Past Comments

November Issue 2002
by Tom Starland

The Long Arm Of Art

As some of you may have noticed, I live and work out of Bonneau, SC - more exact, Bonneau Beach, in Berkeley County, SC. Bonneau Beach is a small lake-side community just off Hwy. 52, about ten miles north of Moncks Corner, SC. Hwy. 52 starts in Charleston, SC, and snakes throughout both South and North Carolina, passing through the cities of Florence, SC, Albemarle, NC, Salisbury, NC, Winston-Salem, NC, and Mount Airy, NC (of Andy Griffith's Mayberry fame) right through to Virginia. I'm not sure how far north it goes. One day I might find out.

Anyway, Bonneau is an unlikely place to be the headquarters of an arts newspaper covering the visual arts in both North and South Carolina, but it provides a relaxed and sheltered atmosphere for doing a monthly newspaper about a community (arts, that is) which is hardly ever relaxed and where who you know is often more important than what you do. My neighbors are not artists, gallery owners, museum staff, or members of non-profit organizations, so there is no shop talk and no vying for my attention and coverage in the paper. We talk about the weather, the other neighbors, and just about anything but the arts.

Bonneau is not the cultural center of Berkeley County and Berkeley County is not the cultural center of South Carolina, but we're not country bumpkins either. If I want to indulge in the higher arts - just about anything is within an hour or two drive. My personal range is anything within a day's drive.

On most days, I'm happy to watch ospreys and eagles fish in Lake Moultrie or go to the Friday night high school football game.

OK, you've got the setting for Bonneau. So, the Gibbes Museum of Art is presenting a major exhibition about Jewish life in the South that originated at the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. We received a book in the mail from the University of South Carolina Press, which is a companion to the exhibit and an exhibition catalogue as well.

In daily conversations with my better half I learned that one of our neighbors heard about the exhibit from local media and is interested in seeing the exhibit. It seems my good neighbor, Carl Marjenhoff, has a Jewish branch in his family which gave him interest in the exhibition. I started thinking - I know that can be dangerous at times, but I began to think it might be interesting to see if my neighbor was interested in doing a layman's review of the book and exhibition. I had the book, I have free admission passes to the Gibbes (due to my membership level at the Gibbes - a hint from last month), and they had the interest. Carl is an alumni and fan of USC - I'm reminded of that fact every football season. So, I thought he might enjoy reading the book and seeing the exhibit and then perhaps giving us a view of what he read and saw - after all it all started at USC.

For us insiders, it would be instructive to occasionally see what others think of our world. Carl and his wife Carole are no strangers to culture, but the visual arts are not high on their to do list - although their son is a graphic artist. The review is on page 11, I hope you enjoy it.

Printing It Doesn't Make it So

Not too long ago I saw an advertisement for a Charleston gallery in a local magazine. I'd like to say I was shocked at what I saw, but I was only amazed and disgusted. The ad was at a minimum, implying a length of operation that did not exist.

Charleston is big on having established institutions long before anywhere else in the US, but most of those boasts are true. I'm use to seeing advertisements which boast of one thing or another - best gallery, largest selection, most unique, most popular, etc. These are all subjective claims - claims that are hard to prove one way or another. But, when you imply or say that your gallery has been an institution for 30 years, when it has at best been physically open less than five years - that's trying to pull the wool over people's eyes who don't know any better. All I can make of it is that the gallery's owner is trying to establish in people's minds that the gallery has been open longer than it has in a city that is known for long histories. Many people think that the longer a business has been operating - the better it is. It just seems logical - how long you've been in business equals how good you are at it. But I know many institutions that have been in business for 50-100 years and they still can't get it right. Just think of government institutions.

The average person tends to believe that what they read in print must be true. Sad as that is, it's true. I don't believe everything I see in print. And, you can't imagine how that sits with me - a person who is in the printed word business.

The art biz is already plagued with some people's misuse of words and implied claims. Some of them that come to mind are: collectable, limited edition, print, archival, museum quality, and acid-free. The words are used to imply certain meanings that may not represent the product being offered.

Here's a real whopper. "This highly collectable, limited edition print, is being offered with museum quality framing using acid-free archival matting." What does this statement mean ?

Well, it could be exactly what it says and it could mean it's a reproduction print from a 10,000 copy edition, with framing that cost more than the print, which is attached to the matting with Scotch tape.

The words used are all there to justify a higher price tag on the finished product. They are catch phrases which the public only knows as meaning good things, but what do people really know about these implied meanings?

It's my opinion that the public doesn't know any of the proper meanings of any of these words and beyond that, doesn't understand that materials that are of a certain quality can be compromised by their misuse. Like using Scotch tape or masking tape to attach a print on to acid-free matting means nothing as the tape has acid in it and most likely the print is not archival to begin with so the whole process doesn't add any life to the project. It just adds cost to the project. In some instances the seller will offer a "certificate of authenticity" of the product's quality and value. To some people a printed certificate means everything - it's like a diploma. Which gets us back to the printed word thing - if it's printed it must be true.

My advice to the public is: buyer beware and buyer be educated. And, I guess, reader beware and reader be educated. I hope people question what I say - check it out for themselves. If I have my facts right and you learn what I say is true - all the better.

So what about this gallery that has implied that it has been an institution for 30 years?

Well I'm sure everyone would like to know the name and I'm sure some will figure out who I'm referring to, but I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt that this implied statement was a mistake - until it happens again. If it happens again - it's no longer a mistake.

Now, if I was to play this game I could claim that Carolina Arts has been publishing for 15 years. It wouldn't be true. Shoestring Publishing has been publishing an arts newspaper for 15 years, but under three different mastheads - Charleston Arts, South Carolina Arts and Carolina Arts. Each time we take on another name the clock starts over again. "Carolina Arts" is only 5 years old or 5 and 11/12ths old as children would say. It seems we all want to be older than we are until we get old. But in some instances age is good. Age is supposed to make you wiser, more experienced, more worldly - in some cases. But, in the highly competitive world of selling art, especially during the current economy - some people are looking for an edge over their competitors - even at the expense of manufacturing it.

It's not really a big deal, but it's not fair to the other galleries who have earned their age the old fashion way by being there day after day - not just in print, but in reality. Frankly, having a gallery one year or even just two is a big accomplishment.

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Copyright© 2002 by PSMG, Inc., which published Charleston Arts from July 1987 - Dec. 1994 and South Carolina Arts from Jan. 1995 - Dec. 1996. It also publishes Carolina Arts Online, Copyright© 2002 by PSMG, Inc. All rights reserved by PSMG, Inc. or by the authors of articles. Reproduction or use without written permission is strictly prohibited. Carolina Arts is available throughout North & South Carolina.