Like any worthwhile endeavor, the creative act requires a nurturing hand. Such is the principal mission of the 701 Center for Contemporary Art in our capital city. Every two years since 2012, the institution has supported the work of professional South Carolina artists by organizing a competition whose winner is awarded a paid residency, solo exhibition, and publicity in a national art publication. What a grand opportunity for young artists — the upper age limit for the competition is 40 — who have decided to set their sights on a career whose rewards can be illusive.
Three artists have been chosen as finalists for the 701 CCA Prize 2020, and representative selections from their visual body of work are currently on view at the center on Whaley Street in anticipation of a Dec. 3 announcement of the ultimate prize winner. Space precludes a detailed description and analysis of the varied works in this current exhibition, but I will try to do justice to at least one characteristic piece by each finalist.
Those familiar with the Columbia arts scene will already be conversant with the work of outstanding printmaker Adrian Rhodes, who was included in the 701 CCA Biennial in 2019 and who was honored with a solo exhibition at the McMaster Gallery at the University of South Carolina in 2018. As with these two earlier shows, visitors to the CCA will once again find themselves enveloped in one of the artist’s large-scale mixed media installations featuring her favorite mythological and iconographic imagery.
Paper bees swarm on the gallery walls. These avatars of industry cut from woodblock prints, some in black and white and some in black and gold, are busy building hives whose geometric beauty elicits admiration and regret, the latter emotion resulting from the foreknowledge of the hive’s destruction by humans and predatory animals. The hive-building activity of the bees is mirrored in the artist’s own obsessively repetitive image-making, replicating bee after bee. Equally foredoomed are the fate of the bees’ industry that so often ends in the extraction of the honeycomb and the artist’s own temporary installation, composed as it is of paper, one of the most fragile of media.
Structures of a different sort are the focus of finalist Morgan Kinne, who recently won a grant from the Coastal Community Foundation to support the creation of a new work that reflects the culture of the Lowcountry. Her standout piece in the CCA exhibition — it measures 14 feet in height — first made its appearance two years ago as part of the annual Artfields competition in Lake City. Entitled “Tin Skins,” this roofed tower of corrugated iron, five panels high, makes reference, according to the artist, to the built environment of Iceland, where she enjoyed a one-month residency.
While the end result is hardly inhabitable, the structure’s rudimentary shape and its patchwork “skin” of multi-colored metal panels echo numberless hand-built edifices that dot our landscape and that of other lands, each the humble result of expedient construction, each imbued with its own simple beauty.
The third finalist is Morgan McCarver, who has established a notable reputation as a ceramicist. Among the varied pieces in her portion of the CCA gallery space are several mixed-media sculptures made from soaking books in a mixture of borax and water. The resulting objects — crystalized books — are both subtly deconstructed by the process and also enhanced by their now glowing crystal encrustation.
McCarver’s oeuvre has long been informed by her reading of classic texts, particularly those with a feminist slant. The current show contains, for example, transformed volumes of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Anne Bronte’s “The Tenant of Wigfell Hall”; both narratives feature women who suffer from patriarchal restrictions. Through the process of crystallization, McCarver transforms their tales of suffering into objects of luminous beauty. The pages may pucker and the cover dyes run, but what was once a modest, bound book becomes sculpture, a piece of visual art that makes poignant reference to its literary precursor.
The biennial CCA Prize competition seeks to acknowledge the achievements of young professional artists in our state by showcasing works of artistic merit and originality. Regardless of whoever claims the ultimate prize, all three finalists deserve their recognition.
701 CCA Prize 2020 exhibition
Through Dec. 20. 701 Center for Contemporary Art. 701 Whaley St. 701cca.org.