VISUAL ARTS ‌ Paradise Found 

The Gibbes spearheads a slew of new shows that offer all kinds of art

click to enlarge James McNeill Whistler's ghostly etchings are on view at the Gibbes
  • James McNeill Whistler's ghostly etchings are on view at the Gibbes

Why have one high-profile exhibition during Spoleto when you can have four? That's the thinking at the Gibbes Museum of Art on Meeting Street during Spoleto, hedging its bets with offerings from Edward Hopper, James McNeill Whistler, and the Bermuda-themed Painters in Paradise. Some serious space is still devoted to Made in China, exhibiting exquisite porcelain imported from the Far East. This traveling show pulls out all the stops to make its subject accessible, with a meticulous guide to the manufacture of the pieces and a board game and activities for kids. It's been up since mid-March and will stick around until June 25.

While China makes the Main Gallery the most interactive in the museum, the Renaissance Gallery will be the most visited. That's where Edward Hopper's watercolors have been plunked beside the work of other artists of the period, including his wife Josephine Nivison Hopper. But it's Ed's 12 pieces that people will come to see. During his three weeks in Charleston, he depicted cabins, houses, rural and coastal landscapes. Don't go expecting anything similar to his well-known noirish urban art — back in 1929, Hopper's palette was lighter and his composition less rigid. He effortlessly captures the city's intense sunlight and expansive greenery, helping this show live up to its hype. Edward Hopper in Charleston will be on view through August 13.

Across the hall, Whistler's etchings center around the Thames River in London, and were created over a 20-year period (the 1850s-'70s). Some of them are unclear, with subjects that are little more than vague impressions on paper. "Thames Police" is much more detailed; roof tiles, chimney pots and signs are all visible. But the people are incomplete translucent ghosts. It's the architecture and mood that Whistler's really interested in.

This is the second exhibition pulled from the Vreede Collection since it was made available in 2004. The 17 tiny etchings will be on display until August 27.

Last year the Gibbes ran the gamut of abstract art with examples of the form that spanned a century. Perhaps the museum had Beyond Abstraction in mind when it put together Painters in Paradise, because Impressionism, photography, modernist sculpture, and dashes of Cubism can all be found amidst more traditional oils and watercolors. The featured artists are from North America and Europe, traveled to Bermuda and were inspired by it, so they painted its people, streets and countryside in myriad ways. If nothing else, this show reflects the many different ways that art can reflect an identical subject. Visitors wishing to enter this colorful realm of visual possibilities will see work by Georgia O'Keefe, Marsden Hartley, and Malcolm Morley. We recommend O'Keefe's knobbly graphite "Banyan Tree Trunk" and John Pfahl's extraordinary C-type "Triangle, Bermuda." Paradise can be viewed through August 7, and the Gibbes will considerately stay open until 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday during Spoleto.

***

Just around the corner, the John M. Dunnan Gallery on King Street is currently filled with life-sized, white-bandaged figures in various poses. Dunnan is best known for his stick-figure nude drawings that writhe across his frames in a pleasing echo of Matisse's "Dance" and "Blue Nude" pieces. Dunnan is an unabashed fan of Matisse and Abstract-Expressionist Mark Rothko.

Dunnan has created rich-hued, chaotic backgrounds on canvas for his full-scale mummies, adding extra life to their already expressive bodies. An exhibition of nude photography will replace the faceless sculptures in the fall.

Eva Carter's gone all rock 'n' roll at her gallery on East Bay Street. She's taken those little tidbit bios of iconic rock stars that crop up in magazines, placed them alongside energetic stage stills, and evoked their sounds with abstract, painted flourishes.

The choice of color schemes is as brazen as the stars themselves. Bob Dylan is tangled up in blue, Jimi Hendrix is surrounded by a purple haze, and Pink Floyd perform on a comfortably numb background that includes dark green and dirty white.

click to enlarge Eva Carter paints in black in honor of Rock 'n' Roll, the inspiration for her new project on view at her East Bay Street gallery
  • Eva Carter paints in black in honor of Rock 'n' Roll, the inspiration for her new project on view at her East Bay Street gallery

This series is more uneven than Carter's usual stuff. She began with "Paint it Black," and her experiments with different colors and textures are apparent in the large Rolling Stones tableau. But we can't help feeling this is a pet project that's been at least as much fun for her as it will be for viewers.

Over on Kiawah Island, the Wells Gallery on Sanctuary Beach Drive is devoting space to the spaced-out work of Mary Edna Fraser, who produces the most remarkable dye-on-silk pieces we've ever seen. When we hear the word "batik," we usually think of old ladies wearing too much makeup soaking textiles with psychedelic patterns. In contrast to that stereotype, Fraser works closely with scientists to create unique artistic interpretations of land masses and constellations, with a down-to-earth emphasis on barrier islands. While the forms she depicts are based on meticulous research, the gaudy, flowing colors are her own, reflecting the strong feelings she holds for parts of the world unsullied by man.

Not content with working with NASA and the Smithsonian Institution, Fraser's now showing her work at The Wells. The gallery has modest dimensions, so it isn't the perfect place to see her large-scale pieces, but there are still some good examples of her style, including the luminescent "The Pleiades," the tranquil "Mountain Prayer" with its meditative aquamarine colors, and "Tsunami," an image of the Earth with Indonesia hues and anthropomorphized weather patterns.

The swirling tsunami resembles a monstrous fish, tail twisting, ready to strike at the land; the continents are given human features and there's an effective sense of motion, as if the masses are fleeing from the calamity. Fraser's adept at bringing extra life to uninhabited landscapes and creating off-screen space. By subtly changing the blue colors in "Avon," she changes the depth of her watery background and suggests that it's flowing from an area beyond the right side of the canvas. Her subject reaches off the left side, effectively helping the viewer to imagine the rest of her multicolored world.

Scenes from Above will be on view in the Wells Gallery at the Sanctuary through June 4.

The Munny do-it-yourself toy is a small, anacephalic figure from kidrobot.com that can be adapted and accessorized in a variety of different ways. Munny was the star of his own, one-night-only show at the 53 Cannon Gallery on May 27, when Southern artists did some very strange things to the wee guy. Kevin Taylor, recently relocated to San Francisco, created a one-eyed monster called "Onyx." Georgia-based Johnny Thief made "Cthulhu," a tentacle-lipped, winged demon. Fumiha Tanaka came up with "Alala," a more delicate pink and silver offering with a sunflower hat. A Munny became a hat, flanked with feathery plumes, courtesy of King Street milliner Leigh Magar.

Judging by the figures filling spaces throughout 53 Cannon's ground floor, Munny has been an inspiration to dozens of artists in a multitude of ways. Art materials out in back encouraged visitors to create their own pieces, creating a sense that in the right hands, anything could be painted or molded to become a work of art — not a bad sentiment on the outset of a major arts festival.


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