In a world still reeling from an all-consuming pandemic — which has put much of the arts world, at worst, in an unnerving holding pattern and, at best, in the throes of navigating radically revisited protocols and means of sharing work — what does the Gibbes Museum of Art do?
It opens up a spanking-new, street-level gallery geared primarily to local artists, of course.
Launched this week in a soft opening, the Ruth and Bill Baker Art Sales Gallery has landed in the space, freshly installed to coincide with the museum’s marquee exhibition, “Building a Legacy: The Vibrant Vision Collection of Jonathan Green and Richard Weedman.”
The show features nine artists from the museum’s Visiting Artist program that range in medium and modus operandi, resulting in its own striking sampler of South Carolina’s contemporary art offerings. It is the first of six that will take place annually, which will each stay up for six weeks.
For its inaugural show, which is entitled “Summer Reflection,” artists include Becca Barnet, Kristy Bishop, David Boatwright, Adam Eddy, Tim Hussey, Leigh Magar, Hirona Matsuda, Kristi Ryba and Charles Edward Williams.
And the new gallery embraces its own vibrant vision, too. It provides Charleston artists with a splashy new space, built-in sales, professional development, public education on collecting, not to mention an implied endorsement from one of the city’s most prominent hubs of visual art.
The pandemic pivot
It is, in fact, in direct response to the fallout of COVID-19, which prompted The Daily to amicably bow out of the cafe it was operating in the space. For local culture vultures, that is, of course, as bittersweet as a superior cold brew. Those Tiffany blue-saturated walls and the cheeky art offered Charleston’s cafe society a chic setting to see and be seen, with scrumptious fare no less.
“It’s just very fortuitous that it’s all happening this way,” said Angela Mack, executive director and chief curator of the Gibbes Museum of Art. “If anything, it’s the silver lining in all the things that we’ve been dealing with, both from an institutional perspective as well as the city perspective.”
“Pooling.” 2020. Tim Hussey. Acrylic, oil, collage, Conté on canvas. 72-by-48 inches. $8,800
With the pandemic temporarily closing the museum, the team was already considering renovations, both to take advantage of the emptied building and to make the necessary adjustments for social distancing, such as moving the reception kiosk and creating the required partitions.
The team at the Gibbes coaxed that gleaming silver lining from the circumstances by deducing that the nearly 1,000-square-foot space, which is free to the public, was formerly a gallery and thus had the infrastructure to become one again. (The cafe fixtures are now tucked behind walls, should the need present itself in the future).
Accommodating social distancing, the gallery now offers Charleston a safe and splashy new hub celebrating the best in local art.
The Visiting Artist Program
Through its Visiting Artist series, the Gibbes already has a machine by which to feed the gallery. The series features a half-dozen or so artists each year, who currently live in South Carolina and whose work “contributes to a new meaning of art in the South” and aligns with the museum’s collection profile.
The goal is to encourage creativity and experimentation, providing artists with a dedicated studio space for the four-to-six weeks of their session. The series also emphasizes professional development, enlisting the artists to participate in the museum’s education program and offering resources to help cultivate skills as a professional artist and try their hand at creating products that are for sale in the Gibbes Museum Store.
“Shimmer Shag I.” 2020. Kristy Bishop, Visiting Artist Summer 2019. Woven yarn made of cotton, lurex and polyester. 14-by-9 inches. $300.
In regards to sales, artists receive 70 percent of the artwork sale; the Gibbes retains 30 percent to cover operational expenses and to provide funding for the Visiting Artist program.
“It’s a very old idea,” said Mack, citing the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s mezzanine shop. “We’re taking it one step further.”
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A gallerist once more
The space is curated by Erin Glaze Nathanson, the museum’s director of contemporary initiatives and public engagement. She comes to the project well-versed in the particularities of the Southern gallery scene, having founded The Southern, a contemporary art gallery that was located on Meeting Street and that dealt in recent works by artists who are connected to the American South.
Nathanson, who came to the Gibbes in 2018, was asked to look at the program, which suited her fine.
“This is actually one of my favorite areas because I get to engage with artists on a daily basis and get to see work being created from the conceptual phases and see their process,” she said.
The gallery is across the hall from the museum store, offering another opportunity for artists. An initiative started over a year ago was to invite visiting artists to think of products that could be created exclusively for the museum store.
“We’ve had everything from bomber jackets to leather cross-body bags to note card sets to children’s interactive pieces,” said Nathanson, who along with Mack seeks to facilitate artists in approaching their practice with strong professional skills.
The process has enabled visiting artists to think about their work in an accessible and everyday way, incorporating art into someone’s life.
“It’s been fun for them because they can also think of their work outside of what they’re usually doing with preparing it for an exhibit,” Nathanson said.
Erin Nathanson with the Gibbes Museum of Art prepares the new for-sale art gallery in the space that had been occupied by The Daily’s coffee shop Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. Brad Nettles/Staff
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A new energy
The new gallery has been conceived expressly to educate and create collectors.
“We need to help people see that the visual arts are approachable and this is one way to make it part of your life,” said Mack, who added that the museum aims to educate people so the art market in Charleston can grow.
All of this synthesis makes for a ever-changing ground floor that bristles with making and selling and experiencing and collecting art, with an emphasis on interaction with the artists, in one dynamic, divergent swoop.
“When we have an artist-in-residence, the first floor just really comes alive, and I feel like our visitors love that energy,” said Nathanson, adding that the artist connecting with the goings-on on the second and third floors also creates a nice energy for the entire museum.
We could all use a little energy right now.
On that note: Still craving that sacrificial caffeine that went by the wayside of The Daily? The Gibbes has worked out a 10 percent discount with the nearby Harken on Queen Street, so there’s still a stylish spot to talk art.
As for the team at the Gibbes, they are energized, too. “We’re just very glad that people are excited about this,” Mack said, “and that it can really provide some thinking for the future.”