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 Statehouse Report. Brack, who holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also publishes a weekly newsletter about good news in the Charleston area, Charleston Currents. A former U.S. Senate press secretary, Brack has a national reputation as a communications strategist and Internet pioneer. Brack, who received a bachelor’s degree from Duke University, lives in Charleston, S.C. with his daughters, a dog and a badass cat.

Brack’s new book, “We Can Do Better, South Carolina,” is now available in paperback via Amazon.

  1. Frank Povah

    Getting an architect to design something that looks good…well that’s your problem, right there.

  2. Getting an architect to design it wasn’t the problem. Most are exceptional artists. The problem is getting someone who obviously doesn’t live here and doesn’t draw upon the rich artistic themes abundant in the daily life of our city….that is the problem. I’m sure there are dozens of local artists that would love to have some work right now. Too bad we can’t support our own.

  3. The thing about great art is, it is distinguished from mediocre and bad art and that is how we know it is great. If Ms Lin’s poster does nothing else, it offers itself up for comparison to great art and, thereby, does distinguish great art.

  4. I guess my first reaction was that this was something from an Onion article, just didn’t get it. When I finally realized that it was on the up and up, I tried to ignore it thinking it would somehow go away; apparently that approach has not worked. Funny thing is that my Rotary Club is sponsoring a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar candidate who goes to the College of Charleston and she moved to SC from Rhode Island when she was 15; when I told her about the poster, she thought it was so cool, combining her home state with her adopted state. Now she says she has to get the poster. Oh well, I guess that beauty, or lack thereof, remains in the eye of the beholder.

  5. Terri Evans

    I have some Spoleto posters that I treasure. It’s unlikely that this one will be among them, although I do admire the artist.

  6. I’m bugged by the fact that I can’t read the title of this piece without the brain inserting an ‘L’ in “PANNED.” Maybe it’s the word “NEW” that prompts this insertion. How does one pan a poster?

  7. Is there some connection between Rhode Island and South Carolina other than being on the Eastern Seaboard? It doesn’t say anything about Spoleto. What a disappointment.

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