Saturday, October 31, 2009

Good news for the arts on the mayor's race front

Great news for Columbia and the arts. Steve Morrison is close to joining the race for mayor. He and his wife Gail have been actively involved in all kinds of arts. He was chair of the Columbia Museum of Art and Gail headed the search for a new orchestra music director. And they both attend all kinds of arts events - I've seen them at every sort of art activity you can think of. Steve also has an incredible record of service to those in need. The State has a story today.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Some scary - and not so scary - happening this weekend

Thursday, Oct. 29

An artist exploring an artist
Stephen Chesley tries to get a grip on the last month of Vincent Van Gogh’s life with the exhibition “27 Days in July.”  Inspired by a painting by Van Gogh he saw at the Columbia Museum of Art, Chelsey decided to look into the tragic artist’s final works. During his last 27 days, Van Gogh painted 23 pieces, so Chesley did the same number of paintings of the same sizes during the same period.
The exhibition opens with a reception  from 6 to 8. The show is up through Nov. 3 at Gallery 808/Vista Studios, where Chesley has a studio. (803) 252-6134.
(For a full story on “27 Days” go to the Sunday, Oct. 24 story below.)

A familiar blood sucker

The ever-popular “Dracula” by the Columbia City Ballet is back with a slightly new bite –updated casting, choreography, costumes and music.
The ballet by Columbia City Ballet artistic director William Starrett was first done 15 years ago. In keeping with the renewed interest in all things vampire it has a new look that, at least judging by the photos, looks heavily-inspired or appropriated from the popular “Twilight” movies.
Swapnali Ahire, a native of Columbia who is studying fashion in Los Angeles, designed new costumes.

The new Drac is Josh Alexander, a new ballet company member who has danced with the Carolina Ballet Theatre,  Greenville Ballet, California State University and the South Carolina Contemporary Dance Company.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. tonight, Friday, October 30  and Saturday, October 31 at the Koger Center.  During the Oct. 31 performance there’s also an adult costume contest with prizes. Tickets are $12-$45. For Thursday’s performances student ticket are $10. (803) 251-2222 or
Two haunting plays plays on the river
The High Voltage Theatre Company’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is still running like a headless horseman for a few more days but the company has another scary show opening tonight – “Frankenstein.”
“Frankenstein” will be at a newly-created theater space at the south end of the Cayce/West Columbia riverwalk near the old locks. If you’ve never been to this area it’s well worth checking even in the daytime. This will be one of the few times you can go there after dark legally.
For tickets and information about how to get to the performance call (803) 960-3200 or (803) 754-5244.

And more creepy stuff
"Mr. Poe's Nightmare" by the Actors Theatre of South Carolina haunts the Richland County Public Library at 7. The play by the Charleston-based group stars Lee O. Smith and Chris Weatherhead and is directed by Clarence Felder. Admission is free. The library is at 1431 Assembly St.


Friday, Oct. 30

Actors gets a fright
The play “Extremities,” in which a woman captures the man who tries to rape her, is an intense and frightening piece of theater.
In reality as well.
The play was set to open at last week at Trustus Theatre, but lead actor Monica Wyche, pictured, took a spill and got a concussion. She's on the mend and the play is on again starting tonight at 8.
 The delay and Wyche’s injury has somewhat overshadowed the fact that “Extremities” was the first play Trustus ever did. That was 25 years ago.
In the play by William Mastrosimone a woman turns the tables on a would-be rapist. She ties him up and shoves him into the fireplace. When her roommates return home, a kind of trial takes place.
Artistic director Jim Thigpen is directing the cast that also includes E.G. Heard, Altonia Chatman and Christopher Cockrell.
It runs through Nov. 14. 803-254-9732. Visit

Zombie stomp
Another dance group, Unbound Dance Company, has its own version of Halloween art with “Carpe Noctem.” It will include the company’s take on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” singer Dell Goodrich, art by Travis Teate, Scott Bibly and Mike Krajewski, the Vista Ballroom dancers belly dancer Natalie Brown and some other things. Costumes are encouraged. It starts at 6:30.
Admission is $15. (803) 528-9011 or

Black and white and masked
For the more well-heeled head to the black and white masquerade party at the Columbia Museum of Art.   “Masquerade de Macabre” will not only probably be a good time and raise money for a chandelier by glass artists Dale Chihuly for the museum.It starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $50. Call (803) 799-2810.

Building a fire
Columbia's alternative circus, belly-dance fire-eatin' group Alternacirque does its last outdoor show of the season at 9:30 at the Art Bar. Why don't they just get more fire eaters and continue through the winter" 


Old horns
Musician and scholar Nikos Xanthoulis, a native of Greece, is giving a recital and lecture on the sounds of ancient Greece. Xanthoulis uses original manuscripts, pottery, and traditional instruments to find the ancient sounds of the ancient world.
He is principal trumpeter with the Athens Opera and has performed around the world and written operas and scores for plays.
Just a week ago, he gave the same presentation at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.
The free event is at 7:30 p.m. at the USC Music School recital hall.
(803) 777-4280.

Tuesday, Nov. 3

A different set of strings

The players for the next Art of Music concert at the Columbia Museum will be using violins in a very different way than those who performed at the chamber series.
The High Lonesome Bluegrass Band plays in conjunction with the Ansel Adams exhibition at the museum, capturing an American essence. The South Carolina group plays both contemporary and traditional bluegrass and will be joined for the concert by Pat Ahrens, a musician and huge proponent of traditional music.  The concert starts at 7, but the doors open at 6 p.m.  $10 and $8 for museum members. (803) 799-2810.

(This week is rather slow - next week you'll be slammed.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nude Tuesday!

"Tina" by Tish Lowe of Columbia.

Monday, October 26, 2009

And now a word for our (potential) sponsors...

Just a reminder that you can purchase ads on this website.
Those logos for the Halsey Gallery, the Brooks Center and so on to the right are ads. Each links directly to the group or business website. 
If you are an arts group this is a great way to take readers of Carolina Culture directly to your site. If you are a business this site puts you in touch with high-income, high education customers. Carolina Culture by Jeffrey Day averages 100 visitors a day. (This week it ranged from 60 on Saturday to 140 today.)

For information rates contact us at

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Columbia artist's undertaking to understand a genius

Artist Stephen Chesley was one of thousands who attended “Turner to Cezanne” when it was at the Columbia Museum of Art in the spring. Like many others, he left the show impressed, but one painting in particular – Vincent van Gogh’s “Rain-Auvers” – stuck with him.

The only Van Gogh painting in the exhibition, the artist painted it in mid July 1890. On July 27 the artist shot himself. He died two days later.

Chesley began looking into the paintings Van Gogh did that long-ago July when the artist was living in Auvers-sur-Oise near Paris. Chesley discovered that during those last 27 days, Van Gogh had completed 23 paintings including “Wheat Field With Crows,” one of his best-known paintings (although not, as it is often stated, his last one.)

“To be so tormented so much at that time, he was still painting with the same strength as always,” said Chesley, a Columbia artist best known for his moody landscape paintings.

Wanting to know more, Chesley researched the paintings Van Gogh did during that month, gathering up the dimensions of all 23. Van Gogh painted eight 20-by-40-inch paintings (the size of “Rain – Auvers,” and an unusual “double square size Van Gogh began using during his final months); eight 36-by-29 inches paintings; and another seven of variable sizes.

Chesley wanted to know what working like that would take.

So in May (which was the month Van Gogh moved to Auvers) Chesley started making stretchers, cutting, gluing and priming canvases of the sizes Van Gogh had done during July 1890.

On July 1 Chesley began painting; on July 27 he stopped.

Those paintings make up “27 Days in July” opening Oct. 29 at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios, where the artists has long maintained a studio.

These are Chesley paintings – not Van Gogh imitations.

“That would be trite and ridiculous,” he said.

Still, some of the subject matter is similar – Van Gogh did a lot of paintings of open fields during this time and so did Chesley, but he’s always done that. In one of Chesley’s paintings, a cow grazes under a white hot sky. A boat occupied by a shadowy figure floats in a marshy creek. In another the sinking sun seems to set the world afire. A small piece with the moon in the sky and flickering fireflies is the last piece Chesley completed – darkness coming as it did to the artist who inspired it.

The painting that was in “Turner to Cezanne” is one of two Van Gogh rain paintings, the other being “Wheat Field in Rain” done in 1889, and owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Chesley didn't do a rain painting, but he has painted in the rain.

“There’s that real beauty of immersing ones self in nature – working in a thunderstorm,” Chesley said. “I had an idea of how that felt. If I’m outside and it starts raining, I keep painting.”

Van Gogh worked outside during much of his time in Auvers, although he did portraits and still life paintings as well. Chesley, who has been known as a plein air painter, mostly stayed in the studio although he went on sketching trips - often in the mid-day heat. Unlike Van Gogh, who found peace outdoors, Chesley finds the urban sprawl that has covered the farms around Columbia with apartment complexes, fast food chains and shopping centers upsetting.

“It hurts my feelings to paint around that,” he said.

One thing that Chesley repeatedly pointed out is that those 23 paintings were only a part of Van Gogh's output at Auvers, where he had moved to be close to Dr. Paul Gachet, who had treated him for mental illness and who appreciated his art, and his brother Theo. Between the time he arrived at Auvers in May and his death, he completed 75 paintings as well as many sketches. The stretcher making and canvas prep work Chesley started in May gave him some idea of the work load Van Gogh took on.

‘I still don’t get it – its numbing,” Chesley said.

For Chesley though, the painting by Van Gogh that brought him closest to the artist is a small piece he once saw at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Van Gogh had loaded a brush with paint, stuck it to the canvas and in a twisting movement like making a comma, created a cloud. Chesley does that movement, especially when he’s painting a moon. It’s something the long-dead artist taught him.

“It was like he grabbed your arm – you can feel how he did it,” Chesley said. “I was absolutely there.”

"27 Days in July" by Stephen Chesley. Opening reception 6 - 8 Thursday, Oct. 29. The show remains on display through Nov. 3. Gallery 80808/Vista Studios, 808 Lady St. (803) 252-6134.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Chinese films, dancer award, good shows

Chinese film to USC
USC just received a big donation of Chinese films, making it one of the biggest repositories of movies from the People's Republic in the U.S. The donation contains 650 individual titles on 35 mm and 16 mm film and 1,500 DVDs dating back to 1949.
The formal presentation was made the Saturday, Oct. 24 at the Thomas Cooper Library. Yu Youxue of Beijing Language and Culture University and Dafeng Zhong of The Chinese National Film Archive and the Beijing Film Academy gave brief talks at the event.
Among the films are documentaries of life in China, animated films and feature movies including Cai Chusheng and Zheng Junli’s “The Spring River Flows East” (1947), Zie Jin’s “Two Stage Sisters” (1964), Zifeng Ling’s “Rickshaw Boy,” an internationally acclaimed 1982 film. Documentary titles include films about the visit of the Chinese table tennis team to the United States in 1972, China’s wildlife, important natural and historic sites in China, including the Yangtze River headwaters and the Great Wall.
USC has an extensive collection of newsreel films dating back to 1919.

Dance professor lands top award
USC dance professor Susan Anderson got a surprise award Friday, Oct. 23. The long-time professor won the Governor’s Professor of the Year Award which almost never goes to anyone in the arts.
Anderson joined the university in 1975. She helped established a dance major at the university a few years ago and pushed for a new dance teaching facility.
The professor of the year award is administered through the S.C. Commission on Higher Education and has been given since 1988.
(from left USC President Harris Pastides, Anderson, USC provost Michael Amiridis and Patricia Pastides.)

Brilliant in Berlin
Jonathan Brilliant, who relocated from Charleston to Columbia earlier this year, hasn't been spending much time in his new home. He's been creating his coffee stirrer sculptures all over the place and just completed one in Berlin (pictured)
He'll be doing a piece for Eye Level Art in Charleston next month and the USC art department gallery in January.

Columbia composer's new work gets premiere
The world premiere of Columbia composer Meira Warshauer's "Tedeeyah" -Concerto for Shofar/Trombone took place in Wilmington, N.C., last weekend. The Wilmington Symphony Orchestra peformed the piece with soloist on shofar (ram's horn) and trombone player Haim Avitsur.
It will be played by the Brevard Symphony Nov. 15 and the USC Symphony in Columbia Nov. 17.
The symphony was commissioned by the three orchestras.

Don't miss these shows 
Only a few days remain to see exhibitions by David Yaghjian of Columbia and Philip Morsberger of Augusta - and you should not miss them.
The shows are up through 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27 at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios, 808 Lady St. They're the product of if Art Gallery. Call (803) 238-2351. (You can read more about the show by going to the Thursday, Oct. 15 posting on Carolina Culture.)

And the shortest review of the mostest shows
I was in Charleston Thursday and Friday for the openings of Brian Rutenberg's solo show at the Gibbes Museum of Art - it looks great. Only about a dozen paintings and they really occupy the huge upstairs ballroom gallery. (That's him in the gallery.)

The College of Charleston's Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art opened its new gallery (left) with a solo exhibition by the artist Aldwyth. The space is huge - probably the size of two big downstairs galleries at the Columbia Museum. The show is brilliant - although you should probably set aside five or six hours to see it. (My photos can't do justice to the space, the show or how damn many people jammed in there the other night.)
(You can read more about these in the Thursday, Oct. 22 posting.)

I took a quick run through of the Ansel Adams show at the Columbia Museum of Art Saturday - unbelievably beautiful photos of unbelievably beautiful places.
The 50 works donated to the museum by collectors Dorothy and Herbert Vogel is much more interesting and less obscure than I thought it would be. This is a very important addition to the museum.
More on all these later.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Get out of town (and then come back)

A couple of really big visual arts events are going on in Charleston.

The Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art, part of the School of the Arts at the College of Charleston, opens its new, bigger and better gallery Friday, Oct 23. The School of the Arts is getting a new building which will be attached to the old building, itself being renovated. (The rest of the school will move in at the end of the year.)

Those who have been to the old gallery over the years would not be wrong in thinking, “Wow, that’s already a great gallery.” They would not be wrong, especially when considering that what is in the gallery is usually very good too.

The new gallery is about a third larger than the old one, but it's about more than size.

“That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s uber flexible and state of the art, with high ceilings and much more usable space,” said Mark Sloan, Halsey Institute director.

The new gallery opens with an ambitious exhibition - what it has been doing for a long time.

Aldwyth: Work, v./Work, n. – Collage and Assemblage 1991 – 2009” takes a deep look at an artists who has been working, mostly in obscurity, on the South Carolina coast for a long time. The artist, who chooses to use only one name, has created various rather encyclopedic artworks: small boxes that open to reveal more boxes each filled with often mysterious objects; gigantic collages that one could spend days looking at (one is titled “20th Century” and although it only took a decade to make it contains the 20th century); a bird bath made of old plumbing parts; a container holding dangerous materials artists (this one in particular) like to use; and the wonderfully titled “23 Eyeballs, 1 Asshole.”

"I think about my work as a series of experiments or stories," Aldwyth told me in a recent email. "Each of the large collages is just a whole lot of small related collages that run into each other. I think about the minimalists who didn’t show just one part, but the whole was understood by maximizing the unit. I think I must be a kind of maximist, maximizing."

's not that Aldwyth has been without her fans. I wrote a story about her in the early ‘90s, she’s been recognized by the people who have developed Spring Island and offer artist retreats there, been in a couple of shows at the College of Charleston and the Triennial exhibition of South Carolina art.

But this show is something else. It has already been to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill art gallery where it received an excellent response and reviews and goes to the Telfair Museum in Savannah after Charleston.

The Halsey Institute has published a hard-back 100-page catalog and a DVD movie on the artist. The book has been picked up by Distributed Arts Publishers, a big, important art book company in New York.

"They never take on a monograph of an artist no one has ever heard of," Sloan said.

Sloan visited Aldwyth about a decade ago after seeing her work in a Triennial exhibition at the State Museum. He included her art in a couple of shows and kept waiting for someone to do a big show of her work then finally decided to do it at the Halsey.

"She's grateful and so deserving," Sloan said. "This is a great opportunity to look at her work over time."

"I couldn’t be more delighted," Aldwyth said. "It is quite overwhelming."

An opening reception starts at 6 and there’s a gallery and exhibition walk through with Sloan and Aldwyth at 7. It runs through Jan. 9.

The Halsey Institute has a ton of images, videos and all sorts of stuff about the show at its website

(From top: new gallery interior, "A Walk In The Woods," 1990, and "Casablanca," 2003 - 2006.)

Brian Rutenberg, one of South Carolina' top art exports, has an exhibition of new paintings at the Gibbes Museum of Art. This is Rutenberg’s first solo exhibition at the museum. The exhibition “Tidesong” is composed of 14 paintings, including two that are 13-feet wide, and four works on paper. It opens Friday.

A native of Myrtle Beach, Rutenberg attended the College of Charleston and then moved to New York to go to the School of Visual Arts. He’s been in New York for 20 years.

Represented by Forum Gallery in New York and Los Angeles, one of his first solo shows was at the Greenville County Museum of Art. In 2006 his work was the subject of a retrospective at the S.C. State Museum and last year a monographic book about the artist and his art was published. Even with all that, the Gibbes Museum show "Tidesong" is something new.

"This is my first solo show at the Gibbes," Rutenberg said. "The first painting I ever exhibited in public was at the Gibbes in 1985 when I was 18. This show was 24 years in the making. I am honored to be back."

“Tidesong” at the Gibbes Museum runs through Jan. 10. The museum is at 135 Meeting St. Admission is $9 (free to members and to members of the Columbia Museum of Art.) Call (843) 722-2706 or go to

(From top, "Blue Tide" and "Little Point 12")

Thursday, Oct. 22

Big shows at the Columbia Museum

You can get a look at two new shows at the Columbia Museum of Art tonight if you’re a member.

The thing everyone is probably all excited about is the Ansel Adams show, but I’m not sure what to tell you that you don’t already know. You can be assured it will be beautiful. The show, with the unwieldy title “Ansel Adams: Masterworks From the Collection of the Turtle Bay Exploration Center, Ca.” consists of 47 gelatin silver prints Adams made to show what he felt were his best works. Julian Cox, curator of photography at the High Museum of Art leads a gallery walk and talk through the show Friday, Oct. 23.

What you might not know as much about is the collection of art put together by Dorothy and Herbert Vogel. They were and are just a mild-mannered New York couple who started slowly, quietly and economically buying art in the ‘60s, mostly work by young, largely unknown artists. A few years ago, the now-retired postal worker and librarian decided to distribute the much of their 5,000-piece art collection to the rest of the country.

“50 Works for 50 States” is just what it sounds like – the couple gave 50 artworks to one art institution in every one of these United States.

"Of course it was very exciting to be identified as the museum in South Carolina to receive the gift." said Todd Herman, chief curator. Furthermore, our collection is weak in the areas of conceptual and minimalist art ... so this gift helps us fill out that part of the American art scene."

The Vogels are a great example of what people of limited means, but unlimited vision, can do.

The opening reception runs from 6 to 8. The shows opens to the general public Friday. And you may not know this because it’s a new thing, but the Friday that a new show opens at the museum is a free admission day (as is EVERY Sunday.)

(Pictured are Peggy Cypher's "Galaxy's Empire," top, from 1986 and Zigi Ben-Haim's "Just Before '84" from 1983.)

Both shows are on display through Jan. 17. The museum is at Main and Hampton streets. Call (803) 799-2510 or go to

More sex and violence in the park

Everyone has been complaining nefarious activity at Finlay Park, but here’s some they might welcome.

The S.C. Shakespeare Company opens “Romeo and Juliet” at the park amphitheater tonight. The tragic tale of the lovers from feuding families is directed by Scott Blanks and stars Hunter Bolton and Katie Mixon, pictured, in the title roles.

Gadsden Street between Taylor and Laurel streets. Admission is $10 with discounts for kids. Go to

If the classics don’t do it for you check out the USC Lab Theatre for “The Book of Liz.”

The main thing you need to know is that it was written by the Shakespeares of our age David and Amy Sedaris. He’s the writer of funny as hell stories vaguely based on truth and she the sick mind behind the television program “Strangers with Candy.”

The play follows Sister Elizabeth Donderstock, the brain behind the Cluster Haven Cheeseball Company, on journey of self-discovery. It’s being directed by grad student Jennifer Goff, a founder of Greenville’s Distracted Globe Theatre. That's the starring cheeseball at the center of the photo.

The 8 p.m. show runs through Sunday, Oct. 25 at the theater, located on Wheat Street between Bull and Main streets. $5. (803) 777-4288.

Slather it on
Like thick paint? Better go see the show by artist Maya Eventov at the HoFP Gallery.

The Toronto artist will be at an opening reception tonight from 6 to 9. Eventov creates her rural landscape scenes using palette knives for an almost mosaic effect. The exhibition is up through Nov. 14. HoFP,2828 Devine St. (803) 799-7405

Friday, Oct. 23

Art museum is free today

The Columbia Museum of Art opens at 10 a.m. Go see the Ansel Adams and Larry Clark photos and the donation from art collectors Dorothy and Herbert Vogel. Admission is free today.

The contemporary belly
The Columbia contemporary dance group The Power Company raises the tent on "A Circus of Sorts" including a collaboration with Natalie Brown of Delirium Tribal Belly Dance Company.

Columbia Music Festival Arts Space, 914 Pulaski St. Shows are at 7:30 tonight and Saturday. We’re not sure if this is discrimination against single people or just a way to drum up business or encourage people to make friends, but admission is $18 for one; $30 for two. (803) 786-3825.

Sing out

"La Bohème meets the Three Baritones," a concert version of the third act of the opera “La Boheme” and singing and comedy by three baritones. (right) It’s at 7:30 p.m. in the Dreher High School auditorium, Devine Street and Millwood Avenue. $30. (803) 776-0526.

Pull strings

If you haven't seen Diana Farfan's show "We Human Marionettes," there's a closing reception and a talk, in Spanish, by the artist from 5 to 8. The Friday Cottage Artspace, 1830 Henderson St.

Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 24 and 24

Don't ask me how this happened, but nothing much is actually going on specifically on these days. Most of the theaters are dark (Trustus had to postpone "Extremities" because its lead actor got injured), but there's "Romeo and Juliet" and "Legend of Sleepy Hallow" in the parks and the USC lab show.

Also you might check out some of the art shows around town. I'd highly reccomend the ceramics exhibition at the USC art department, but the gallery is closed on the weekends.

You can pay tribute to Haydn, as you might have done recently at the S.C. Philharmonic. The Columbia Choral Society will give a concert of his music at 4 p.m. Sunday. United Street Methodist Church, 1401 Washington St. $12.

Wednesday, Oct. 28

Clarinet player plays the new and the old made new
Joseph Eller will give the world premiere of "Eternal Garden: Four Songs for Clarinet and Piano" by David Maslanka, who was commissioned by Eller and others to write several pieces for clarinet.

"I originally had another work programmed for this concert, but this score literally arrived in the mail from David Maslanka a few weeks ago," said Eller, an assistant professor at USC.

The concert starts with a work from the early 1700s which is also brand new in a way. Eller has been transcribing J.S. Bach pieces and will play the "Sonata in E minor."

"There are transcriptions of Bach for clarinet, but the overwhelming majority are very watered down to 'fit' the clarinet in regards to range, key and technique," Eller said. "I have spent a lot of time researching pieces that would work without editing at all and just as Bach wrote melodically and technically. Although this makes them much harder for the clarinetist, their authenticity is left intact..."

He’ll also play the Trio in D minor for clarinet, cello and piano by Alexander von

“Nothing special about the Zemlinsky other than it is a beautiful, late Romantic work that I have never performed,” Eller said.

Playing with him for the free 7:30 concert at the USC School of Music are Lynn Kompass on piano and harpsichord and Robert Jesselson, cello. (803) 777-4280.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Athlete" by Ellen Cartee of Columbia.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Contemporary Conversations" nothing to talk about

A two-part exhibition culled from the 500-work South Carolina state art collection is subtitled “Contemporary Conversations,” but it’s an awfully shallow dialogue.

The quality of the 60 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures in the first installment isn’t the issue. Why they were picked and how they are shown is.

In a statement, curator Eleanor Heartney writes, “The selection is meant to be somewhat rowdy and unruly…” That’s one way to put it. “Unfocused and lackadaisical” is another.
The result is an exhibition that has no discernible order.

The many curatorial missteps are exacerbated by the fact that the venue, 701 Center for Contemporary Art in Columbia, is too small for this show, let alone the show that was needed.

The exhibition eschews chronology, content or style grouping; nor are the works displayed to provide intellectual or visual contrast.

“Each section is designed to be complete in itself, and hence cuts across time, theme and medium,” she also writes. “Hopefully this organizing principle will point to unexpected affinities…”

Actually that’s the very opposite of an organizing principle.

Certainly, a savvy and knowledgeable viewer can see how works are related or how a certain artwork or group of works connects to the larger art world. Or how an artwork, often from early in a career, contrasts with the artist’s later work. Still it is quite unlikely most viewers will be in a position to do this.

What’s wrong with a little more guidance? This feels not only sloppy, but lazy.

The text on the walls gives only artist name, title, year and medium. Again, not enough room. What’s provided is a handout written by Heartney which is as fuzzy as her selection process. The essay she has written covers both shows, so one might be visiting part one, read about and start looking for Merton Simpson’s painting. But it isn’t in this show; it’s in the next one. Those seeking out Jesse Guinyard’s sculpture, also mentioned in the essay, while the second exhibition is up won’t find it as it is in the current show. And beside that, no one is going to read this essay and get the sort of guidance they would from good wall texts.

The essay itself is vague and at times inaccurate. (Outsider art is not part of the mainstream? Where has Heartney been for the past 25 years?)

It’s difficult to understand why Heartney, who doesn’t appear to have any understanding or knowledge of the art and artists of South Carolina, was picked to curate this show. Couldn’t the Arts Commission find someone who knows something about the art of the South Carolina? (The last exhibition she did in South Carolina “Thresholds: Expressions of Art & Spiritual Life” in 2003 was better, but the concept seriously flawed in its vagueness as well.)

The State Art Collection and the “Contemporary Conversations” exhibitions offered so much potential for engagement. One could have looked at 40 years worth of abstraction contrasted against realism and where the two overlapped. Put the most conservative pieces in one show and the most adventuresome another – or mixed them up. The traditional folk arts might have been combined with the art that grew out of craft traditions, but was made by college-educated artists. How about the political vs. the pretty?
A basic chronological breakdown, or even the artists lined up alphabetically, would be more coherent than this.

Although it is a bit like complaining of a meal, “It wasn’t very good and the servings were too small,” both installments of “Contemporary Conversations” are, at one-month each, on display for too short a time.

In conjunction with these two exhibitions, the S.C. Arts Commission, which created the collection and maintains it, has just published a catalog of acquisitions since 1987. (The collection was started in 1967.) It suffers many of the same shortcomings as the exhibitions – lack of context and a central organizing principle.

Only the most basic information about the artists is provided, when their stories could have been fascinating. Who are these artists really? Where did they come from? Where did they go? What are they doing now? The catalog could have explored the state’s impact on their art and an evaluation of their importance in the state’s art production of the past two decades. The book provides only the most bare-bones resume on each.

The major essay in the catalog is by David Houston, who was the visual arts coordinator at the Arts Commission from 1989 to 1991. While there isn’t anything terribly wrong with his essay – he touches on all the touchstones such as abstraction vs. realism, multi-culturalism and post modernism – it’s very general and misses several important points in the state’s recent art history.

It’s as if in looking for a curator for the show and an essayist for the book, the Arts Commission refused to consider anyone who might know a great deal about South Carolina art.

The book is an important documentation of the art collection and the growth of South Carolina art during the past 20 years – although maybe not in the way the Arts Commission intended. As many people have noted before, art here has lagged far behind what’s being made elsewhere. More interesting is how much of the work in the collection is not very good and how many artists whose careers went no where are included. And how many important artists are missing.

“Contemporary Conversations” part one runs through Nov. 1; the second show runs Nov. 5 to Dec. 6. The center is at 701 Whaley St. Open 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. Wednesdays: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 1 – 5 p.m. Sunday.

For information (803) 779-4571 or go to or the S.C. Arts Commission at (803) 734-8696. An on-line gallery is at

Curator Eleanor Heartney will give a talk, “Tales of Plastic Surgery, Genetically Altered Rabbits, and Other Acts of Art” followed by a book signing 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 19 at the Center for Contemporary Art.

A panel discussion on the state art collection takes place at 6 pm. Nov. 5 followed by an opening reception for the second part of “Contemporary Conversations.”

Pictured from top, art in part one of "Contemporary Conversations."

"EmbryoBiscape," 1980, by Jim Steven.

"Stephanie," 1932, by Edmund Yaghjian.

"Why Angels Jump," 1978, by Guy Allison

"Annunciation with Shepherd," 1985, by Sigmund Abeles

"Across the River 13," 2003, by Tom Stanley

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Jeffrey Day not Jeffery Day

If you see paintings of old buildings, marshes and magnolias and think I did them you are wrong. There is an artist by the name of Jeffery Day who lives in Gilbert.
Over the years a few people have said "Oh I saw that you had a painting at such and so" and I've responded "No you didn't. "
Tonight two people mentioned something about "my" art. Again, wrong guy. Weird though isn't it?

Workshop story in Free Times

I almost forgot to tell you that my story about Workshop Theatre is on the cover of Free Times this week. The story looks at the theater's journey to getting a new home, search for an executive director and moving its school. Although it is a little more complicated than that.

Three old white guys, Haydn death day, drums and violins, a play about a man with no head - for starters

This week’s format is slightly different because things going on during the next several days are better organized by connections rather than dates. To make life easier (for all of us, because even through I write this stuff I also use it to keep track of what’s going on) here’s a highlight list. The bigger stuff is expounded upon below that.

Thursday, Oct. 15
Poet Billy Collins, former U.S. poet laureate, and a guy who most of us would like to have a drink with, will give a reading at 6 p.m. at the USC Business School Auditorium.
How can you pass up a reading by a poet who wrote a book called The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems? It’s free. Call (803) 777-3142.

Opening reception for “Paintings and Drawings of the Last 20 Years” by Alex Powers of Myrtle Beach. City Art Gallery, 6 – 8 p.m. 1224 Lincoln St. (803) 252-1830.

A panel discussion in conjunction with the exhibition “Ceramics: Southeast” at the USC art department with artists Don Davis, Scott Meyer and Gay Smith moderated by USC professor Virginia Scotchie. At 4 p.m. followed by a reception from 5 to 7. Senate and Pickens Streets. Call (803) 777-4236.

The annual production of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” starts at 8 tonight at the West Columbia riverfront park amphitheater. Through Oct. 31. $12 and $10 for kids.

Friday, Oct. 16
Philip Morsberger ("Blithe Spirit #2" pictured) and David Yaghjian exhibitions open at Gallery 80808. Reception 5 – 9. 808 Lady St. (803) 238-2351

Eleanor Heartney, curator of “The State Art Collection: Contemporary Conversations,” gives a talk at 6 p.m. at 701 Center for Contemporary Art. “The Biennial Paradox” is the talk title and for those who keep up with the every two-year gnashing of teeth in contemporary art circles, this will make sense. For others, come and find out. You can see the exhibition too. Free. 701 Whaley St. (803) 779-4571. (See Monday for another Heartney talk.)

"Hunchback of Notre Dame" by the Columbia Classical Ballet, Oct. 16 at 9:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Koger Center. (803) 251-2222 or

Saturday, Oct. 17
S.C. Philharmonic, 7:30 p.m. Koger Center. (Same ticket contacts as for “Hunchback.)

Monday, Oct. 19
Art Today - Tales of Plastic Surgery, Genetically Altered Rabbits, and Other Acts of Art a discussion about contemporary art, followed by a book signing by curator Eleanor Heartney. 6 p.m. 701 Center for Contemporary Art. (See Friday's list for details.)

Tuesday, Oct. 20
USC Symphony, 7:30 p.m. Koger Center. (Same ticket contacts as for the S.C. Phil.)

Wednesday, Oct. 21
The literary series "Caught in the Creative Act" starts with a visit from novelist and poet Ron Rash. The native of Chester Springs, S.C. is the author of the novels Saints at the River, The World Made Straight and Serena. 5:45 p.m. Gambrell Auditorium, USC. Free. Limited seating. Go to

"Tap Dogs,” a dancing musical, making a tour stop at the Koger Center. 7:30 p.m. Same ticket contacts as for the USC Symphony.

Art shows by three old white guys

I mean that in the best possible way.
The three are Alex Powers, Philip Morseberger and David Yaghjian. (That's Yaghjian's "Back Bend" is at the top of the page and at 60, he isn’t really old.)

The art scene is often about the young and the reckless, but all these artists provide an insight and approach only discovered during decades of making art and living life.

The three are technically quite accomplished, use the human figure in their art and have a lot to say. All take
an introspective look at the human condition, all of it kind of personal, but also universal.

I am a little biased in their favor because I’ve written about and have sort of known all of them for quite a few years. Being a middle-aged white guy, their art also speaks to many of my own concerns. And I really like their art.
We’re lucky to have three artists with overlapping interests and approaches all showing at once.

Alex Powers has long been a presence in the Palmetto State. Many people know him for his work as a teacher, leading watercolor workshops all over. He's also won tons of awards in national watercolor society shows and been featured in various watercolor-oriented magazines and books.

But, and this is a big but, Powers paintings, if they can be called that, hardly seem to fit into what one could called the watercolor world of art.

“Paintings and Drawings of the Last 20 Years”
showcases about 20 large works on paper, most with a lot of drawing in charcoal, some watercolor washes, text (which can sometimes be read clearly, sometimes not) and introspective statements with each work.

(Pictured above is a detail of "I've Always Been Disappointed" and "Absolute Truth," left)

Powers, 69, often addresses social and political issues in his work and the movement and sketchy nature of his figures does as much to telling the story as the text. Well-known historical figures, Charles Darwin and Frederick Nietzche for example, sometimes appear in his work, but mostly the people who occupy his art are more likely to be the proverbial “everymman." His bent is decidedly liberal. Written across the top of one piece is “The richest 20 percent of American households claimed 91 percent of the increase in wealth between 1983 and 1998.”

And for those who may not want that much political content, he also does art about baseball.

The gallery has created a handsome installation for the show, putting up white wood panels on the brick walls and mounting the drawings simply beneath Plexiglas. It flows like a book.
The exhibition remains on display until Oct. 31. City Art, 1224 Lincoln St. (803) 252-3613

Philip Morsberger of Augusta and David Yaghjian of Columbia will share the space at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios in exhibitions by if Art Gallery. The show opens Friday from 5 to 9.

“Time Travelers” is Morsberger’s first exhibition in Columbia. It' composed of recent work, but when you look at the dates you'll see that he worked on some of these paintings for a decade or more.

Morsberger landed in our neighborhood when he became Williams S. Morris Eminent Scholar in Art at Augusta State University in the 1990s, after stints teaching at Harvard and Dartmoth and as Ruskin Master of Drawing at Oxford University from 1971 to 1984.

During the 1960s his paintings often addressed the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.

So this might sound like a darn serious artist and he is that. But a good deal of his figurative work is in fact derived from cartoon images. They have a joyful character to them, but sometimes there’s a dark undercurrent. Morsberger, 76, himself is warm and friendly and I have a great photo of him wearing a Tin Tin T-shirt. (Pictured is his "Tick Tock." The show will also have some of his abstract paintings.)

I hadn't talked to Morsberger in about a year and when I called him the other day, I asked if he was painting as much as usual.

"Only seven days a week," he said.

The title of Yaghjian’s show “Dancing Man” is a little ironic. The "everyman" (that guy again) in these artworks does dance, but does so with a sort of grim determination and look of puzzlement at times.

They remind me a little of the writings in James Thurber’s book The Middle Aged Man on the Flying Trapeze, especially since Yaghjian has done a painting of a middle-aged man on the flying trapeze.

Yaghjian’s technical chops just keep getting better too and he's developing some new approachs as can be seen in "Floating." (above right)
A native of Columbia, Yaghjian studied at Amherst College, the Art Students League and the School of Visual Art. He lived in the Northeast and was in Atlanta for 15 years before returning to Columbia in 2000. “Dancing Man” is his first solo exhibition here since then.

An opening reception for the shows takes place Friday, Oct. 16 from 5 to 9. The shows remains up through Oct. 27.

USC musicians in spotlight on the big stage

USC music school faculty members share the spotlight with Columbia orchestras this week.
Bassoonist Peter Kolkay plays Wolfgang Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in B-Flat Major with the S.C. Philharmonic Saturday night. Written in 1774 when the composer was only 18, the bassoon concerto was his first piece for wind instrument and the only one that’s survived. It’s also quite popular.

Kolkay, who joined the USC music school in 2006 and principal bassoonist with the Philharmonic, was the first bassoonist to win the top prize in the Concert Artists Guild International Competition and the Avery Fisher Career Grant. He was in the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center's program for young musicians and has performed at the chamber music series of the Spoleto Festival USA.

The orchestra will also play two works by Franz Joseph Haydn – “Te deum for the Empress Maria Therese,” with the Columbia Choral Society and Coker College Singers and the Symphony No. 94 in G major.

This year is the 200th anniversary of Haydn's death so he's getting a lot of attention. He was not only a long-lived and prolific composer, he greatly advanced the symphony and string quartet forms - his music is the very definition of "classical." He was a mentor to both Mozart and Beethoven and apparently a nice guy as well.

“Te Deum” was completed in 1800 in honor of Marie Therese, the wife of Austria’s Holy Roman Emperor Francis II.

And yes, I double-checked that Symphony No. 94 – The number is correct. He wrote 104 as well as 68 string quartets. This from 1791 work is one of his 12 “London symphonies” written while he was living in England. The “Surprise” is because of a sudden fortissimo chord during the opening theme of the quiet second movement. That's a bit of a misnomer since Haydn’s music contained frequent surprises.

The orchestra will also play “Perpetuum mobile” a complex polka by Johann Strauss Jr. and H.K. Gruber’s comic deconstruction of it “Charivari.” Music director Morihiko Nakahara seems to think the later will drive everyone slightly mad.

The whole concert is launched by Antonio Salieri’s Overture to ‘Cublai, gran kan’ de Tartari.”

Actually the whole night starts with beer and brats. For $10, guests can load up on sausage with sauerkraut, peppers and onions, German potato salad, dessert and a beer. Humm, I’ll make not comment about the extra brass this might add to the concert.

Eating starts at 6 and you should buy an advance ticket for it by calling (803) 254-PHIL.

Nakahara will give a pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m. No doubt with his mouth full.

Tickets for the 7:30 concert range in price from $12 to $42 and are available by going to or calling (803) 251-2222.

Scott Herringis on the USC Music School faculty and a member of the Shiraz Trio, a percussion group that will perform “The Glory and the Grandeur,” a 1988 composition by Russell Peck with the USC Symphony Orchestra Tuesday.

“This is the first time we have played this piece, and the first time we have appeared as a group with the orchestra,” said Herring, pictured in the center of the group. "The piece is very audience friendly and visually captivating, blending elements of traditional percussion ensemble with an orchestra accompaniment that is decidedly influenced by popular music and jazz. The group plays two xylophones, vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel, crotales, several Chinese opera gongs, multiple tom-toms, bass drums, snare drums, cymbals, and a variety of small hand percussion instruments. At times, two of us will be playing on one vibraphone and all three of us on one marimba!”

The other two members of the trio are Susan Powell, director of percussion studies at Ohio State University and Joseph Krygier, who is also with Ohio State.

That night, you can also hear Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1887 'Capriccio Espagnol," which also features a large percussion section and, as the title suggests, Spanish melodies.

Last, but not least is Alexander Borodin’s (left) Symphony No. 2, completed in 1876, and his most important large-scale work. It took him about eight years to write – after all, his full time job was as a chemistry professor. Some people are just really, really smart.

Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. concert are $25 and available through the same sources as the S.C. Philharmonic.

The world comes to Sumter
I’ll have to admit I’ve been a little out of the loop on Sumter’s annual installation art show “Accessibility” during the past few years. This year’s event, opening Friday, Oct. 16 from 6 to 9, sounds really terrific.
“Accessibility 2009: Cross Currents” focuses on film, video and new media from artists coming to Sumter from Taiwan, Israel, Buenos Aires, New York California and Manitoba, Canada.
A quick run down of some of the artists and art:
Jarod Charzewski’s art examines landscapes and people, man-made structures among nature. He’s done two large-scale pieces working with the people of Sumter.
Yaron Lapid is an Israeli artist who lives in London. “The New Zero plays on the photography and history.
Clint Enns of Winnipeg has created a movie from film footage found in thrift shops.
Blu is a graffiti artist and muralist from Bologna, Italy.
Robert Fraher’s “No Horse In Particular” combines photography, digital illustration, interactivity, and custom software development.
“OM” by Jen-Kuang Chang’s is an audiovisual piece, which explores the universal sacred syllable used in Eastern religions.
Magsamen & Hillerbrand is a collaborative team, creating video installations.
“The Ambient Medium” by Bill Domonkos is created of manipulated film footage, special effects and animation inspired by 19th century spirit photography.
For information call (803) 775-0543 or go to