Wednesday, August 17, 2011

FreeTimes Triennial Revisited Article

Issue #24.33 :: 08/16/2011 - 08/22/2011

Triennial, a recurring exhibition of contemporary South Carolina art, has returned — sort of.

Triennial: Revisited, opening at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art on Thursday, takes a look back at the exhibition held every three years from 1992 to 2004.

Triennial exhibitions were held at the S.C. State Museum and organized by the museum and the S.C. Arts Commission. The museum and commission cited cuts in staffing and budgets and changing priorities for doing away with the Triennial, but many artists and curators were dismayed at the move.

Triennial: Revisited is a small, selective slice of those exhibitions, with only 18 artists. Revisited marks not only a look back at contemporary South Carolina art, but also sets the stage for a two-part biennial exhibition at 701 CCA opening this fall.

The artists in Revisited were drawn from the 120 or so who were in previous Triennial exhibits. One juror from each of the five Triennial exhibitions plucked three artists from the original show they were involved in. 

Colin Quashie

“We asked them to select artists who they felt best represented the spirit of the ‘Triennial’ during that time,” says Harriett Green, visual arts coordinator of the Arts Commission, who helped organize Revisited along with State Museum art curator Paul Matheny. Green and Matheny then picked three more artists, mostly trying to make sure no areas were overlooked. (Although the Arts Commission and the State Museum assisted with Revisited, they will not be involved with the upcoming biennial exhibitions.)

The parameters for picking were wide: Artists who had died, were no longer active, had left the state or could not be located were not considered, but otherwise the selection process was wide open. Where possible, the art will be what was in the original show or from the same time period.

“It’s amazing how many of those pieces are still available,” Green says.

In many cases, artists made works specifically for the Triennial, often exploring new areas, increasing the scale and scope of their art.

“This will be a really cool project,” Matheny says. “It goes all the way back —so it is almost 20 years since it started. The museum had not considered doing a show like this, but I’m glad the [art center] is organizing it.”

Artists in Revisted are Clay Burnette, Stephen Chesley, Tyrone Geter, Peter Lenzo and Lee Sipe (Columbia); John Acorn, Pendleton; Herb Parker, Colin Quashie, Jocelyn Chateauvert and Bruno Civitico (Charleston); Aldwyth (Hilton Head Island); Michael Brodeur and Debbie Cooke (Greenville); Jim Connell, Beth Melton, Phil Moody and Tom Stanley (Rock Hill); and Jane Nodine (Spartanburg).

The artists not only represent many areas of the state, they also produced many sorts of art.

Chesley, Brodeur and Civitico do representational paintings. Chateauvert, Nodine and Melton often use fabric and fiber in installation-oriented pieces. Quashie mines pop culture, then mines it with social commentary. Burnette and Sipe do basketry, taking a traditional craft to new places. Debi Cooke’s work from the time she was in Triennial was done in a medium that has disappeared — Polaroid photos.

The Triennial was often aimed at showcasing emerging artists, but it was open to anyone who wanted to enter (usually a couple hundred artists each time, with between 20 and 35 picked), and displayed a wide variety of works by artists at many career stages. The artists in Revisited are all far along in their careers and nearly all are over 50. Many of the younger artists in previous Triennial shows were graduate students or recent grads who have since moved away from the state, so they couldn’t be included as South Carolina artists.

Phil Moody, In Memoriam, 1994

“This exhibition is a reminder of the way things were and how the art scene has changed, who is present and who is not,” Green says. “Some of these names will mean nothing to many people because there are a whole new set of players.”

Some of the names that might mean something are also missing. Among those not selected are some of the state’s most well-known and accomplished artists: Russell Biles, Leo Twiggs, Tarleton Blackwell, Philip Mullen, Edward Rice, Virginia Scotchie and Mike Vatalaro. The job of the curators was to pick the best three representatives from each of the five previous Triennial shows, a limitation necessitated by the small size of 701 CCA.

Like the original Triennial exhibitions, this Revisited version is likely to generate much discussion and disagreement about who got in and who didn’t. Criticism leveled at the Triennial exhibitions in the past was that some of the best artists weren’t included because they didn’t enter (many established artists don’t enter shows); that older, established artists should have quit entering to make way for younger emerging artists; that the selections were too skewed toward the academic; and that the trendy trumped the traditional.

All of these observations were valid to various degrees, but the shows did give a decent view of what was going on in the state on many levels. They provided younger artists with a high-profile, prestigious forum and provided an all-too-rare outlet for the state’s most established artists who are too big for local galleries, but who don’t fit into most of the bigger museums.

“One a scale of one to 10, I’d give it a nine or 10 in terms of importance,” Martha Severens, former chief curator of the Greenville County Museum of Art, said a few years ago of the Triennial exhibitions. “It’s a must-see exhibition.”

When it was unceremoniously eliminated, there was an outcry among artists and curators.

“It was looked forward to by all, and it produced a very strong representation of the great work done by South Carolina artists,” says artist Jim Connell. “I was proud to be in two of the shows. And, I was always impressed by the work my fellow artists had in these shows.”

Connell and other artists who were included in Triennial exhibitions and who are in
the Revisited show are looking forward to the new biennial shows.

“The new biennial will be great,” Connell says, “but if I had my way, I wish we had the Triennial back. It was bigger and grander. It was staged in a great, big space — in a museum setting. It had status. It was respected.  It was growing.”

Colin Quashie says of the upcoming biennial: “I only hope that the jurying process is stiff and strenuous — the artists braving the process should be able to hurdle a bar set as high as possible, for everyone’s sake.”

When the Center for Contemporary Art opened in 2008, its leaders indicated they wanted to create a show that filled the gap left by demise of the Triennial.  What the biennial will be, however  — let alone evolve into — is hard to determine just yet; as of press time, the exhibition was not listed on the Center for Contemporary Art website.

What is known is that the biennial will be mounted in two stages, with the first opening Oct. 6 and the second Nov. 17.

Center for Contemporary Art board president Wim Roefs, owner of if ART Gallery, said via email that several “curatorial sorts” from around the state would be asked to nominate artists and then a juror would select artists for the shows; no one involved has yet been announced.

“We don’t know yet how many artists or the number of works, but it’s going to be a two-part exhibition with most likely several dozen pieces per exhibition,” Roefs said.

Triennial: Revisited runs Aug. 18 through Sept. 25 at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art. An opening reception will be held on Thursday, Aug. 18, from 7 to 9 p.m. Reception admission is free for members, $5 for others. The 701 Center for Contemporary Art is at 701 Whaley St. Call 779-4571 or visit for more information.

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