ARTS & CULTURE
Charleston’s galleries and culture offer a vibrant reminder that the Holy City is teeming with beauty and life.
Charleston Gallery Association
ATRIUM ART GALLERY
CHARLESTON’S GALLERIES OFFER A VIBRANT REMINDER THAT THE HOLY CITY IS TEEMING WITH BEAUTY, CULTURE AND LIFE.
Little reflects the soul of a city quite like its art, whether it’s old or new, fixed or fluid, local, national or even international in scope. Between 1915 and 1940, an era labeled “The Charleston Renaissance,” a group of local artists — including Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, Anna Heyward Taylor and Alfred Hutty — rose to prominence with their artistic renditions of landscapes, watercolors, and other media. Even Charleston’s famed wrought-iron work was carried into the 20th century by Charleston’s best-known and most prolific blacksmith, Philip Simmons, whose many pieces can be admired throughout the city. These creatives were the driving force behind the city’s preservation movement and can be credited with setting the stage for the destination we know today. Recognizing the historic district as a local treasure, the artists of the time established their workshops, studios and galleries in the city’s French Quarter.
More than 30 art galleries are part of the Charleston Gallery Association (CGA) and most are clustered within walking distance from one another. This treats visitors to the tranquil joy of strolling a couple of blocks around and wandering in and out of eclectic spaces where they can discover canvases, sculptures, photography and more that they can observe, consider, and purchase for their personal collection.
If you happen to have the good fortune of being in town during one of the CGA’s Art Walks, you’re in for a particularly good time. The galleries have adapted to the changing landscape to continue showcasing and supporting the artists they represent in a number of ways. Whether you are an art connoisseur or feel a little out of your comfort zone in artistic spaces, these businesses are a true reflection of the city: vibrant, resilient, and, above all, welcoming. Consider planning a visit during one of the monthly Art Walks, which take place on the first Friday of the month from 5 to 8 p.m. and deliver a different kind of experience every time. Or, research exhibits and events ahead of time by visiting the CGA’s online calendar (charlestongalleryassociation.com/calendar). Some businesses will host artists for a designated period or stage other enrichment experiences, such as lectures, demonstrations and special exhibits. All galleries rotate exhibits and artists come and go, but the overall quality the city’s artistic community delivers is consistently high and reliable.
Go Your Own Way
You never know who you will meet or what you will encounter at Charleston’s fine galleries, so simply meandering through the district often provides more of an education and experience than what you could have planned or predicted. Begin your own walk at Atrium Art Gallery, which is centrally located near the corner of Queen and Meeting Streets. It specializes in some of the city’s finest contemporary and abstract art displayed within a gorgeous, airy space. The gallery is packed with vibrant, unusual pieces, as well as black and white photography made by local, regional and national artists. Atrium is a perfect place to become acquainted with the Charleston art vibe and kick off your self-guided tour of creative exploration.
From there head east, where you will find a number of galleries that carry everything from original oils, sketches and photography by individual artists to curated collections of watercolors, whimsical sculpture gardens and even dedicated spaces for our favorite animal subjects—whether avian, canine or equine.
Here, you can continue your leisurely walk by taking Elliot Street to East Bay Street, or backtrack toward Gallery Row, where you can pick up original works by outstanding emerging artists or plan to attend a variety of cultural events, including art shows, fine jewelry trunk shows, supper club experiences, and private and small-group art and music classes.
Housed within a Beaux Arts building on the edge of the French Quarter is the stately Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston’s fine art museum. The Gibbes houses a permanent collection of more than 10,000 historic and contemporary American works, including a sizable number of “Charleston Renaissance” pieces. Notable works include paintings, prints, drawings, photography, sculptures and miniature rooms. The museum also hosts traveling exhibitions, especially those with regional connections.