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Charleston: High Culture in the Lowcountry

March is a special month for art and antiques in historic Charleston, South Carolina’s art capital.

Mary Whyte, Flurries

Mary Whyte, Flurries, watercolor on paper, 35.75 x 43 in.

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Charleston, S.C., has long been a destination for fine art collectors, who flock to the city—especially come spring—to ramble the historic cobbled streets and duck into the countless galleries clustered in the city’s French Quarter.

This March, the local art world will be especially vibrant, as March 1—the first Friday of the month—will see the Charleston Gallery Association’s first Art Walk of the year. From 5–8 p.m., more than 40 member galleries will host openings and receptions for a huge variety of artists, both local and national, throughout downtown Charleston.

“The streets of Charleston just come alive on our Art Walk nights,” says the Association’s Joyce Harvey, of Joyce Harvey Fine Art. “Hundreds of people hop from gallery to gallery enjoying lively music, refreshments and talented artists sharing their work with others. It’s an inspiring night for artists and art lovers alike, and the best opportunity to connect firsthand with some amazing talent in a fun, social manner.”

However, there’s plenty happening throughout the month of March to keep art-lovers busy. Impressionist painter Rick Reinert operates Reinert Fine Art at 179 King Street. The accomplished artist, who is known for tranquil images of nature as well as dynamic city scenes, is just one of a wide array of artists working in the impressionist, hyperrealist, and abstract styles. Throughout the month, Reinert will show new works by many of his large roster of artists. One is Stephanie Marzella, who joined the gallery only months ago. Marzella paints warm, glowing images of the Lowcountry’s natural landscape, focusing especially on the skies. “Stephanie uses a glazing process, so she’ll put 14 or 15 layers of this light wash until she gets an amazing glow,” Reinert says. “She’s known for her big skies.” Another artist whose work will be on view is Jill Basham, a Maryland-based contemporary impressionist. Basham paints coastal scenes, too, but she also creates fluid, highly blended underwater images featuring animals like rays and fish.

Anglin Smith Fine Art, at 9 Queen Street, will present a show of new works by Betty Anglin Smith, “Lowcountry Estuaries” (March 1–15). Anglin Smith works out of a studio near Edisto, south of Charleston, with a 180-degree view of the marsh and the Intracoastal Waterway. “That view has been the inspiration for most of my work since we got that studio,” she says. “The part that intrigues me the most are the estuaries—those areas where you’re transitioning from river to ocean. It’s always changing with the tide.” Anglin Smith’s paintings are vibrant and bright, with exaggerated colors and dramatic, dynamic skies. “I’ve had so many people say, ‘I’ve never seen those colors in the marsh that I saw in your paintings. But then I looked again, and I really saw them,’” says Anglin Smith with a laugh.

Anglin Smith Fine Art primarily represents the work of Anglin Smith herself and her triplets—painters Jennifer Smith Rogers and Shannon Smith Hughes, and photographer Tripp Smith. Other artists on view are painter Kim English, sculptor Darrell Davis, and glass sculptors David and Jennifer Clancy.

Another artist known for her use of color is abstract artist Amy Dixon, whose work will be on view at the Hagan Fine Art Gallery, at 177 King Street, from March 1–31. Dixon will be in attendance at the March 1 artist reception to share new paintings created in her Colorado studio.

Anyone familiar with contemporary realism will doubtless know watercolorist Mary Whyte, internationally renowned for her sensitive, graceful portraits of Southern people and places. Although Whyte has closed her gallery in order to focus on her painting and writing, visitors can view her work by appointment at her studio by contacting her manager, Sharon Crawford. From October 25–December 22, Whyte will have an exhibition, “We the People: Portraits of Veterans in America,” on view at the City Gallery in Charleston.

Lese Corrigan, artist and owner of the Corrigan Gallery on Broad St., will also exhibit new work during the entire month of March, with a show by painter and printmaker Mary Walker. Walker’s work is heavily inspired by Native American petroglyphs, as well as music and literature, and this show is titled Jazz, the Odyssey, and Petroglyphs. “Mary’s work is always interesting and whimsical, with a base in history, ballads, and such,” says Corrigan.

Another must-see in Charleston is Robert Lange Studios, which specializes in contemporary figurative art. From March 1–28, the gallery will open a show of new sea- and landscapes by artist KC Collins, titled “Drift.” “Collins’ ethereal, soft brushstrokes remind me of a young Gerhard Richter,” says gallery owner and hyperrealist Robert Lange.

For a unique experience, visit the Grand Bohemian Hotel on Wentworth Street. Featuring original art throughout the space—the hallways, ballrooms, and lobby, among others—this hotel also has an on-site gallery that will host the group exhibition “The Seductress” for the Art Walk. Painters Briahna Wenke, Samantha Rueter, and Anna Razumovskaya will present works exploring the female form.

And the Grand Bohemian isn’t the only art hotel in the city. Boutique hotel The Vendue, which sits just steps from downtown’s Waterfront Park, also boasts an impressive art collection and hosts two to three major exhibitions per year. The Vendue’s current exhibition, which will be on view through April 30, is titled “All the Blues,” and features work by 24 artists, each of whom was challenged to create a new piece conceptually inspired by the color blue.

Helena Fox Gallery, which represents contemporary representational artists, is presenting a show this month of father and son painters Jeffrey and Brock Larson. Opening March 22 with an artist reception from 5–8 p.m., the exhibition will be significant for the duo. “This will be the first exhibit showing their paintings together, and one of Jeffrey’s first exhibits in the Southeast,” says Gallery Director Carolyn Fraser. “Jeffrey is well-known for his still lifes, and also does some figurative work, and Brock paints still lifes and plein air landscapes.” The Larsons live in Minnesota, where they established their own atelier, the Great Lakes School of Fine Art, in a renovated Gothic cathedral.

Those looking for Lowcountry artists will also want to make a visit to Helena Fox, as the gallery represents West Fraser—one of the South’s best-known living artists (Carolyn Fraser is West’s sister). Fraser paints what have often been called portraits of a place. “When he paints a street scene, you get everything in that scene. Nothing is painted out,” says Carolyn Fraser. “It’s a true depiction of what he sees.” West Fraser has been painting the Lowcountry for the past 30 years, which means he’s created images of many places, people, and scenes that are no longer extant. That documentary aspect of Fraser’s work is just another facet of what draws many to collect his paintings. In addition to private collections, Fraser’s work graces the walls of many museums and galleries across the country.

Speaking of museums, the Gibbes Museum of Art—which recently underwent a major renovation and restoration of its century-old building—will have on view an important exhibition that has its roots in a critical self-examination the Gibbes commissioned a decade ago. The Gibbes asked two North Carolina-based artists, Juan Logan and Susan Harbage Page, to create an installation examining the Gibbes’ collecting habits from a racial perspective. “The practice of institutional critique through collaborations with artists was still a relatively new concept when this show opened in 2009,” says Sara Arnold, the Gibbes’ Director of Curatorial Affairs.

Logan and Harbage Page’s research revealed that out of 10,000 works in the Gibbes’ collection, only a tiny percentage were by African-American artists. This was communicated through an installation piece at the heart of the exhibition. “The artists installed a 20 x 40-foot platform covered with small boxes. The sea of boxes—9960 white boxes and 40 black boxes— represented the ratio of artworks in the Gibbes collection created by European American artists versus African-American artists,” Arnold says. “The inequities that existed in the museum’s collection were right there in black and white, so to speak. It was a striking disparity.”

That exhibition served as a call to arms for the Gibbes. The museum was challenged to renew its intent to collecting works by a broader range of artists, and the current exhibition will display some of the fruits of that effort. In “New Acquisitions Featuring Works by African American Artists,” visitors will be able to see roughly 25 works by artists including Kara Walker, David Driskell, Sam Doyle, Mary Jackson, and Lonnie Holley. The exhibition will be on view through June 16.

Beginning March 29, another Charleston institution, the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, will host the show “Young Contemporaries,” a juried exhibition of art by students at the College of Charleston, with which the Halsey is affiliated. On May 17 the gallery will open the much-anticipated “Cry Joy Park: Gardens of Dark and Light,” by Jennifer Wen Ma. Ma is a Chinese-American interdisciplinary artist who will create a site-specific installation that explores the dichotomy of utopias and dystopias. Consisting of two separate “gardens” constructed of paper—one dark, one light—as well as a series of ink paintings on glass, “Cry Joy Park” will explore how a society can be interpreted completely differently, depending on one’s perspective.

Of course, no visit to Charleston would be complete without a look at the incredible antiques offerings the city boasts. The annual Charleston Antiques Show, hosted by the Historic Charleston Foundation, is always an enriching destination for collectors and aficionados. Held from March 14–17 at the Gaillard Center in the city’s downtown, this event brings together dealers from around the world specializing in English, European, and American pieces from the early 17th through the mid-20th centuries. Jewelry, decorative arts, furniture, garden furnishings, art, and architectural elements are all on display throughout the exhibition hall, but the weekend also includes Design Talks with well-known designers and antiques experts. Guests also have the opportunity to attend parties and gatherings at historic homes throughout downtown Charleston.

This historic city is filled with enough art—in enough varieties—to satisfy any collector’s tastes.

By Elizabeth Pandolfi

Author: Art & Antiques Magazine | Publish Date: February 2019

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