SOLO SHOW (London: Royal College of Art, 2010)
TRIPLE CANDIE, INTERVIEWED BY J. V. DECEMVIRALE, pp. 191-194
Triple Candie was founded in 2001 by the husband and wife team Peter Nesbett and Shelly Bancroft. The gallery is based in Harlem, New York, and produces 'exhibitions about art but largely devoid of it,' generally realized without the involvement of artists and almost always in relation to the question of what it means to be an art gallery in Harlem. Triple Candie does not view itself as an artist - or curatorial - collective.
J. V. Decemvirale: Considering your unofficial retrospectives of David Hammons, Cady Noland, Lester Hayes, and Maurizio Cattelan, how do you defend mounting a solo show of an artist's work without their permission?
Triple Candie: At the risk of sounding snarky (which we aren't), we do not feel the need to defend it because in the cases you mention we weren't showing the artists' actual work. Moreover, sometimes an institution needs to decide between serving the needs of its public versus serving the needs of an individual artist. We chose the public. Hammons and Noland both restrict access to their work by either refusing to allow it to be shown or published. We thought the public had a right to see it.
Which means, in short, that the motivations behind these shows were educational, in the most general sense. We select artistic subjects that we respect on a certain level but the shows are rarely hagiographic or promotional, as are most museum or gallery shows. They are never serving to protect the market for an artist's work either explicitly or implicitly. If one curates in the context of a museum, one has to be mindful that the museum wants to maintain positive relationships with the artist, her gallery, lenders, and trustees. There are many people invested in the artist's work who want to see it presented in the best possible light.
We recognise the enormous influence of Hammons, Noland, and Cattelan on other artists and we identify with certain qualities of their work/careers. But all three shows had a critical component built into them. That wouldn't be possible with permission - from the artist, or anyone else close to them.
Looking at it another way: we are folding an editorial mindset into a curatorial process.
J. V. D.: Some of these solo shows seem more like art projects than 'straightforward' curating. Do you believe your fictional Lester Hayes retrospective and posthumous Maurizio Cattelan retrospectives are works of art? If no, how do you justify your creative and provocative approach?
Triple Candie: For us to identify these retrospectives as artworks, we'd need to identify ourselves as artists, which we don't. We are curators. We engage in a prolonged dialogue with an artist's work, or a certain history, like any curator does. Though we do it in a more direct, perhaps invasive, way. Because we have chosen to not work directly with art we are forced to make things for our shows: surrogates, props. Fortunately, we are creative enough people and have some experience both building and composing that we feel comfortable doing this. We're simply collapsing roles that at a larger organization would be assumed by several people. For example, when a curator at a history museum authorises the creation of a replica from an exhibition designer or fabricator, the issue of authorship doesn't come up.
The conventional role of the curator is that of a caretaker: he or she is one who (as Boris Groys and many others frequently remind us) "cures" and gives strength to objects, and we would add, by logical extension, artists. As curators ourselves, we prefer to make objects sick. A sick artwork - one that isn't quite itself - reminds us of art's vulnerability, its fleeting nature, its ever-changing conditions, and the way that our perception of it is impacted by context. Can we still love an artwork when it is sick? Or, by contrast, does its sickness induce more compassion in us? At what point does a sick artwork die as an artwork? Is it possible to have a meaningful, life-affirming/invigorating 'artistic' experience in an environment of sick art or of no art at all?
With this in mind, the topic of 'misrepresentation' interests us greatly. We frequently show objects that as surrogates misrepresent their subjects. The reason for this is to force reflection upon the fact that our common understanding of art is primarily grounded in misrepresentation (the way artworks are described in text, the way we see details in print or online). We want to acknowledge that. It is a baseline for us. This took its most obvious form in "Flip Viola and the Blurs," an exhibition in which we presented a Bill Viola video upside down without its sound on (much like a reproduction in a book, mis-printed). In "David Hammons: The Unauthorized Retrospective" many of the Xeroxed images were so bad that you couldn't really tell what you were looking at. In "Maurizio Cattelan is Dead: Life & Work, 1960-2009," we played with various degrees/types of representation-misrepresentation, using photo-documentation, textual description, life-like sculptural recreations, sculptural sketches, even supposed 'artefacts' that reference moments in Maurizio's life that are as much a part of the mythology of 'Maurizio Cattelan' as his artwork.
We also think that in this day and age, with art becoming such big business and so institutionalised, and artists are traded like baseball players, artists can care for themselves. Institutional critique is now several generations old. It can still be a useful strategy but generally it has become academic, tired, rote, unsurprising. Moreover, artists themselves have become the institution, they no longer belong to exotic tribes that exist in the dark recesses of the world. When artists become the institution, what happens to institutional critique? We're interested in flipping that mind-set on its head and confronting what we believe is the instititution of the artist, an institution propped up, no doubt, by hundreds of thousands of believers and investors -- curators, historians, collectors, crtics, dealers -- whose livelihoods depend upon the perpetuation of this new institution.
That is why the solo show is an important vehicle for us. For instance, take a look at Lester Hayes -- the fact that he was fictional was only a means to an end for us, we weren't so interested in that in and of itself. We couldn't curate a show on the work of a real failed artist (that would have been insensitive!) so we defined a character who was believable, and whose biography was grounded in real-life events and places. Lester Hayes was bi-racial and the arc of his career was influenced by perceptions of race in the artworld in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Nevertheless, the character of Lester Hayes was that of the everyman, if you'll excuse the term, or rather, the everyartist. The objects we presented helped to illustrate the narrative. They were a bit pathetic, entirely believable autobiographical reflections on being bi-racial, on the death of his father, of his own professional decline.
These objects, however, were not sculptures. We thought of them just like we thought of the Cady Noland surrogates, as props and part of the exhibition design. The fact that we made them ourselves was the most efficient and philosophically viable option; farming them out to professional fabricators would have been too involved, too expensive, and would have made them precious. When a show is over we usually discard or recycle the props for future shows.
J. V. D.: Considering your preference for the solo show, what further directions do you imagine pushing the format towards?
Triple Candie: It is hard to say. We've foud this methodology to be incredibly liberating. At first many thought that it was a stunt or gimmick. But it has grown into a philosophy.
Our solo shows are almost exclusively historical surveys. This is important. They aren't simply solo shows. Surveys and retrospectives are opportunities to write history or to create/re-enforce myths that can work well to serve certain interests. They also provide opportunities for critical reflection, although real critical reflection usually happens outside of the solo show, in the press, through word-of-mouth, etc. We think that when the survey or retrospective doesn't include actual art and is done with an editorial mindset, it proves a great opportunity for curators to mine and/or write history in a more transparent way. Or really dig into critical issues that might be barred from more entrenched contexts.
Interview conducted by email on May 13, 2010. This version has been edited slightly from the original.