Sarah Miller wants to show you something. Miller is the owner and curator of the Miller Gallery on East Bay Street, a gallery that is a big deal for Charleston. The gallery has been open nearly a year, and if you haven’t visited yet, you’re in for a treat. To explain why it’s so important, we need a quick wiki on art terms. Stay with me; I promise it will pay off at pub trivia. “Fine art” refers to art that is created solely for aesthetic beauty; “traditional art” refers to work created by techniques handed down from generation to generation. “Contemporary art” means the artist is still living, while “modern art” refers to works created between 1860 and 1970.
Charleston has always been a mecca for fine art that highlights traditional themes, such as nature, architecture and landscapes. We do have a few galleries representing what most people think of as contemporary art or conceptual art, but for the most part, many subgenres of contemporary are new to the Holy City.
Enter Sarah Miller. Miller is a lifelong art advocate, with a bachelor’s degree in arts management from the College of Charleston with accelerated studies at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. It was in Barcelona that she fell in love with street art (think Haring, Banksy or Basquiat). While street art usually is grouped with contemporary art, if someone loves street art, they are a slightly different make and model. And you’re going to want to get to know them.
To appreciate street art, you must have a deep and abiding fascination with the human experience and a willingness to expand your mind. You must give zero figs about whether or not an artist has formal training, as long as they are expressing shades of the human experience that resonate with viewers (sometimes profoundly). To love street art and the kinds of contemporary art housed at the Miller Gallery, you must love culture, learning, exploration and the occasional friendly debate.
The Miller Gallery is full of contemporary art, much of it with a street-art edge, and Miller is eager to share the art she loves with the city she loves. Her passion is contagious, and her eye is impeccable. “I wanted to create a gallery with a New York City feel and the warmth of Charleston hospitality,” Miller says.
She is excited about sharing new forms of expression with people who have never experienced contemporary art or don’t think they like it. “Sometimes people will say they don’t like or understand contemporary art, then they’ll fall completely in love with a piece,” Miller says. “Sometimes a work will just speak to you. That’s what it’s all about.”
The gallery is just a few steps from McCrady’s, so it’s well located for a pre-dinner visit. Inside, the historical space has undergone an understated Scandi renovation. It’s light and cozy, and just the kind of place you want to hang out. Works range from geometric abstracts to found object sculpture and collage to raw art. Miller is also the founder of Canvas Charleston, a company that offers bespoke art tours and consultation, so interior designers and collectors looking for just the perfect piece are welcome.
Upcoming shows include a solo show by abstract artist Dixie Purvis (April), and a duel show that will feature works by Charlotte Filbert and designer Benjamin Rollins Caldwell (May). Also in April, four artists represented by the gallery will have works in a new show at The Vendue called Recipe. In June the gallery will host an exclusive collaboration with Greenville mixed-media artist and gallery owner Teresa Roche.
Other artists represented include Jo Hay, Amanda Krantz, Laura Dargan, Kate Hooray Osmond, Miles Purvis, Marina Dunbar and local blacksmith JP Shepard.
The Miller Gallery is a busy place with mind-expanding shows and events taking place every few weeks. To join the fun, stop by the gallery and introduce yourself, sign up for opening invitations, and follow along on Instagram (@miller gallerychs).
Robin Howard is a freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.