Queen Nina

Rebekah Jacob

After multiple discussions with Charleston creatives—the most recent of which during last Friday's art walk—I've realized that we all agree on a certain matter: that Nina Liu deserves more recognition for her contributions to the Charleston art scene.  


Recently I spoke with Terry Fox, art patron and member of the advisory board for the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, about this key Charlestonian who has propelled the local art scene to a competitive place and at the forefront of art Meccas in our region. 


An impassioned visionary, Nina has been at the helm of the Charleston art scene for more than two decades. Terry says, “When Nina Liu opened her distinctive atelier-gallery more than 20 years ago, Charleston's art world was a vastly different place.” Nina introduced photography and pottery as fine art forms as well as exhibited “emerging” talents like Aggie Zed, who have since become notable artists in the South.



Contributing to the community, Nina launched the Charleston Art Walk in conjunction with four other galleries. “Nina's original and genteel conceptualization of the French Quarter Art Walk has led to our now almost innumerable galleries swelling streets citywide with art lovers and wine drinkers on seemingly a weekly basis,” says Terry.  


Nina’s accomplishments are outside the scope of this blog, yet, indeed, one of the truest measures of Nina's invaluable contributions was her acknowledgement by the South Carolina Arts Commission with the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Award in 2011. The receipt of this highest state award certainly was a most fitting recognition of Nina Liu and of the incomparable place she and her gallery hold in the evolution of the arts in Charleston and in South Carolina. 


Personally, for many years, I have admired art dealers like Nina Liu and Faye Gold of Atlanta. These women pioneered a male-dominated world with grace, specific styles, and relentless dedication. Combining unique skill sets and sharp eyes, they became key players in the art market and, in many ways, changed the industry. With discernment and persistence, these smart and strong women introduced artists who otherwise would have gone unnoticed and pushed unconventional mediums like photography as fine art forms. Mentors like Nina and Faye gave my generation of gallery owners the courage to dream big and served as templates on which to build our own careers and launch our own businesses.


But Nina is more than a matriarch of the Charleston gallery scene—she is also a champion of good times. Her world is magical, which I am reminded of on many a late Friday afternoon when I arrive to her eponyous gallery, appropriately titled “Nina Liu and Friends,” in the historic district for a short visit. On her gallery door, a hand-written note reads, “We’re out back. Enter through the gate.” I turn the iron key and pass through the small corridor to find Nina in a long, free-flowing purple dress, holding court like a radiant queen. Overlooking her private, “free-form” garden, she entertains gallerists, artists, and writers—all celebrating her quiet but forceful charm and energy. 


This past Friday night on Nina’s porch, empty bottles of wine (disproportionate to guests) marked the end of “cocktail hour” and the continuance of exploring the Charleston Art Walk. We dispersed among the historic district to celebrate more than a hundred galleries and thousands of artists, a bourgeoning art scene that would not be what it is today without Nina. I have no doubt that Nina Liu will go down in the [art history] books as one of the Greats.