Places with a Past:
Spoleto Festival | Charleston | 1991
Mary Jane Jacob, Curator
Featured artists: Ann Hamilton, Lorna Simpson, David Hammons, Cindy Sherman, Chris Burden, Barbara Steinman, Joyce Scott, Elizabeth Newman, and others.
In this FSA Inspiration, we would like to highlight the seminal exhibition “Places with a Past” that Mary Jane Jacobs curated for the Charleston Spoleto Festival in 1991. As reviewed by the New York Times (1991): “The Spoleto Festival decided to treat the visual arts with the same seriousness with which it has treated opera, theater and dance, and it has done so in style. […] The artists chose their own sites. There is no evident dealer or collector involvement and no smell of power or money. The art is impermanent. […] All 17 installations are rooted in Charleston and its history. The 19 artists — black and white, male and female, from Canada, Europe and Australia as well as from the United States — explore Charleston and slavery, Charleston and the military, Charleston and religion, Charleston and its devotion to a glorified view of its past. A number of installations were conceived for old or dilapidated buildings, some for private homes. Some artists found the stories they needed to tell in a pump house, or in the Customs House, or in a church. Very little of the work is didactic. Almost all the artists came to Charleston to learn from the city, not to tell its citizens what to think.
The exhibition proves that art made for a specific site and shaped by a social or political orientation has no intrinsic limits. The best work belongs to Charleston and its history and yet goes well beyond them in implication and scope.
The exhibition proves that art made for a specific site and shaped by a social or political orientation has no intrinsic limits. The best work belongs to Charleston and its history and yet goes well beyond them in implication and scope. In this rich and complex 300-year-old city, with its almost financial commitment to architectural preservation and with its magnificent yet seemingly impenetrable facades, artists in this show found themselves struggling with the age-old issues of appearance and reality, memory and transcendence, life and death […]
Mary Jane Jacob, a former curator at the Museums of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and in Chicago, where she is now a freelance curator. She selected the artists, led them through Charleston, negotiated their sites and maintained constant dialogue with residents and officials of a city that had no experience with this kind of art.”