Despite the fact that December marks the middle of the year for the arts world — if we were going to get all technical, we’d do this article in June, once Spoleto closed — the approach of New Year’s Eve tends to make us think back on the cool things we saw, heard, and experienced in our local art spaces this year. So without further ado, here’s our biased, unscientific list of the greatest developments in Charleston’s art scene, in no particular order.

The Gaillard Center opens

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After last fall’s shocker of an announcement that the Gaillard wouldn’t be open in time for the 2015 Spoleto Festival USA as previously planned, it was a relief to hear that the hall would, finally, open its doors to the public this October.

And the beautifully remade, neo-Classical building did not disappoint. The grand opening featured a concert by world-famous cellist Yo Yo Ma and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, followed by dinner in the Gaillard’s new exhibition hall, and drew a crowd of 1,800.

After the three years of construction and delays, we can say that it was worth the wait. We’re excited to see it shine as the central venue in next year’s Spoleto Festival.

Woolfe Street Playhouse expands its horizons

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The professional theater has been putting on great shows for years now, but this year marked a turning point for the playhouse’s resident company, the Village Rep. It was first noticeable this winter, when Spoleto announced that the Playhouse would be a venue for several festival shows. This was a change for the theater, as they’ve historically put on their own Piccolo performances during the festival.

Then this summer, we noticed another interesting development. Under the leadership of founder and artistic director Keely Enright, the Village Rep commissioned a play from New York-based playwright Derek Ahonen, The Transcendents, which premiered this July.

It was closely followed by their performance of the play Lungs, which was directed by another New Yorker, Noah Brody, a co-founder of the highly acclaimed theater company Fiasco Theater. Both plays were given high marks by our CP reviewer, and we’ve been assured by Enright that we can expect more of this kind of original and collaborative work going forward.

The Halsey brings in celebrated folk artist Lonnie Holley

Lonnie Holley, the self-taught, Alabama-born folk artist and musician who creates assemblage works out of other people’s trash, opened the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art’s fall season with the solo exhibition Something to Take My Place. With a prophetic way of speaking and a life story that almost defies belief — involving, as it does, a mother who had 27 children, a kidnapping, and being sold for a bottle of whiskey, not to mention an incredible list of hardships and abuse — Holley the man is just as unusual as his art.

Holley spent several days in Charleston on a kind of mini-residency with the College of Charleston, constructing a sculpture in the Addlestone Library and playing a concert at the Charleston Music Hall. As many Halsey shows do, the Holley exhibition attracted art critics from across the country ­­­— most of whom came from, of course, New York.

Robert Lange exhibit Blended Tides and One’s

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We couldn’t pick just one Robert Lange Studio show to highlight this year because they put on two real standouts this spring and summer.

The first, Nathan Durfee’s collaborative show Blended Tides, saw the painter — who is known for his narrative, illustration-esque paintings — going in a different direction. For this exhibition, he invited different artists to start a piece, then hand it over to him to finish (in some cases, the process was reversed). The artists included Patch Whiskey, Hirona Matsuda, and Michelle Jewell, the creator of Finkelstein’s handmade toys.

The pieces achieved varying degrees of success, but one piece has stuck with us since we saw it back in April. It’s called “The Look on Elizabeth,” and is a digital photograph by Gregg Lambton-Carr with a painted face by Durfee. It’s striking, sensitive, and emotionally direct.

Then this summer saw RLS co-owner Robert Lange’s first solo show since spring 2014, One’s. Focused on the theme of meditation, the exhibition showcased Lange’s incredible skill as a hyper-realist. We always love seeing his works scattered here and there in the gallery, but it was a treat to see a whole body of work after such a long time.

Spoleto’s secret

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Well, so much for the surprise. One of the main events of next year’s Spoleto Festival USA, a production of Porgy & Bess with set design by Gullah artist Jonathan Green, wasn’t supposed to be revealed until the big Spoleto announcement, set for this Jan. 3.

However, as Spoleto’s Jennifer Scott told City Paper back in October, the show somehow became “Charleston’s worst-kept secret.”

But hey, that’s OK! A little gossip never hurts when it comes to show biz — even when the show belongs in the rarefied atmosphere of Spoleto.


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