

    I think your blog will end up helping the arts commuity more than many of us think. I think your comments on the arts in the area, as well as the ability for people to post follow-up comments, will help generate a lot of needed buzz. I also think it can help the arts community wake up in areas it needs to sorely address.

    Again, my sincerest apologies. And keep up the good work on the blog.

    William E.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. This semester I assigned my classes 3 blogs to follow including Carolina Culture. The current topic on one of the blogs is "The Bad Review". We discussed that in class earlier this week and it was interesting when students had a chance to see this in-the-real here on CC.
    What I expect will be the part of our discussion in class today is that so far, the comments made on this post have been anonymous.

  9. This is all really terrific. Except the comments from William E. are driving me crazy!!! ha ha!

  10. This post is not anonymous. If all the internationally-sought art is gone, and all that is left is the other stuff, do not show the other stuff. Here is what you do, Columbia, SC artists: say "I don't have any stuff. It is in a show in Berlin. Sorry." You don't justify hanging/installing things that you don't feel are worthy. You don't make a truckload of excuses by saying, "I have all my work in Fez..." It must be the case that this show in Columbia is low on the priority list. Not a good excuse.


Post comments under the anonymous listing if you do not subscribe to one of the services listed.