VISUAL ARTS REVIEW: Works by Sandra Brett and Kevin Hoth 

Office Art Space: A worthy exhibit of oils and photographs introduced by a secretary

Works by Sandra Brett and Kevin Hoth
On view through Aug. 2
Art Institute of Charleston
24 N. Market St.
(843) 727-3500
www.artinstitutes.edu/charleston

Speak with any creative-based institution and they will tell you that their survival is based on balancing business acumen and artistic sense, and having the ability to generate revenue from the community at large.

The Art Institute of Charleston has embraced that philosophy. Its current exhibit combines the reflective peace of a gallery with the hum of a busy waiting room. This month's featured artists are two AIC professors, exposing visitors to some sophisticated photography and painting. This way, AIC shows off its best PR-savvy to potential applicants who walk through the door.

Even so, to enter the gallery you must bypass a large desk and an inquisitive secretary. If you whip out a notepad or look especially curious, be prepared to explain why you're visiting; you might also be interrogated as to where, and with whom, your pursuits lie.

But it is no real fault of the secretary's if she is confused. You are, in fact, in her space, and she is used to directing students and visitors to their appropriate destinations. If your pursuits lie in the simple observation of art, though, the directives, the office banter, or the consistent metal slush of heavy doors closing and opening might put you off.

Now you're in the gallery, a tidy, intimate space with soft, effective lighting and gleaming hardwood floors. A series of photographs by Kevin Hoth line the left wall. Hoth is a Charleston multimedia artist who has built his reputation with engaging, mellifluous pictures. (Editor's Note: Hoth is a frequent contributor to City Paper.) The exhibited work is layered with a midnight blue atmosphere. It captures an abandoned building, a pretty woman's exploration of it, and some isolated objects that gain significance through their photogenic manipulation.

Hoth finds intrigue in the slow exploration of an industrial skeleton. The building is mysterious and smudged by shadows, but it remains proud even as boards cover its windows and sunlight passes it by.

Hoth's technique is refined. Two mantle-sized black-and-white photographs hang on the front center wall and represent his more traditional approach to shooting pictures. The material shows a mud-specked hand cradling a hunk of solid earth, the fingers rolling it under the gaze of the camera. The limb traces a man's arm from shoulder to hand, the skin and fingernails spotted with mud, the arm's strength and weariness displayed by the slack muscle and slightly curled fist. These photos express life, whereas the abandoned building photos capture it slipping away.

Sandra Brett's oil paintings adorn the right wall. Her work reflects the emotions and thoughts experienced on a trip to Auschwitz. Brett registers the tragedy of Auschwitz but focuses on the triumph and hope that memorializes its victims. Her paintings are non-objective and use abstract techniques to convey the suffering and beauty found in the surrounding landscape.

Sparks and Birches is a series of five paintings that express conflicted feelings. Dark gray vertical strokes stand as birch trees among swabs of green pasture and swirls of blue sky. Triangular sparks flutter about the paintings. They represent the machinery of the attempted eradication of the Jews. The sparks linger in the air like hurtful, age-old sentiments that can't be erased, and offset the fabricated tranquility of Brett's attractive and transformative work. Brett does not overlook the hideousness of Auschwitz. Instead, she studies the remains of its human ugliness and discovers resilient beauty.

This show is certainly worth seeing. But until the AIC distinguishes its gallery from an office waiting room, the experience will be defined by an administrative invasion more than Hoth's or Brett's artwork.


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