Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Article - Biennial Showcases Contemporary S.C. Art

Issue #24.40 :: 10/05/2011 - 10/11/2011 
Biennial Showcases Contemporary S.C. Art

701 CCA Aims to Fill Void Left By Demise of Triennial

When the Triennial was done away with several years ago, an outcry arose in the arts community. No one was louder about the demise of the every-three-year South Carolina contemporary art show than Wim Roefs, a Columbia gallery owner. When the 701 Center for Contemporary Art opened in 2008 and Roefs became its board president (and de facto director), he stated the center’s commitment to creating a show to replace the Triennial.
The first one of those — a biennial rather than a triennial — opens this week. The exhibition by 24 artists will be broken into two parts, the first opening Friday, Oct. 7, from 7 to 9 p.m. and the second starting Nov. 17.

“It was really a great loss,” says Roefs of the Triennial’s demise. “They were great shows and a place to discuss what was going on in the arts.”

Biennial 2011 includes artists from Hilton Head to Spartanburg, painters and potters and sculptors, the latter working with everything from found objects to cut-up blue jeans to books. Each artist will show two to five pieces. Participants range from such well-established and familiar artists as Mary Edna Fraser and Jim Connell to others who are young and mostly unknown. They range in age from 23 to 76.

“This is better than a solid list,” Roefs says. “There are established artists, but the younger ones are nothing to sneeze at — these are artists with great potential.”

He’s not tooting his own horn, because he didn’t select the artists. The contemporary art center asked a dozen curators, educators and artists from throughout the state to nominate two artists for the Biennial. Among the nominators were Brian Lang, decorative arts curator at the Columbia Museum of Art; Leo Twiggs, an artist and retired professor and museum director at S.C. State University; Tom Stanley, artist and chairman of the Winthrop University Art Department; and Tyrone Geter, artist and director of the Benedict College art gallery. Midlands artists in the show are James Busby, Peter Lenzo, JRenee, Lucy Bailey and Jim Arendt (who recently moved to Conway.) Three artists are from the Upstate, two from Orangeburg, five from Charleston, six from Rock Hill and three from other places in the state

Several of the artists were in one or more of the five Triennial exhibitions held from 1992 to 2004, including mixed media artist Aldwyth from Hilton Head; ceramic artists Jim Connell of Rock Hill, Alice Ballard of Greenville and Peter Lenzo of Columbia; and Charleston resident Colin Quashie, who explores political and social issues with bite and humor and a wide range of mediums. Others who have long been working in the state, such as Shaun Cassidy of Rock Hill and Winston Wingo of Spartanburg, will be in the Biennial. Among the lesser known artists are several who have solid careers, including James Busby of Irmo, who has had several exhibitions at the Stux Gallery in New York, and Stacey Davidson, who just began teaching at Winthrop University and who shows at the Marlborough Gallery in New York and London.

“It felt funny nominating artists who had been in the Triennial, but some of them are producing the best art in their lives,” says Mark Sloan, director of the Halsey Institute and one of the nominators. “Some of these younger artists are kicking butt and taking names, and they need a leg up that a show like this can provide.”

Frank McCauley, an artist and assistant director of the Sumter Gallery of Art, felt it was important to pick younger artists. He selected Jon Prichard, a Winthrop University graduate and instructor who paints, draws, sculpts and does performance art, and Thomas Whichard, a painting and sculpture student at Winthrop.

“Both are really great artists, and it will be good for them to be in a big show like this,” he says.

Brian Lang of the Columbia Museum of Art came to the city when the Triennial was already history and he’s not an expert on South Carolina art, but he says such a show is important for the state.

“Any state benefits from taking the pulse of the contemporary art scene,” Lang says.

His two picks — Busby and Fraser — are very different from one another. Busby does minimalist, monochromatic paintings that border on sculpture, and Fraser creates large, colorful batik paintings on fabric based on aerial photographs.

The Triennial, which included 20 to 35 artists each time, was organized by the S.C. Arts Commission and the S.C. State Museum, where it was shown. The Arts Commission decided it didn’t have the time or resources to continue the show and the State Museum opted not to continue the exhibition on its own.

Exhibitions like the Triennial or Biennial that attempt to give a thorough view of contemporary art are often widely criticized — for being too radical, for being too safe, for emphasizing what’s hot instead of what is lasting, for who got in and who didn’t. One thing they almost always do is generate a lot of discussion.

“From the Whitney Biennial on down, these sorts of shows are fraught from the beginning,” says Sloan. “There are some glaring omissions and I have my issues with how it was done this year, but they’re trying to do something and it is a valuable exercise, so I’m a full supporter of it.”

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