Sunday, December 27, 2009

A look back at 2009 and the '00s

This has been a surprisingly decent year for the arts, especially considering the tough economic times. Sometimes the arts strive when times are hard.
As most of you know, arts seasons like the school year and run from autumn through spring. My best and worst and whatever list here includes mostly things from the summer and fall – so let’s call this the high and the lows of the first half of this season. (I recapped the last full season in June.)
And because we're wrapping up a decade I've taken a look back at what the decade has wrought.

Neither my memory nor my archives are flawless, but here goes.

Really important things
Without a doubt what has happened at the Columbia Museum of Art this year has been the top. Thanks in part to the exhibition “Turner to Cezanne” the museum broke all attendance and membership records.
That wasn’t enough so the museum reinstalled its permanent collection (top photo) reorganizing and adding to it during the summer. It looks and works much better. And there’s more. The museum published its first volume of its catalog on the Renaissance and Baroque art collections. It took 20 years, but was worth it.

Morihiko. Morihiko. Morihiko Nakaharma finished his first season as music director of the S.C. Philharmonic with a thundering rendition of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 and so far this season has even better than last.

The development of the arts (beyond the Columbia Museum) on Main Street. This is really just starting and has a way to go in terms of organization and quality, but it’s an exciting development.
Compass 5, an architectural firm in Cayce, has been doing some very fine art shows this year. It may not be on the usual art trail but anyone who has been to one of the shows there walks away impressed.

Long-time arts supporter Steve Morrison throwing his hat into the mayor’s race ring.

Opening of Halsey Institute of Art gallery at the College of Charleston in October. (left) You really have to see this place. The inaugural exhibition by South Carolina artist Aldwyth is up through Jan. 9.

Disappointments - a big one
I could make a short list of things that flopped in 2009, but one  thing is the clear winner in the loser category.
The S.C. Arts Commission rolled three failures into one with two exhibitions and a catalog from the State Art Collection. 

Personal favorites

Real Quiet concert at USC music school’s Southern Exposure series. The group didn’t play a planned world premiere, but I didn’t care.

Pipa player Wu Man and the S.C. Philharmonic performing a concerto by Tan Dun, the orchestra’s first outing on a work by Columbia composer John Fitz Rogers and an amazing and really loud performance of  Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” in November.

Phil Moody’s photo-and-text based exhibition at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art. (above)

Wideman/Davis Dance company’s new works, “Balance” and “Rock and My Soul.”

Art shows by Philip Morsberger of Augusta and David Yaghjian of Columbia at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios mounted by if Art Gallery.

“The King and I” at Town Theater and  “The Glass Menagerie” (left) by an all African-American cast and South Carolina writer Jon Tuttle’s newest work “Sweet Abyss” at Trustus.

One thing I have not been able to stop talking about is the international trumpet competition that took place at USC in October. I should also say that the concert lasted about three hours, which is way too long for me, was a competition, which I’m not that fond of, and was jazz, which I don’t know that much about. I loved every minute of it.

And a last look at the ‘00s

Because it’s the end of the decade (depending on how you count these things) it’s worth looking at the most important art developments around here since 1999.
The first two overlap with what happened this year.

The Columbia Museum of Art again is on the top of my list. The museum moved into its Main Street home in 1998, but what has happened in the decade since is just as important. The museum ran into money and leadership problems, watched attendance drop, didn’t do much at all. Since Karen Brosius, left, became director in January 2004 the money is coming in, exhibitions are better, there are more programs and she’s hired some excellent staffers notably curators Todd Herman and Brian Lang.

For most of the past 10 years, the S.C. Philharmonic just lacked energy and innovation. Since Morihiko Nakahara became music director last year the orchestra feels full of life and Nakahara is already part of the city’s life.

Harris Pastides became president of the University of South Carolina in August 2008. He’s the first USC president in a long time who is both interested in and savvy about the arts. Like that other new president, he has a lot of ideas but times are tough.

The Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston doesn’t have a new home, but it has become a new place. Like the Columbia Museum it has been on a roller coaster ride since the new millennium rolled in. After many years of lackluster leadership the place perked up when Betsy Fleming became director for a few years in the early ‘90s. The director who followed her came and went fast.
Last year, the museum’s long-time curator Angela Mack became director.This might look like the museum wanted to take a more conservative stance, but that’s the last thing on the new director’s mind. She has been in the forefront of reexamining what Southern art is all about – and that’s not always what the Charleston elite or tourists want to see.
(Pictured is installation “Prop Master”  for which Juan Logan and Susan Harbage Page used objects from the museum collection to explore issues of race, gender and class in Charleston.)

The 701 Center for Contemporary Art, right, opened in late 2008 just as the economy was tanking. That hasn’t kept the center from doing good exhibitions, artists residencies and connected programs.

The Nickelodeon Theatre’s decision several years ago to move to an old movie house on Main Street, left, takes the independent film forum to a whole new level.

The Southern Exposure new music series at USC is first-rate and has drawn national attention to the school in contemporary music circles. Who would have through a decade ago that a contemporary classical music series would have standing-room-only audiences?

Also at the USC school of music, the Southeastern Piano Festival includes an amazing concert series.

Certainly the Spoleto Festival USA has  put on many incredible performances during the decade and we won’t even attempt to list them. A couple of the most lasting contributions have been the festival’s role in renovating the Dock Street Theatre, reopening for the 2010 festival, and Memminger Auditorium. (above)

The last decade hasn’t been all good news.

The Columbia Museum of Art has made great strides and it has been busy with a collection catalog and reinstalling the galleries, but it needs to do some significant, scholarly exhibitions.

The Cultural Council of Richland and Lexington Counties, an umbrella group that raises money for local arts groups, has had a tough time bringing in the bucks. The amount raised annual has dropped from $600,000 to $200,000 during the past decade.

Also on the museum front, the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina lost staff, space and direction.

The end of the “Triennial,” an every three-year survey of contemporary South Carolina art by the S.C. Arts Commission and S.C. State Museum. It wasn’t perfect, but it filled an important mission.

The State Museum just doesn’t do as many arts shows as it used to.
To give credit though during the last decade the museum created excellent retrospective exhibitions  by South Carolina natives Robert Courtright and Brian Rutenberg and the Charleston artist couple William Halsey and Corrie McCallum.

Workshop Theatre has know the last decade plus four years that it needs to move, but has been so slow in doing something that the very life of the theater is at risk (Although that finally seems to be changing.)

Count how many commerical art galleries selling significant contemporary art - or even insignifigant contemporary art - have opened in Columbia since 2000. You won't even need one hand.

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