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Jennifer Wen Ma first came to Charleston in 2015 as director and visual designer of Spoleto Festival’s production of “Paradise Interrupted.”

The artist, who designed a portion of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics opening ceremonies, has applied her creative talents across mediums. For the Olympics, she created grandiose visual displays that incorporated light and dance. For Spoleto, she created an “installation opera,” a hybrid of performance and visual art.

That opera’s premise has since blossomed (literally) into a visual art exhibit of utopian gardens examining the concept of paradise. Who builds these utopias? Who gets to enjoy them? Who is excluded from them?

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The College of Charleston in Charleston, SC, is presenting, Cry Joy Park: Gardens of Dark and Light, featuring work by Jennifer Wen Ma, on view at The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, through July 6, 2019, part of the 2019 Piccolo Spoleto Festival.

“The exhibition is an investigation into the construct of a utopia, inspired by the history of Charleston, South Carolina, a cultural and artistic capital of the American South, and an exemplar of its opulence and beauty. This installation aims to present both an alluring, gorgeous and otherworldly garden, and its darker counterpart. The worlds created by the exhibition, is a juxtaposition of utopia and dystopia, and is presented via an immersive sensory experience that utilizes various forms of communication to convey its message.” Taken from the Halsey Institute’s press release.

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In 1939, a 24-year-old William Melton Halsey, recently graduated and married, was slated to travel to Europe on an artistic scholarship. For us here in Charleston today, the artistic landscape of our city might have looked quite different had everything gone according to planned.

Halsey’s name on the College of Charleston’s Institute of Contemporary Art is how most people probably know it, but for fans and art history buffs like The George Gallery owner Anne Siegfried, Halsey is all over Charleston.

“It’s kind of like his ghost lives everywhere around here,” says Siegfried. “There’s probably not a road in the city he didn’t walk down, being born and raised here and spending practically his whole life here.”

This month, when Siegfried opens the Paint on Paper exhibition showcasing a collection of small “little gems,” as she calls them, from the very end of Halsey’s life, it’s a chance to see the artist in living color.

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Cry Joy Park — Gardens of Dark and Light investigates the history and social landscape of Charleston, a cultural capital of the American South, and an exemplar of its complex opulence and beauty. The exhibition creates an immersive, multi-sensory experience that explores the juxtaposition of utopia and dystopia. Cry Joy Park is part of a larger body of work that deals with the difficulty of reconciling opposing forces in our society. It follows the explorations that began with Paradise Interrupted, an installation opera conceived, designed, and directed by Ma, which made its world premiere at Spoleto Festival 2015, performed at Lincoln Center Festival, New York and continues to travel worldwide.

Walking into the Halsey gallery, one steps into the enveloping tangles of an oversized black garden, employing Ma’s signature visual language of honeycomb paper structures and cultivated chaos. Crawling vines and branches heavy with giant leaves and fruits are complimented by motion-sensored portions of the garden that introvertedly retreat when approached by the visitor. At the far end of the garden, one must push through a flower portal reminiscent of a botanical birth canal, emerging from darkness into the garden of light. Dark impenetrability gives way to shocking brightness, and comforting ambiguity is replaced with glaring clarity. Mirroring the responsive intelligence of the dark garden, portions of this cut-paper foliage move to greet visitors in extraverted display.

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Hot Travel: Charleston, South Carolina

Mon May 20, 2019
Hot Press

Rich with stunning scenery and historical attractions, Charleston – South Carolina’s largest city – is a must-visit US destination.

Charleston is home to a massive number of iconic buildings and public spaces. These include the Dock Street Theatre (135 Church St, Charleston, SC 29401, charlestonstage.com), the first documented theatre in America, and an integral part of the nation’s history of playwriting and performance. On the other hand, sites like Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired, or Calhoun Mansion (16 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401, calhounmansion.net) – home of Patrick Calhoun, grandson of the famously cruel American politician John C. Calhoun – are must-visits for anyone interested in American history.

Some regard The Charleston Museum (360 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29403 charlestonmuseum.org) as America’s very first museum, making it a fascinating place for those interested in learning more about the city. Centres like the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art (161 Calhoun St, Charleston, SC 29424, halsey.cofc.edu), meanwhile, maintain the region’s impressive artistic legacy.

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Cry Joy Park, by artist Jennifer Wen Ma blends stirring art installations with community involvement at the Halsey until July 6 2019.

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Beauty amid pain. Wealth against poverty. Lavishness alongside austere living. Those are the juxtapositions inherent to the Holy City that “Cry Joy Park — Gardens of Light and Dark,” the new exhibition at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, aspires to unravel.

Charleston’s complex history of wealth, power and majestic buildings alongside racial and socioeconomic inequality inspired artist Jennifer Wen Ma to create “Cry Joy Park,” an investigation of the city’s history and social landscape. On view from May 17, 2019, to July 6, 2019, “Cry Joy Park” is an official visual arts offering of the City of Charleston’s Piccolo Spoleto Festival USA 2019.

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William Halsey is a name in the Charleston arts scene that has held a lasting legacy.

And it’s being revived next week with a new never-before-seen exhibit at George Gallery. The exhibit is “Paint on Paper,” a series of 17 pieces by Halsey that were created later in his life, during the last decade before his death in 1999. 

The College of Charleston’s Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art was named for the pioneer of avant-garde abstract artwork at a time when his local contemporaries were reveling in realism. 

“It’s funny because when Halsey was alive and working in Charleston, he felt like he was on his own — and he was,” says George Gallery owner Anne Siegfried. “Traditional, representational work has always been a thing in Charleston because it fits with the aesthetic of the city, and Halsey was lonely in his pursuit of non-objective work. But now I feel like he’s so of-the-moment.”

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When internationally renowned artist Jennifer Wen Ma was in Charleston developing Paradise Interrupted, her opera that saw its world premiere at Spoleto Festival 2015, her mind was already on her next project. She saw something hiding in the genteel, charming Southern culture of Charleston that she knew she wanted to investigate and use as inspiration for a new series of work.

That work, Cry Joy Park — Gardens of Dark and Light, opens at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary art on Thursday, May 17th, as part of the 2019 Piccolo Spoleto Festival. Cry Joy Park is an interdisciplinary artistic installation that blurs the lines between art, community organizing, and social activism. It features two Eden-esque gardens made of cut paper foliage, one light and airy, and the other dark and oppressive, through which Ma explores the concept of paradise and utopia and how those concepts overlap with the social and political dynamics of Charleston.

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Installation artist Jennifer Wen Ma takes over the Halsey

Wed May 01, 2019
Charleston Magazine

Within any garden there are dualities at play. Day balances night. Winter’s decay leads to spring’s fertility. And blooms above ground mirror a dark labyrinth of roots beneath. In Charleston’s case, roots thread through layers of Antebellum and Colonial soil, past shards of discarded Chinese porcelain and metal slave tags. Light and darkness, utopia and dystopia, yin and yang: this eternal dance of opposites intrigues artist Jennifer Wen Ma, who debuts her installation Cry Joy Park: Gardens of Dark and Light at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston on May 17th.

You might remember Ma’s work from the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics if you were among the billions of viewers watching a massive scroll unfurl on Beijing’s Olympic Green, revealing dancers tracing patterns in Chinese ink (she was one of seven members of the core creative team, and received an Emmy Award for her role). Seven years later, Ma premiered her installation opera Paradise Interrupted here in Charleston, fabricating a dream garden that quite literally “grew” onstage as the opera unfolded. The performance inspired Ma to conceive Cry Joy Park which has become a worldwide tour customized to specific cities.

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