"I wanted to create the kind of gallery I'd like to visit," says Will Eiseman, owner of the soon-to-open Pulp Gallery and Bookstore. "A gallery that evokes a reaction and asks the question, 'What is art?'"
Housed in the former Star Beauty Supply store next to Dixie Furniture on Upper King, the 3,000-square-foot space will have plenty of room to answer that question. Eiseman plans to open an art gallery, bookstore, and a theater showing "movies you've never seen before." It's a work in progress, however. Still under construction, on a recent tour I had to use my imagination to visualize the finished product including the theater. According to Eiseman, films will be shown on a 15-foot-screen, there will be bean bag chairs, pillows, and other seating, and guests can bring their own beer and snacks. The first flick in his bi-weekly Saturday night film screening will be the 1980s erotic thriller Cat People on March 5.
The movies will be offered for free with a suggested $6 donation. "If no one comes I'll enjoy sitting by myself watching the movies on the big screen," says Eiseman.
A movie buff and wanderer, Eiseman is a bit of a nomad. After winning money in the mid-'80s on TV game show Scrabble with Chuck Woolery, he traveled to New Zealand, Amsterdam, Australia, and Los Angeles. In the latter two, he opened galleries and bookstores — The Cinestore and Todd/Browning Gallery respectively. He has a back log of entertaining stories about these ventures, including the time he acquired early works by renowned graffiti artists Banksy and Shepard Fairey. He reluctantly acknowledges that he foolishly sold them for far less than their current value — Banksy's work now goes for $1.5 million and Fairey's goes for $500K — and learned the important lesson of holding onto art.
What's left in his collection will be on display at Pulp. Eiseman landed in Charleston a year ago and spent the last year getting to know the area, specifically researching whether the Holy City was ready for what he calls his New York-style gallery. When the space on Upper King became available, it seemed to be perfect place to open Pulp, a conglomeration of everything Eiseman has done before. He exudes a carefree attitude saying, "If it works, I'll stay," but it's clear that the dedicated entrepreneur is determined to shake things up with his gallery.
Eiseman has been working tirelessly getting it ready to open on Valentine's Day for an inaugural exhibit he's calling, The X Show: Art & Photographs for Grown-Ups. The exhibit will feature art work by horror author Clive Barker (Hellraiser), director Russ Meyer (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!), and photographer and pin-up Bunny Yeager.
Offering free champagne and chocolate, the erotic Valentine's X show will be an alternative to the typical expensive dinner for couples, or the lonely night in front of the TV for singles. The work is sexy and provocative and not at all what you find at your traditional Friday night art walks. There will be original Bettie Paige photographs from the New York Camera Club, a private photography club that was created in the 1880s and helped launch new approaches to the medium, including nude and erotic photography in the 1950s. Also, several local artists will be featured in the show including Patch Whisky, John Pundt, Ben Sellers, Chris Kemp, Eric Nord, and Julio Cotto.
Eiseman knows that opening his gallery with this show runs the risk of being stereotyped as an erotic gallery, but he won't be pigeonholed. He plans to do a Stranger than Fiction show for Spoleto that will include work from photojournalist Weegee known for his black and white street image art, Charles Eisenmann who took photos in New York City in the 1880s', in addition to vintage crime, medical, magic, and circus sideshow photographs like Lionel the Lion-Faced Man, Priscilla the Monkey Girl, and Gen. Tom Thumb. Later in the year he plans to hold a graffiti show in the summer; a show of Raymond Pettibon, a contemporary American artist who is best known for his wall size drawings and collages, in the fall; and next winter there will be a show of artists who work with toys and dolls. The bookstore will offer one-of-a-kind books on art, photography, vintage comics, pop culture, and screen writing, "stuff you'll never see at Barnes and Noble," says Eiseman. The gallery owner predicts that he'll get two reactions from visitors. People will either say: "Who the hell would buy this shit?" or, "This is the best stuff I've ever seen." I predict that curiosity will initially draw a good crowd, and Eiseman's energy will keep them coming back. "My cool days are over," he laughs, "but my space is cool."