'What's Love': a romantic and racy, sweet and sometimes scandalous art event

Alejandro Garcia called it a small piece.

There was no pun intended.

Garcia's work is impeccably crafted and designed.

It could've been the centerpiece of "What's Love Fest 2010," the art exhibition that is anything but typical, where the art will surprise, shock and stimulate.

Garcia's work would've surely stunned people.

"I think it's going to be the most controversial piece," Lee Ann Kornegay, one of the event's organizers, along with Garcia, said late last week.

But after showing the piece to a few people, Garcia decided to pull it.

"This is for fun. It's entertaining," he said about "What's Love." "It's not to question your religion or the values that you follow.

"I really don't want to offend people."

He'll instead show "An Argentine Affair," his commentary on the Gov. Mark Sanford saga. It's viewing is timely because of Jenny Sanford's book and publicity tour.

"This is the first time this has happened to me," Garcia said about pulling his work.

The other hanging art at "What's Love" at 701 Whaley will range from sweet to romantic, racy to scandalous. There will be erotica and nudity.

"There's a couple of installations that will be edgy," Kornegay said.

Isn't that the point of such a show?

"The whole event has pushed me to a level of sometimes being uncomfortable, but that's OK," said Kornegay, who was raised Presbyterian. "You grow up with these ideas of what is naughty, what is nice."

This show will coax other questions. What is proper? What is beauty?

What can be more natural than sexuality?

"It's made to be taboo, which makes it perverted," said Trace Ballou, who assisted Kornegay.

Looking at the artists who will hang work in the juried part of the show, it's apparent that a sensibility is shared. Well, at least when it comes to visual discourse on love around Valentine's Day.

"There aren't many places where everyone can get the critical mass together," Ballou said. "And this event, I think, really symbolizes a meeting of the minds, the whole supportive community."

Saturday night's event will be a party, much like last year's version, the first that was held at 701 Whaley. This is the fourth year of the event, and it will be held over two days. Sunday's viewing will be more casual, as the artists will display other representations of their work.

Sunday will be less like a party and more like an art market, if you will.

"We had the impression that people didn't have the time" to see the art at last year's party, Garcia said.

You must be 21 to view the art as "What's Love" doesn't have painted palm and palmetto trees - or any other art that matches living room couches.

"We're trying to highlight installation work and noncommercial stuff," Garcia said. "There's not really a space for the artist to show what they're working on."

What's Love's intentions have always been about pushing - diversity, expression, freedom - past established and expected norms.

One of the artists to look out for is Billy Guess, whose "50 Legs to Get Away From You Lover" is a remarkable barrage of social commentary on The Barbie image, human plasticity and China's production, among other things, surely.

Garcia's intended piece was too big for this city's britches.

"I want people to come and be entertained," Kornegay said. "And impressed. And be a little surprised. Shocked, I don't know.

"But there's going to be some shock."

A piece of art - however big or small - should always lend itself to stirring emotional responses.

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC