Stacy Huggins: Authenticity is Everything

TEDx Charleston, September 20th, 2013.  11 AM.

She floats onto the dark stage in a coral dress and stands at the podium, earrings trembling.  Her hair is scraped into a high bun that leaves her looking graceful, vulnerable.

 “The definition of good art,” Stacy Huggins said,  “is work that connects with the viewer.  This can only be achieved with authenticity.”

“Authenticity is everything,”

The director of Redux Contemporary Art Center, although young, has already weathered both bull and bear market trends in the art world.  If the economic melting of 2008 taught her anything as a curator, it’s that “there’s a Darwinian effect.  Talent will still rise to the top, but artists have to work harder, smarter, and together in order to survive.”

Sometimes artists come to her for advice.  Any time a working artist takes a new direction, there is a chance she can alienate her patrons, an intimidating prospect when pleasing clients means the freedom of time and space of mind to create more work.   One of her studio artists, the remarkable Teil Duncan, asked Huggins’ opinion on a new painting.   Duncan was excited about the piece but uncertain whether or not to pursue it, as it was a divergence from the work she usually put out.

Huggins loved it.

“Artists can be scared to leave a successful genre of work.  But, if you are passionate about it, it is what you should do.  Don’t worry about the sales.  They will come.  What’s happening today is tired tomorrow; do what you love and the authenticity of this will shine through.”  She went on.  “While people may never know exactly why they felt drawn to a piece, [it was likely] the passion and enthusiasm [of the artist].”

Huggins first realized she wanted to work with artists when she took the gallery fundamentals arts management class with Buff Ross at the College of Charleston.  She was placed on a show with the painters Tom Stanley and Tim Hussey, who she called her first artist crush.  Hussy’s pieces both challenged and impressed her, and there she was, a college kid getting to hang them up for a real show.

“It was like this veil lifted,” she said, and at that moment she knew what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.  She wanted to work with artists; notoriously temperamental, endlessly neurotic, self involved, resplendently fickle- and more delicately, as Huggins taxonomized us: “fascinating, unpredictable creatures.”

After that, the opportunities came quickly.  She took an internship with a gallery, and quickly became assistant gallery director.  One offering bled into another, and at only twenty-four, Huggins found herself as gallery director to not one but two Charleston galleries.  Then the recession rolled over Charleston.  People were no longer waltzing off the street to buy $30,000 paintings.  Here Huggins pulled up a slide of a dessicated cow skull.  “And that,” she laughed dryly, “was 2008 for me.”

Unexpectedly in need of a job, she joined Charleston’s Art Mag, first as the Marketing Director and then as Editor.  There, she was able “to promote a grand array of folks,” including theatre performers, which thrilled her.  “A little known fact about me,” she said.  “I was a ballerina for 18 years.  I love, love, loved ballet.  But I don’t dance anymore.  I can’t got to the ballet without crying.  So I never go.”

  She scrolled through a slide of a past installation at Redux by Yulia Pikusevich, unusual for having been site specific, and pulled up a shot of Patch Whisky’s deliciously ooey, gooey psychedelic new mural on Redux’s exterior.  There’s a Redux Revival on September 28th from 4-10;  “I’ve been calling it the “Patch Party,” she said.  “Because really, his work deserves its own unveiling.”

Also in Huggins’ upcoming works for Redux: a new twist on the much loved CSA box, which traditionally is an interval delivery of local produce.  So why not an interval delivery of art?

“Charleston Supported Art.  We’ll have a call for entries for eighteen artists, and shares you can purchase throughout the year.  At some point there’ll be an inaugural meet and greet to kick things off…”

She smiled and cut herself off.  “We’re very lucky and grateful for the opportunities that have come our way.”  She leaned over the podium.  “Authenticity is the only thing that matters.”

Huggins walked offstage to applause, and then a woman wearing a prayer scroll and a dotted dress came onstage carrying a dressmaker’s mannequin.  The page turned.

-article by Pauline West


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