Young Contemporaries
On view through April 28
Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art
Simons Center for the Arts54 St. Philip St.953-5680

At the end of every academic year, the Halsey Institute rolls out Young Contemporaries — an exhibition of work by current College of Charleston Studio Art students. An independent juror selects the pieces for display and, like it or not, his choices represent the department’s annual output. This is the public’s big chance to see what’s been going on in the paint-spattered studios of the Simons Center in what’s described by Dean Valerie Morris as a showcase of “our most talented student artists.”

Whether it’s due to a dearth of maturity or inspiration, this year’s show mostly lacks the quality of its predecessors in a way that’s summed up by a scarcity of titles. While it’s good to let the art speak for itself, there are a hell of a lot of unidentified objects here, and no matter what anyone thinks, “Untitled” is not an imaginative label for any piece.

That seeming lack of imagination is, unfortunately, reflected in much (though not all) of the art on display as well. There’s technically proficient work and some fresh ideas at the Halsey, but several misfires as well, with the sculptors leading the below-par pack.

An untitled sculpture by Robin Willoughby combines sections of tree branches and chair legs in a way that would be intriguing if it weren’t so busy. Jessica Jones’ “Untitled (Cocoon)” has a puddle of resin beneath an eerie fiberglass chrysalis, and viewers are left to wonder what could have burst from the cocoon, but instead of fully utilizing negative space, Jones lessens the effect with a multitude of welded steel plant stems. The result suggests a lack of confidence in the art’s power to tell a story without a load of bits and bobs added.

Chris Itteilag’s steel and glass “Akutaru No Sei (Evil Keg Spirit)” is more successful, with a Jack O’Lantern face carved in a beer keg. A samurai sword has curbed its wicked ways, but flames still flicker from its head. Unfortunately, Itteilag doesn’t know when to stop, either, and spoils the primal effect by adding another, connected mask.

Right next to Jones’ fiberglass cocoon is the more efficient “Angular” by Ryan Klimstra, with a biomechanical blend of curved and pointed shapes. Other sculptures in the show make good use of unusual materials; Liza Twery’s untitled life-size figure has a steel skeleton and plastic skin (at last, a good use for discarded grocery bags). Judy Christian’s “French Horn” mixes tie wire, brass, panty hose, and spray paint to suggest the instrument’s delicate innards.

The show’s sketches and paintings have got the techniques down, too, but few of them have more to offer. There’s an entirely orthodox range of figure studies and some colorful portraits. Beth Wootten’s vibrant “VCR” (oil on canvas) is split in half horizontally, showing the faces of two lads on each tier. The size of the canvas and use of colors are the painting’s best assets.

Blythe Brown’s “Candlelight” (oil on masonite) stands out for a very different reason: its use of a simple chiaroscuro effect with a feminine subject on a brown background. Vadim Smirnov’s unnamed painting is far more complex, but this time the intricacy’s a blessing. Smirnov uses bleach and acrylic on textile to evoke medieval stained glass and an oriental ambience with a nude figure. It’s a rare instance in this show of a clever idea successfully carried through.

This year’s strongest medium is photography, with confident work and an experimental edge. Blair Lamar’s miniature ‘lifts’ in “To Chase a Bunny” give Beatrix Potter scenes a movie storyboard slant. Ashley Heizer’s untitled black-and-white shots include a reflection of the photographer’s hand in the foreground, blending the artist with the art. Laura Elara Black’s “Alex in Wonderland” and Eliot Dudik’s “One Last Grasp” are more functional, but still full of character.

In reality, this year’s show is as much a reflection of juror Gideon Bok’s tastes as the output of the Studio Art department. Bok selected a whopping 100 pieces, and there’s more in an adjacent Salon des Refuses, showing work that didn’t quite make the cut. It’s commendable that so many students get their chance to show work in a professional gallery context. All the same, as with some of the sculptures in this show, it might not have hurt to have kept in mind the maxim “less is more.”

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