We could have a monster truck show in here!” laughs Mark Sloan, curator of the College of Charleston’s Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, as he gazes around the cavernous hall that will soon serve as the gallery’s hub.
Sloan may not be joking. In his 15 years steering the Halsey, he’s hosted everything from circus sideshows to a Japanese artist who sets her paintings on fire. With an estimated 3,300 square feet of display space and 13-foot ceilings in the new Marion and Wayland H. Cato Jr. Center for the Arts, the Halsey can finally host large-scale sculptures, paintings, and exhibitions. “It is a purpose-built, state-of-the-art facility designed with the anticipation of new technologies,” says Sloan. “We have the ability to respond creatively to any artist’s desires.”
With the gallery’s debut this month, Sloan plans to apply for accreditation with the American Association of Museums. Aiding that pursuit is the $80,000 grant the Halsey received in June from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, which gives the institute increased national credibility and the ability to bring world-class exhibitions to Charleston. “The Warhol Foundation is the mack daddy of all ranking organizations,” says Sloan. “It’s such an incredible endorsement.”
The funding allows the Halsey to pay artist honorariums, host lectures and residencies, cover shipping fees, and promote itself as a national art destination. Sloan is particularly enthusiastic about the new Halsey’s first featured artist, Aldwyth, whose show opens October 23. The 73-year-old lives alone in Hilton Head, meticulously creating large-scale collages and sculpture from found objects, antiques, and century-old encyclopedias. “I don’t loan her books very often because I’m worried she’s going to cut them up,” jokes Sloan.
More than 50 of Aldwyth’s works will be on display, including Casablanca, an astonishingly intricate collage comprised of photographs of celebrated artists’ eyes, and re-su-mé / re-sume, a submission she once sent as an application for a fellowship that she did not receive (though the artist has been the recipient of more than a dozen residencies and fellowships). The foldable wooden sculpture features a few dozen tiny boxes with accomplishments she hasn’t achieved printed on tiny slips of paper—“Guggenheim Fellowship,” “bathed with Bonnard,” “Art in America review,” and so forth.
Since discovering her oversize works several years ago, Sloan has helped introduce this reclusive artist to a wider audience through group shows. “Aldwyth deserves major treatment. I believe she belongs in the Whitney Museum,” he praises. Now, the first major retrospective of her career will debut in one of the Southeast’s newest and finest contemporary art galleries. She can pluck that one from her anti-resume with pride.