On view through Jan. 14
Gibbes Museum of Art
135 Meeting St., 722-2706

Not everyone knows where the Gibbes Museum of Art is or what it’s for. It’s not just tourists who sometimes mistake it for the Charleston Museum or even the Gaillard Auditorium. To some locals, it’s an institution that’s been around seemingly forever, stuffy and immutable.

Those who’ve managed to find the Gibbes (it straddles the corner of Meeting and Queen streets) will know that’s not true. While there are some older, fixed exhibits that help to give the museum its character, there’s also been a constant attempt to include fresh shows. Big hitters like Jonathan Green and Red Grooms have been accompanied by less-hyped, intriguing selections of photography and painting, with a smattering of sculpture thrown in.

Even if the Gibbes’ hidebound rep is unjust, new Executive Director Todd Smith wants to shake it off anyway. And he’s doing it not with a whimper but a bang in a show as abrasive as its one-syllable title: Now!

This five-artist onslaught has engendered a wide range of responses, from enchanted to nauseated. A modest group of photos by Jeff Whetstone are hardly sick-making, with their black-and-white shots of the great outdoors; the artist is interested in man’s interaction with nature, using hunters as his slightly dopy-looking subjects. “John Marc, Turkey Hunter” is a neatly composed diptych showing Marc with and without his hunting gear. There’s a deer’s-point-of-view shot of a blind in “deerhunter” and a similarly voyeuristic view of a “Sleeping Hunter.” In the latter, a man dozes in long grass — but is he nature’s friend, foe or prey? With a detached style that’s only self-conscious when it accentuates the trash left in the wild, Whetstone isn’t telling.

Sarah Bednarek’s sculptures are also hard to pin down. It’s easy to ignore her abstract macramé Timothy Leary, a comment more on the myth of the ’60s guru than the man’s physical appearance. A representation of Goldie Hawn is more straightforward and raises a smile — it’s a wig on a stick. Bednarek’s centerwork is “Communards,” reveling in the idea of hippiedom even as the artist reflects on its subsequent dilution and commercialization. It depicts a group of small female forms standing next to a bundle of sticks, an afghan blanket, and a hollow baby.

Bednarek’s use of macramé makes “Communards” a memorable look at a period that, to the 26-year-old artist, must seem as distant as a dusty museum piece. Christopher Miner looks back as well, but in a more personal manner, recording and musing on his family history. Like an embarrassing child, his video work is tucked in a corner of the gallery — and quite rightly so. “The Best Decision Ever Made,” a naïve examination of banality, death, and depression, comes across as a badly shot, overlong video blog.

Fortunately, Now! is eclectic enough to include perkier pieces, including “Color Recordings.” This is one of those series where the process is as important as the outcome, not least for the artist. Kathryn Refi examines her environment by recording each moment of seven days with a camera, then recreating all the colors of those surroundings in large-scale abstract oil paintings.

Black, pink, blue, and white colors blur into each other in a chaotic queue, showing a progression from pre-dawn darkness to pale moonlight. Each day of the week is different, and judging by the examples here, none were exceptionally vivid.

Demetrius Oliver uses his own body as his canvas, and his work will be the most remembered from this show. His digital C-prints include details of his face and hand; on a couple of occasions he holds modern, manufactured objects in his mouth. By objectifying himself he accentuates the way that he feels when he’s judged solely on his appearance. Like the other artists in this show, his wily high concepts prove there’s far more to him than meets the eye.

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