2010 Spoleto PosterCHARLESTON, S.C. — I like to paint.  I like art.  I like modern art a lot.  I even like odd conceptual modern art.

But I am befuddled by the newly-unveiled poster for the 2010 Spoleto Festival USA, slated to begin at the end of the month in Charleston.  The world-renowned festival and world-renowned artist it commissioned have thrust something into the public domain that doesn’t seem worth the paper on which it is printed.

Maybe that’s the point – to offer a poster that is so controversial artistically that it gets people talking about Spoleto which, in turn, may drive people to attend the 17-day event of art, culture, music and more.

Artist Maya Lin, best known for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, offered an “excavated map” as this year’s poster.  What she apparently did was to take an atlas and open it to the South Carolina page.  (Opposite is a page of Rhode Island.)  Then she cut holes on each side of the atlas all the way down to the cover.   So what you see are maps of Rhode Island and South Carolina, each with holes that show layers of “excavated” pages.

Festival general director Nigel Redden told The (Charleston) Post and Courier that he loved the whimsy of the poster.  He said he asked Lin to do something for Spoleto involving maps of the eastern United States after seeing some of her other map excavations.  “She agreed very kindly,” he told the paper.  “I thought people would think it strange if she used a map of China or middle Europe, so we asked her to consider the eastern United States.”

The unveiling of the annual poster is a big to-do for the festival.  It’s so anticipated as a way to introduce the festival’s 17-day program that it gets big media coverage across the state.

But across Charleston, this year’s poster seems to be making many people wonder, “Huh?”

Local graphic designer Gil Shuler wrote on his blog that he couldn’t stop laughing because he thought Lin’s inspiration for the poster was a well-publicized, rambling answer by a Miss Teen USA contestant from South Carolina in 2007.  You might recall that when Caitlin Upton was asked why one-fifth of Americans couldn’t locate the U.S. on a map, she replied some people didn’t have maps and referenced South Africa and “The Iraq.”

Here are some comments lifted from Twitter and my Facebook page:

— “Call me a traitor, but I think the Spoleto poster is dumb.”

— “It’s a freaking map. An ugly uninspired map.  Maybe they should just spell out ‘Spoleto’ in Helvetica black on white and be done with it.”

— “Yuck. Really. My least favorite. Ever.”

—  “Van Gogh = Starry Night = legendary, inspiring, dream worthy.  Maya Lin = 2010 Spoleto Poster = AAA road map, FP kindling, what the ?? RI??”

—  “Well, I’m no artist, but it looks like it is promoting a comic book convention, to me.”

— “Looks like a 4th grade art project.”

A couple of people were more charitable.  A Columbia resident saw Lin’s work as “an interesting effort by a renowned architect to make flat art appear to be multidimensional.  I don’t like it at all, but then, I don’t like the design of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., either.”

A North Carolina woman observed, “It’s a cool concept but not a very gripping image for a poster.  And I wish it were presented with S.C. on the right axis instead of turned 90 degrees. Plus, I have no idea why Rhode Island is on a Spoleto poster (the article said there was a story to connect them, but I don’t know the story). There, I’m done…”

Regardless of how you feel about the poster, at least it has people talking.  We wonder whether the talk will turn into money and action at the box offices.  Let’s hope this odd art experiment works out for the folks at Spoleto.  (Note to Spoleto for next year – get something that looks a little better on a T-shirt.)

Andy Brack is the publisher of StatehouseReport.com and CharlestonCurrents.com.  He is president of the Center for a Better South.

Link to Post and Courier story: http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2010/may/05/maps-point-way-to-spoleto-2010/

Link to Shuler blog post: http://shedartcompany.blogspot.com/2010/05/new-spoleto-poster.html

Andy Brack

Andy Brack

Andy Brack is a syndicated columnist in South Carolina and the publisher of StatehouseReport.com. Brack, who holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also publishes a twice-weekly newsletter about good news in the Charleston area, CharlestonCurrents.com. A former U.S. Senate press secretary and reporter, Brack has a national reputation as a communications strategist and Internet pioneer. Brack also is president and chairman of the Center for a Better South, a nonprofit regional think tank. Brack received a bachelor’s degree from Duke University. He, his wife, two daughters and dogs live in Charleston, S.C.