RECENT BLOG POSTS
The Guerilla Girls: The Conscience of the Art World | Tue. Mar. 21, 2017
You cannot observe Women’s History month without talking about women in the arts and you cannot talk about women in the arts without mentioning the Guerrilla Girls. They are the Gloria Steinem and the Betty Friedan of feminist art history. They are the pioneering ladies at the forefront fighting to bring awareness to a cause that is and has been so overlooked throughout much of history. They are radical feminists, artists, and archivists trying to change the art world through their work. The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and the College of Charleston have been fortunate enough to host this group of incredible activists twice over the last two decades. This month marks twenty years since the Guerrilla Girls were first invited to speak at the College.
The Guerrilla Girls launched their group in 1985 in response to an exhibition that took place the prior year at the Museum of Modern Art called An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture. While looking at the roster they found something significantly wrong with it. With a list of over 160 artists, only 13 of those listed were women. From this they birthed a whole media campaign targeted towards museums, dealers, curators, critics, and artists they felt were responsible the exclusion of women and people of color within the art world. They responded by spreading their message via posters and public advertising. One of their best known and celebrated posters is Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum? (1989), which was a direct response to the exhibit held at MoMA.
Guerrilla Girls, Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?, color offset lithograph on illustration board,1989
Drawing from female artists like Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger, the Guerrilla Girls adapted and appropriated the visual language of advertising to convey their message. They pasted their posters throughout New York City and even on the sides of city buses for some time. As they recounted in Whitney Chadwick’s 1995 book Confessions of the Guerrilla Girls, “…we then rented advertising space on NYC buses and ran it ourselves, until the bus company cancelled our lease, saying that the image … was too suggestive and that the figure appeared to have more than a fan in her hand.” Their work presents facts, statistics, and lists that show the vast disparities between male and female artists in the art world. Their goal is to reveal how we experience the arts in institutionalsettings,forcing us to consider who holds power in the art world. By spreading this message via posters and through other means of media, the Guerrila Girles make this knowledge accessible and unavoidable.
A characteristic feature of the Guerrilla Girls are the masks that they wear to hide their identities. They took their guerrilla movement to the next level by disguising themselves with gorilla masks. As stated on their website, “Our anonymity keeps the focus on the issues and away from who we might be.” They have also chosen to not reveal their real names but instead go by pseudonyms adopted from famous female artists and writers. The group member’s pseudonyms include Frida Kahlo, Alma Thomas, and Hannah Hoch, for example.
Fast forward twenty years ago this month, the Guerrilla Girls were invited to give a lecture sponsored what then was know as the Halsey Gallery and were also the jurors for the 1997 Young Contemporaries show. The name of their lecture was “Guerrilla Girls: The Conscience of the Art World.” Their lecture took place at the Robinson Theatre which is housed in the Simons Center for the Arts at the College of Charleston. I was interested to see if they stuck to their beliefs while going through the jury process for Young Contemporaries and the Salon des Refusés exhibition. While looking at the list of those accepted into the exhibition for that year, I found that of the 116 student artists selected, 77 of those were women while only 39 of those were men, proving they did in fact selected more females to show their art.
Event flyer for “Guerrilla Girls: The Conscience of the Art World”, March 21, 1997
The group has grown since its establishment and they have gone on to have their own exhibitions at museums such as the Tate in London, England and Centre Pompidou in Paris, France. While their original focus was on the gender biases and sexism within the art world, they have grown in scope of issues they seek to bring attention to. They have been working for decades to expose sexism and racial inequality in all realms of the arts and one thing is for certain – they cannot be silenced.
by Kate Lesser
Common Threads between EXIT/ALIVE: The Art of Anthony Dominguez and Ronald Ramsey: Ahead of the Wrecking Ball | Sat. Mar. 4, 2017
When first viewing EXIT/ALIVE: The Art of Anthony Dominguez and Ronald Ramsey: Ahead of the Wrecking Ball, I immediately saw a profound connection between these two exhibitions. The work of both artists is deeply centered around the city in which they reside: for Dominguez, it was New York City, and for Ramsey, it is our beloved Charleston. The works fill their respective galleries with a certain spirit, one that resonates with the essence of being in each one of these places. This amazing ability is the result of the artists’ adoption of their cities as active rather than passive participants in their lives.
For Anthony Dominguez, New York City was like a mother to him. After making the profound decision to give up all his possessions and live on the streets of New York City, intentionally homeless, he found that the city always took care of him. If he needed clothes, she gave him a denim jacket; if he needed food, she gave him cookies. She provided him a place to work, spots to hang his work, and supplies of all kinds including black fabric from the garment district and bleach from the clean needle program. Homelessness brought him closer to the city and transformed this location into a maternal figure, one which he somewhat lacked in his upbringing. Furthermore, she always served as a source of inspiration, with new subject matter around every corner. In Kindness Cruelty Continuum, a block party is depicted with an elevator which guides the figure throughout the scene — a classic New York scene created in a tunnel between 14th Street and Irving Place. The subject matter can often be easily connected to New York City, but the style reveals an even deeper relationship. Dominguez’s work never leaves the eye restless, urging you to bounce from one detail to another. The pieces are full of chaos and intrigue, are somewhat intimidating but undoubtedly lovable, just like the city that nurtured him.
Ronald Ramsey, unlike Dominguez, takes the protectorate role: stating that he is “watching the city like a mother hen.” Rather than relying on her love, he seeks to guard her and her history. As a dedicated preservationist and lifelong Charlestonian, the love he has for her exudes in every conversation. He roams the streets, studying historic buildings and keeping an eye out for any which are bound for destruction, liberating any artifacts he finds fascinating and recording their facades in their full glory. By restoring past images of buildings in his drawings and collecting pieces of their past, he saves their memory and creates a view of Charleston which grows increasingly more precious as future developments alter the city’s landscape. Among his extremely detailed works we can remember Charleston as it once was and remember the amount of culture in every precious cobblestone. We are convinced to protect her character and rich history through an extremely compelling visual argument.
Dominguez and Ramsey’s work do not share much in terms of medium and style. One is graphic and death-centric while the other is objective and architecturally-focused, on the surface there is nothing to be seen in common. However, their transportive qualities which take you to another time and place unite them as cohesive bodies of works. They both have the ability to transport you to the center of a bustling city where you can recreate the side streets and busy pedestrians in your mind. This ephemeral quality is attained purely through Dominguez’s and Ramsey’s deep love for their homes.
by Celeste Caldwell, Halsey intern
Past, Present, and Future: The Preservation of Place | Tue. Feb. 28, 2017
Past, Present, and Future: The Preservation of Place
According to the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, “the Charleston region’s population is growing 3X faster than the U.S. average.”[i] More people are relocating each day to this historic city that boasts beautiful waterfront property, superior dining, and rich culture. The United Van Lines 2014 National Movers Study affirmed that Charleston was the second most popular destination for movers in the nation, and the growing city remains high on this list to date.[ii] Established professionals, retired individuals, and young millennials have flocked to Charleston in recent years to take advantage of the variety of business opportunities and the growing job and economic forecast, which includes the tech start-up community, a growing arts scene, and a nationally recognized food and beverage industry. Charleston also offers a range of leisurely pass-times – temperate, warm weather, vast beaches, and light filtered, walkable streets lined by well-preserved architectural wonders and large palm trees. Despite all of these attractions, one inherent element of Charleston has enticed visitors and residents for years: its abundant, vibrant history and culture that spans from its foundation during the Colonial era in 1670, through the Revolutionary War, the Antebellum era, the Civil War, and the Reconstruction, to the contemporary city that we know and love today.
Recently, in conjunction with this large and ever increasing influx of people including both tourists and residents, more accommodations have been required to sustain the growing population of Charleston, SC. Because of the location of downtown Charleston on a peninsula, the issue of available space has become a more pertinent issue. Retail property values have escalated tremendously, and as a result, more historic, family owned businesses have been forced out of business by increasing competition. The question then arises, what is the fate of these deserted, vacant buildings? This impending and timely issue is exactly what concerns native Charlestonian Ronald Ramsey, a local, self-taught artist and preservationist. The exhibition Ahead of the Wrecking Ball presents a large portion of Ramsey’s work, including drawings, found objects, detailed notebooks, and miscellaneous objects that he has both salvaged and collected over the past thirty years. Ramsey utilizes his artistic skill set, architectural appreciation, and historical knowledge to create artwork that chronicles the lifetime of the demolished and extant buildings that lend Charleston its historical and cultural prestige. Through his artwork, Ramsey illustrates the importance of the preservation movement in cities such as Charleston that must focus on maintaining – and repurposing – the buildings that comprise and represent Charleston’s vibrant past, thriving present, and palpably prosperous future.
Ramsey does not discriminate in the types of architectural structures that he records in his drawings, depicting historic homes, old family businesses, wrought iron gates, economic and governmental buildings, nuanced architectural details, and southern landmarks found across the Charleston peninsula. While each work of art completed by Ronald Ramsey is intriguing in its own way, it is particularly interesting to note the location of the structure when considering its impending or previous demolition. Many of the large, elaborate, historic homes and buildings in the Old French Quarter and South of Broad have been renovated and restored, now either occupied or open for historical tours. In contrast, the older homes and commercial buildings further up King Street, in Wraggborough, and into the Upper East Side of the peninsula are either in a disarray, sitting idle and empty awaiting the wrecking ball, or have undergone major renovation and reconstruction to serve completely different purposes that cater to the changing demographic of Charleston. Buildings like Copleston’s Laundry Cleaners (Figure 1) and Regis Milk Company (Figure 3) on upper Meeting Street serve as prime examples to the former classification, while The Ordinary (Figure 5) on upper King Street presents an excellent case to support the latter.
Copleston’s Laundry Cleaners, located at 537 Meeting Street, opened its doors in 1886 as the first dry cleaning company in Charleston. Although it was a successful business firm and a landmark location as the first dry cleaning company, Copleston’s closed its doors in 2002, and since has fallen into major disrepair. Ramsey’s drawing illustrates Copleston’s Laundry Cleaners in 1948, with bright, new paint, intact windows, and a fresh façade. However, upon gazing at the building in its current condition, the viewer is faced with a much different exterior presentation: rust and dirt dominate the front of the building, and the paint has faded into muted, washed colors. The windows are broken, revealing an overgrown expanse of weeds and brush that has enveloped the building over the years as a result of the dilapidated roof.
This same juxtaposition is experienced when one compares Ramsey’s drawing of the Cream Crest Dairy building, later occupied by the Regis Milk Company, to its current condition at 578 Meeting Street. Ramsey’s drawing depicts the old Cream Crest Dairy building, occupied and in use by the company from 1933 until 1960 (Figure 3). Brick walls with large windows spread across the upper Meeting Street side of the building, with a small, green door in the center. When Cream Crest Dairy closed in 1960, the location was acquired by Regis Milk Company. Since 1961, Regis Milk Company had provided milk, tea, and fruit punch to Food Lion supermarkets located in the Southeast.[iii] In April of 2011, Regis Milk Company ceased production and closed the facility after being replaced by another company as the single-source supplier of beverage products to Food Lion. Once a booming, 14,000 square foot operation, the building now sits empty, its windows filled in with brick and the old Regis Milk Company label barely visible through its flat, white, painted over façade.
The Ordinary, an upscale restaurant and raw oyster bar at 544 King Street, serves as a beautiful example of how historic buildings in Charleston can be preserved, renovated, and restored to their former glory in a way that simultaneously appeals to the contemporary needs of the city. The building that now serves fresh oysters and seafood to eagerly expectant patrons underwent major design work and renovation to achieve the modern, fashionable interior that is now associated with the trendy restaurant. Over the years, the location had been home to various different business, including a bakery, a car dealership, and most notably a range of banks that have branches across the nation (Figure 5). While the façade of the 1927 building has not changed significantly other than two sconces and two banners to accentuate its prime location on bustling, budding upper King Street, the interior renovation was much more extensive. Architect David Thompson and contractor Mark Regalbuto faced the challenge of creating a modern atmosphere while maintaining the historical elements of the interior.[iv] The original 23 foot ceilings and 3 tall, vertical windows are complemented by a large bar cabinets and a long, reclaimed wood-topped steel bar incorporating the steel salvaged from the old bank vault. The door of the vault serves as a backdrop to the raw bar in the rear of the restaurant, demonstrating how various historic elements found in buildings on the Charleston peninsula that might seem nonfunctional or not valuable can be repurposed to serve as elegant and chic interior design elements while still preserving their importance in the historical narrative of the building and of Charleston, SC.
Ronald Ramsey’s drawings of Copleston’s Laundry Cleaner, Cream Crest Dairy, and The Ordinary demonstrate only three of many artistic efforts to present the viewer with images of both demolished and extant buildings in order to provoke thoughts and opinions regarding the fate of historic structures around Charleston. By portraying an array of buildings from all over the downtown Charleston in Ahead of the Wrecking Ball, Ramsey suggests that these places – despite their location on the peninsula – should all be viewed as important and crucial to preserve. Preservation cannot be limited to well-known, acclaimed structures in more prosperous areas, but must extend to neighborhoods that may not flourish and require help with preservation and conservation all the same. Through equal extension of concern and appreciation for historic structures across the peninsula, preservationists can assist in the perpetuation of the history and culture of the city as it exists throughout historic homes, businesses, government and economic buildings, and other important architectural structures and objects found in Charleston, SC.
By Mati Gibbs, Halsey intern
[i] “Population and Demographics,” accessed February 16, 2017, http://www.crda.org/local-data/population-demographics/.
[ii] “2014 National Movers Study,” last modified February 15, 2017, https://www.unitedvanlines.com/contact-united/news/movers-study-2014.
[iii] Warren L. Wise, “Regis Milk Co. to Close Doors after 53 Years,” The Post and Courier, March 3, 2011, accessed February 16, 2017, http://www.postandcourier.com/business/regis-milk-co-to-close-doors-after-years/article_460c0402-2541-5ca6-b283-5c3feebbb93f.html.
[iv] “Former Bank Now Restaurant,” The Post and Courier, February 16, 2013, accessed February 16, 2017, http://www.postandcourier.com/columnists/former-bank-now-restaurant/article_dc7ee3e3-e2a6-5016-8199-7ac658839cc2.html.