The Roman military strategist Flavius Vegetius Renatus once wrote that an army marches on its stomach. Last Friday, the Charleston Fine Arts Dealers’ Association (CFADA) was betting that the same would apply to art enthusiasts, with enough fine food to keep them moving through a 15-gallery course of new exhibitions and group favorites. The idea for the annual Palette & Palate Stroll is simple: partner CFADA galleries with a soupcon of fine restaurants for a one-night-only feast for the eyes and tastebuds.
This stroll’s not to be confused with the French Quarter Gallery Association’s free Art Walks, which draw cordial crowds every three months. The Walks have become a local institution, popular for socializing and free-flowing wine (though less so now than in previous years). By charging for Friday’s event, the more exclusive CFADA galleries kept the hoi polloi away and attracted serious collectors — the ones the galleries really want to come see them anyway. So by the end of the night, the stroll substituted the usual yobbish young things stumbling down the street with plastic cups of wine with well-dressed, serious types stumbling down the street with plastic cups of wine.
Gallery owners noted that these visitors went to the paintings first, not the booze, and asked intelligent questions about the work. “It wasn’t that different from an Art Walk,” says Lese Corrigan, owner of Corrigan Gallery on Queen. “Just a crowd who wanted to see what the quality of the art was.” Sure, people were there to be seen, but they seemed to be doing more looking (and shopping) than on a Walk.
Fortunately for the consumers, this event coincided with an attempt by some of the galleries to stretch their repertoire a bit. The best exponent was State Street’s Wells Gallery, which has gradually given more space over to photography, jewelry, and darker oil paintings that break from the usual, highly marketable palmetto pastorals. There are a few strong black-and-white photos by John Michiels and one wonderfully murky painting by George Pate (“Narrow Gate”).
Just so the shock of the new doesn’t scare any die-hards away, traditional works by Kevin LePrince are also on display. His “Sun Burst” (oil on linen) is an impressionistic light-soaked scene, kept fresh with energetic brush strokes.
“We’re always encouraging our artists to try new twists or techniques on tired subjects,” says gallery owner Hume Killian. “The customers are sick of marsh scenes, we’re sick of looking at them, and artists are sick of painting them the same old way.” While Killian has his tongue firmly in his cheek when he says this, he’s definitely promoting innovative “versions of the same thing.”
Corrigan also likes to mix up her art forms and subject matter, with abstract monotypes (by Gene Speer) and collage/paintings (Karin Olah) nestling next to fish prints (Sue Simons Wallace) and slice-of-life oils (Candice Flewharty). As a CFADA newbie, Corrigan witnessed a “very new crowd” during the stroll, full of “fresh names and faces, with a good number of young couples.” She saw it as a good representation of the energy she strives to create with her art.
CFADA president Joe Sylvan has been a fixture of the Charleston art scene for many years. Like Corrigan, he appreciated the smooth flow of visitors from one gallery to the next. He was joined at his Sylvan Gallery by Guido Petruzzi, who paints tight, carefully-composed landscapes. Sylvan’s also lucky to have the talented Dan Gerhartz, Yingzhao Liu, and Rhett Thurman on his books. Thurman’s “Nocturne, King and Queen” provides a kick-ass lesson in the use of colors and perspective.
Allison Sprock didn’t have a gourmet chef on hand; there wasn’t room in her art-packed, second-floor King Street gallery. No matter — exemplary work by Sean Williams (“Mother and Child”) and Anna Gidora (“Wayfarer”) helped draw a horde.
Another non-CFADA pleasure: Julie Waugh’s Water Couture show at The John M. Dunnan Gallery, also on King. Waugh’s years as a photographer have helped her create a wealth of reflected aquatic patterns and colors in an abstract series. Some look like animal stripes, others are identifiable as moving water, but all of them are extraordinary.