VISUAL ARTS ‌ On the Waterfront 

I'On partners with CofC students to showcase an outdoor exhibit of imaginative sculptures

Art in the Park
On view through May 7
Westlake, I'On, Mt Pleasant

The notion is not necessarily new — place a handful of art objects in an open area, hold a reception, and encourage the public to visit an area they wouldn't normally frequent. If even a few of those visitors like the place and consider buying a house there, the effort's been worthwhile.

Worthwhile enough, at least, for I'On Realty to co-sponsor Art in the Park for the second year running, with sculptures skirting the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood's Westlake. The best-remembered piece from last year was a giant, highly visible plexiglass shark, beached on the lake's edge and delighting passing children. This year the exhibition is more colorful and, despite some variable quality, it's more successful, too.

Thankfully, the project organizers haven't deferred to some art-by-numbers corporation to create its attractions. With the Halsey Institute organizing the event, College of Charleston art students submitted maquettes of their proposed sculptures. Eleven ideas were selected, constructed, and installed, with a 12th (John Dorton's accomplished "Herons in Flight") making an encore from 2005.

The new sculptures are numbered so that viewers won't miss less visible pieces like Alison Watkins' "Christmas Dinner," a dark arch that looks wooden and natural from a distance. Up close, it becomes more obvious that the artist has cast dead birds in iron, with claws, beaks, and feathers jutting from the structure. Aside from achieving her aim of taking a simple basic shape and adding complex details, the artist gives a nod to Native American symbolism and free-spiritedness. The bird arch leads to the lake, but with a little imagination it could lead to other worlds as well.

"The New Cash Crop" also blends in with its surroundings, but Courtney Guider's tidy stretch of prize cabbages have surprises tucked in their leaves -- painted, photocopied dollar bills. Guider hopes to present a tasteful symbol of local economic growth and optimism — or is she saying that I'On is a community of wealthy vegetables?

"Giant Pets" acknowledges other residents — household animals represented by an out-of-scale dog, cat, and guinea pig. Amanda Downey's poodle would be elegant if not for the frizzy ball of hair on its head, signifying the intrinsic grace of the breed before their owners shave them in idiotic ways. Downey works hard to avoid stiff, static poses for her subjects, so the guinea pig rolls on its back and the poodle's in mid-strut. All three strategically bred animals look unhappy, the Persian cat quite rightly so — some real birds have taken a vengeful crap on his tail.

The animal theme continues in Hirona Matsuda's twofold work "Boxed." With one sculpture placed on a metal pedestal in the lake, the artist has apparently found Nemo, stuffed him, and put him in a box. With a single static stroke, Matsuda vividly captures a fish's swimming and breathing motions, colors it a vivid red, and places it in a glass case that bounces light from the water, increasing the sense of motion.

The other characters in "Boxed" are two blue ants, placed near a trash basket. Each lively insect is bright blue, constructed with simple shapes (two round, two triangular). They're also in a glass box, allowing Matsuda to explore the theme of animal captivity and man's tinkering with nature.

Some residents were wary when they saw the phallic shapes of "Bellyache" being erected, and more eyebrows were raised when artist Jodi Herring explained that she'd been studying the form for a year. They needn't have worried. The completed pair of toothsome objects, like two thumbs with mouths and bones in their thrush-infected guts, are fun and cartoonish enough to keep them family-friendly. And that's one of the strengths of this exhibition. This is one to bring the kids to, with a muslin maze from Abigail Heston that's like getting caught up in sheets on a washing line; a huge rollercoaster abacus by Alexa Stephens, which she invites visitors to play with; and Michael Newman's "Picnic with the Mayors," another interactive sculpture with Joe Riley and Harry Hallman (in portrait photo form) rigidly opposing each other at a table.

A couple of submissions are less effective, though still interesting. Bethany Pope's four-staged buoys sit on the shore, slowly rotting. Pope has put a lot of thought into the sculptures, down to the rusty frame and ragged white skin of the final buoy, yet the concept and execution are nothing new and the limited results seem out of place in such imaginative company.

Michelle Repici's large triangular structures resemble overlapping yacht sails, windbreakers, or scaly wings. Like Stephens and Heston, Repici revels in the artistic potentials of calculated shapes and angles. She uses yellow, teal, and clear plastic packing wrap to create a stained glass window effect that, unfortunately, doesn't capture the light and watery reflections as effectively as the far simpler "Boxed."

There's plenty to see in this space, dubbed the Mount Pleasant Amphitheatre, where you can take a stroll around the lake, enjoy the local architecture, and watch out for the turtles who've taken to worshipping Takeya White's "Spherical Nature," a group of three floating sculptures. The smaller ones may look like mere plastic flotsam, but to the turtles they're heavenly objects.

After May 7, this exhibit moves to the grounds of North Charleston City Hall at 490 LaCross Rd., through May 23.


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