VISUAL ARTS ‌ The Art of Music 

Redux misses, commercial galleries hit in off-Piccolo art shows

click to enlarge Kevin Hoth (left) at Redux and 'The Cleric' by Francesco Licciardi at Nina Liu Gallery
  • Kevin Hoth (left) at Redux and 'The Cleric' by Francesco Licciardi at Nina Liu Gallery

Most of the year, Redux Contemporary Art Center can be relied on to champion progressive contemporary art in Charleston with memorable shows. Recently, the art center has treated us to powerful portraits (Max Miller), 3-D paper nature studies (Nature: Redrawn), and two eclectic group shows, all bursting with creativity. So why, during one of Charleston's busiest months, when visitors plan to dip into as much art as possible, has Redux chosen the mostly underwhelming work of Kevin Hoth to fill its space?

Local artist Hoth's subject matter can't be faulted in his Animal Time show. "Renourishment," for example, shows bulldozers shifting new sand around Folly Beach. Hoth documented an overnight job that must have been a breathtaking sight, but he doesn't capture anything extraordinary here. Instead we get dozers moving with a screen-grab speed blur across a dark expanse of sand, and that's all. It's not so much the artist's use of a longer exposure that's in question here, but his choice of this photograph for his exhibition. It's as if he's saving his best work for a different, higher-profile gallery, and that's not fair to Redux or its visitors.

Other choices are easier to understand. He finds ugly trash with beautiful colors in shots like "Pink Stain," where one-third of a deflating air mattress lies on a beach. "Threads" places blue nylon rope strands in a similar setting, continuing a theme of textiles in a natural habitat that's developed in his wry Camouflage Suit series. "Suit Falls" is a still of the starring coverall with a waterfall in the background; "Rock Suit" shows the suit laid out on a rock.

Several of Hoth's chromagenic prints on watercolor paper prove that behind the ironic presentation, there's a strong visual eye peeping out. The twilight of "March Drawing" effectively emphasizes a clump of reeds reflected in water. "Pluff Mud" fills another canvas with eerie lunar craters. He's also one of the few video and performance artists in the area, expanding the limits and capabilities of art by mixing visual elements for rapt audiences. But as far as a lot of his photography's concerned, Hoth leaves us cold. His best pieces would have made a great exhibit in Redux's smaller gallery, leaving room for another artist's work in their larger inner area.

Karin Olah makes the most of her allotted space in the Corrigan Gallery on Queen Street, where her Meandering Thread show has just opened. Olah's work has become more abstract in recent years, with less emphasis on familiar forms and more on the unusual light patterns and colors that she finds in Charleston. But Thread includes some local cityscapes as well, all painted in the artist's increasingly confident style. "To Lean" is a mixed media take on St. Michael's Church, and "Fragment — Chalmers Street" accentuates the thoroughfare's tire-trashing cobblestones as much as its buildings. By combining textiles and painting in her trademark patchwork shapes, Olah provides a unique take on her local surroundings and is beginning to gain quite a following. Her exhibition is on view through June 30.

Alex Rahav is another artist equally at home with landscapes and abstracts, though his favored media are pastel and watercolor. He dominates a mixed bag of artworks on display in Millennium Music on Calhoun this month, showing great versatility with his airy, cheerful palette and light brushstrokes. Nonrepresentational art seems to be his forte. "Abstract 6" is a simple acrylic on canvas piece that resembles an eclipse, sailing ships on a pronounced meniscus, or a pair of smiling lips, depending on the mood of the viewer; Rahav's left plenty of interpretive leeway.

While the bulk of this show's pieces are by Rahav, a few other artists get a look-in. Stephen Eaker and Béa Aaronson complement each other with collage-on-panel contributions ("Symphony Bay" and "Echo Bay," respectively). Eaker's art draws the correlation between booze and music-making, adding acrylic and pencil touches to the collages of wine bottles and string instruments. Continuing the vaguely musical theme are John Carroll Doyle's mood-soaked portrait of a saxophonist and George Buchanan's gloomy "Three Alpers." This large-scale, oil-on-linen piece is the high point of the show — a bowed old musician traverses a stage, his spirit and his shadow in the background in what could be considered a metaphor for the death of "proper" music.

The Millennium Music show is cunningly placed across the street from Piccolo's Juried Outdoor Art Exhibition. As a reminder that the classical section has gone all arty, a reception is planned for Thurs. June 8 at 7 p.m.

The multitalented Francesco Licciardi was an artist whose eclectic skills surpassed even Alex Rahav's. His style encompassed large, almost naïve figurative work and delicate sketches. As his health deteriorated and he became too weak to get out of bed and paint, he drew instead. He kept working well into 1991, the year he died; some of those final paintings can be seen at Nina Liu's gallery on State Street until June 30.

Licciardi was highly regarded by local artists for using a "carnival of colors" and it's easy to see why in this vibrant retrospective. There are paintings swirling with yellow and dark green shades, pencil studies, and inky napkin doodles: "The Diner" is like a flourished signature given human form. The furls on the purple and black fan of "Her Highness" are aswish with fine lines and there are more traditional oils too, such as "Flower Vendor," proving that the artist deserved his reputation. Fifteen years after his passing, he is still sadly missed.

Collectors looking for more formal work can drop into The Wells Gallery, also on State Street, where Philadelphia-based Glenn Harrington has a new show through June 10. This painter has mastered classical composition and he's not afraid to use it, splitting his images into carefully balanced sixths and intensifying the narrative quality of his pieces with dramatic eye lines. He also uses colors to tell a story; the subjects of "Summer Companions" are dressed in black and white, one pure, one dominant. No prizes for guessing which is which.

While Harrington is content with his mastery of geometrical aesthetics, some artists never cease to tinker with form and perception. Joan Miró conjured dreamlike wonders onto his canvas, influenced by Fauvism, Cubism, and traditional Spanish art. If Licciardi's colors were carnivalesque, then Miró was the circus ringmaster. His early, surrealist work is considered his best; by the 1970s, he'd been imitated — some would say surpassed — by other nonrepresentational painters.

It's from this later era that Broad Street's Ella Walton Richardson Fine Art Gallery takes its collection of Graphic and Unique Works. The original lithographs and etchings show Miró using denser lines than in his previous years, and they're not indicative of his best work. But they still provide a glimpse of (and a chance to purchase) some precious artwork by a Spanish master, including the effervescent "Paroles Peintes," the primitive "Large Black Figure," and the minimalist "Young Girl," a black-and-white piece that features a stick-thin figure with a Betty Boop expression.

Imagine: Graphic and Unique Works by the Spanish Master Joan Miró is on view through June 17. It's a highlight of an off-Piccolo parade of shows that cover the great (Miró's within shouting distance of Whistler and Hopper selections at the Gibbes), the inspiring (Rahav and Licciardi), and the sometimes less than inspired.


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