In an annual ritual that invariably draws reactions, good and bad, from Charleston's artistic cognoscenti and King Street shoppers, Spoleto Festival USA on Friday unveiled its official 2014 poster, which features an image by British artist Antony Gormley.
More painting than drawing (Gormley used carbon, casein and uniline dye on paper), the work shows an obscured figure behind a geometrical set of lines that might be interpreted as scaffolding, Spoleto Festival General Director Nigel Redden said. The person perhaps is standing before a window - "it's the figure of someone looking and exploring," Redden said, "someone being curious."
And that idea complements the general purpose of the festival itself, which is to explore ideas through art and encourage patrons to do the same, he said.
The original piece is titled "New York VIII" and is part of a 1997 series the artist made while staying in the Dakota Building on the city's Upper West Side. The series was an effort to investigate an urban landscape.
Gormley is an award-winning artist who received the U.K.'s Turner Prize in 1994 and, most recently, the Obayashi Prize in 2012. He has gained a reputation for innovative sculptures and public artworks that often examine "the relationship of the human body to space."
He spent time in Charleston in 1991, when Spoleto Festival organized a site-specific public art exhibition throughout the city called "Places with a Past." Gormley's work was featured at the Old City Jail where he filled rooms with terra-cotta figurines, spheres, pluff mud and more.
"It was the most significant thing he'd done up to that time," Redden said.
"New York VIII," in its poster form, initially drew a positive response from the few onlookers at the unveiling.
Osei Chandler, a radio show host, called it an "interesting" image that doesn't confine the imagination.
"It's one of the few posters to which I've had a visceral reaction," he said.
The Spoleto poster generally attracts interest because it features a well-established artist who often provide original artwork to the festival, and because its choice is not always embraced by the viewing public. Redden has long been in charge of the selection process, usually relying on artists he's worked with or encountered personally.
Over the years, the posters have showcased the work of a broad range of artists, including Churck Close, Jasper Johns, Sol LeWitt, Henry Moore, Susan Rothenberg, David Hockney, Bridget Riley, Frank Stella, Maya Lin and Alex Katz.
Posters ($25) are available for sale at spoletousa.org. And the festival encourages Charleston store owners to enter the annual window display contest, which is subject to public voting.