SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
Artissima invites Triple Candie to curate an exhibition for a special non-commercial section of Artissima 18 (November 4 – 6, 2011) titled Simple Rational Approximations. The section is to be co-organized by Francesco Manacorda, Artissima’s director, and Lara Favoretto, an artist.
Triple Candie presents first proposal – a U.S.I.A.-style export group show of work by 4-6 over-hyped contemporary artists working in the U.S.A.
Artissima requests other ideas, noting: “After a long discussion about radicality and the market, we got to the conclusion that, given the context of the fair, a show about artists who have been receiving undo attention may be slightly problematic, considering that most of the artists you mention are represented by galleries at the fair. . . . We hope you understand we would rather not be so extremely critical towards the galleries and the artists that make up the fair.”
Triple Candie submits 3 new proposals, all with arte povera as their subject. Proposal #2 reads: “In the second, we would try to make a case that arte povera never existed. Dan Cameron made this claim in a bold article in Flash Art in 1992. We will build on this, with an earnest tone and mischievous spirit. The subject could be dealt with the way skeptics try to disprove the existence of stories in the Bible – with material evidence (the Shroud of Turin, the Ark, etc.). Documentation of artworks, exhibitions . . . . [the] installation . . . will evoke that of a small-town history or anthropology museum.”
Artissima writes, “Now, looking at your proposals, we believe that n.2 may be the strongest, wittiest and most interesting viewpoint on the matter: at the same time, though, building on the statement that Arte Povera never existed may very well be seen by both art professionals and Turin citizens and officials as a somewhat aggressive response to Germano Celant's exhibition. Also, talking of Art Povera in Turin, as you already know, is always kind of risky: everyone is an expert in Turin, but at the same time the real experts on Arte Povera will surely be in Turin for the show.”
Triple Candie writes lengthy response. Excerpts: “People have, at times, used the word irreverent when talking about Triple Candie. For us, this word is problematic. On the surface, our shows may appear to be irreverent – they are done without permission, don’t use art, often have provocative titles – but the narrative substance of the shows is never irreverent. Our wall texts always evidence a certain admiration for our subjects. When choosing our subjects, we select those for which we have an enthusiastic ambivalence and which have had a complicated influence on our own curatorial practices. The process of putting together the show is an attempt to work through these issues. We didn’t select arte povera simply b/c of its relationship to Turin; equally important, we selected it as a topic b/c of its relationship to our work. . . . As for the show being seen as a somewhat aggressive response to Celant’s show, we want to say a few things about context, which we think will mitigate against that. These are issues that you are all too aware of, but we think they warrant mutual acknowledgment. The first is that the show will be publicly accessible for less than a week, making it but a fleeting performance. . . . Second, the fact that it will be placed in a provisional faux-“institutional” context will, we imagine, enhance the absurdity of claim (that arte povera never existed). Moreover, it will be but one of many projects within the spectacle of the fair.”
Manacorda responds directly, “I have to say that your email convinced me and Lara that we should really take the risk and embrace your project. We have invited you precisely because of the shows that you used as examples of situations in which people could have been offended (Hammons above all) with the great results we all know.”
And then, “I totally believe that your approach will generate a great show and a very valuable contribution to the rest of the project. I only suggest, since the difficult character of the artists here in Turin, that we touch base every now and then on how the idea is developing so that we can give you some feedback, which eventually you can decide to ignore: I think it is important for all of us that we are aware of the possible risks that we would be running, without censoring you. Perhaps our reaction certifies that, again, in this project you have selected a subject with the ‘productive tensions’ you mentioned, which means that the results will be those you are looking for. In short, we trust you and like your idea a lot.”
Triple Candie begins production.
Artissima sends Triple Candie agreement, which it signs. The agreement does not include a cancelation clause.
Manacorda invites Triple Candie to participate in another project, separate from the exhibition – a special-issue magazine to be edited by Turin-based collector and dealer Georgia Maffei on the subject of arte povera. In writing about Maffei and his publishing partner, Manacorda notes, “They really liked the idea to have a section of their book on arte povera attempting to argue that arte povera does not exist...!"
Triple Candie sends Artissima floor plan for build-out.
Triple Candie submits statement and images for Artissima catalogue with sample images (these include reproductions of arte povera works that have been altered by Triple Candie, was well as portraits of arte povera artists that have been similiarly altered).
Manacorda responds via email, “I just read the text, I like it a lot! it is tough on celant but very relevant and balanced.”
Manacorda makes a final selection of the images for the Artissima catalogue.
Triple Candie and Artissima talk via Skype; Triple Candie updates Artissima in detail about progress, answering all the fair organizers’ questions about progress and intent. Artissima asks Triple Candie if it would agree to a joint statement, reviewed by a lawyer, that clarifies joint intent. Triple Candie agrees. Artissima says it will draft a preliminary statement. (This statement is never sent to Triple Candie for review.)
Artissima wires Triple Candie production funds in the amount of 3,000 euros.
Triple Candie sends Artissima detailed description of installation, including sample images.
Artissima responds, “Thank you for sending the description of your installation. As I mentioned at the beginning of our collaboration, I think we are walking on eggshells with this project and I would like to make sure to avoid misunderstanding of your intentions. I have worked and still now work with many of the protagonists of the movement and I would like them to look at your project not just as parody.”
And, “From this side of the atlantic, I am preparing a bit the terrain here by talking to the directors at Rivoli (where the celant show is about to open) and with the press to put forward the reasons to make your project happen. How does this sound to you? Would it be possible to send some more detailed plans of install? It is not my intention to intrude into your authorship obviously so do let me know if I am pushing it too much.”
Later in the day, Artissima write, “I have spoken to Beatrice Merz who is the co-director of Rivoli and co-curator with Celant of the exhibition and she expressed worries as recently a prominent right-wing art critic published an article on a national newspaper to demonstrate that arte povera was a bad movement made by communists who prevented the art scene to flourish in the country. I would really be gutted if your show were to be associated to this anti-intellectual campaign that is trying to destroy the contemporary art system in italy...”
Triple Candie sends Artissima an extensive update on the show, including photographs of the gallery model, of two-dimensional work produced, and a list of the vinyl quotes to be installed. The three-dimensional objects (surrogates, props) cannot be shown as they are to be built entirely on-site.
Manacorda writes, “Sorry for not having acknowledged the email i am about to meet Lara to discuss this issue and will get back to you shortly.”
Triple Candie responds, “what issue?”
to which Manacorda answers, “I mean the risk that the institution and Lara and I would take.”
A later email from Manacorda explains concerns about presenting the show within the context of Italy’s political and economic upheaval. Particular concern is for the impact the show could have on Castello di Rivoli, a repository of arte povera works that has been under severe attack from critics and right-wing politicians. Triple Candie responds, “What has changed vis-a-vis your perception of the risk? As we're several months down the road and you have been enthusiastic and supportive of the project all along -- from original proposal through updates and the catalogue contribution. . . . From where we sit, the risk is dialogue. What's risky about that? This is not an offensive subject, like pornography, blasphemy, anti-Semitism, racism, etc. -- the subject is the construction and definition of an art movement.”
Manacorda posits a series of questions about the show. Triple Candie responds that day, before answering the questions:
“More soon, but from where you sit do you really think that our exhibition could negatively impact government funding of the arts in Italy, and potentially threaten the viability of Artissima? Is the risk truly that great?”
Manacorda writes, “I would not put it down in writing otherwise. It is not the show that will generate the funding cut but the situation in which we are can be precipitated by an event such as this one.”
Triple Candie responds to Manacorda’s questions, though all had been answered previously. At this point, Triple Candie begins feeling resentful about the sudden scrutiny, so its answers are curt but true. The questions and answers follow:
Q: What are the reasons behind altering the images of the works? Is it parody or is there a more complex narrative behind? What role do they play in the development of your argument about the non-existence of Arte Povera?
A: The evidence is unreliable and contradictory.
Q: Why are the portraits altered? Has this got to do with individual vs group or is it a visualization of the author’s identity blurring with the work?
A: The evidence is unreliable and contradictory.
Q: Do the alterations enter within the core of the arte povera's themes (e.g. energy, materials, process) and how?
A: Yes and no.
Q: What is the rationale behind the altered surrogates as a group? Given that people can see the originals in the museum (which wasn't the case in many of your previous projects) is the alteration the key to the remaking? I am asking you this as the pieces could be understood by the general public as real sculptures rather than surrogates. In case this is part of your plan how do you handle this potential misunderstanding? Do you think that the public will be able to understand the reasons for the alterations?
A: Yes. We tell them in wall texts (this will be a problem for the illiterate). Yes.
Q: What is the art historical conclusion that you presume the viewers would gain from experiencing your show?
A: History is the province of doubt. Experience (a la Dewey) is all we can trust. (E.G. You had to be there.) Everything else is built from shards of misrepresentation.
Q: Celant himself declared that Arte Povera does not exist in 1972, and encouraged individual artists to pursue their own 'solo' career; how is your argument different from this position?
A: He said it was finished; he didn’t say it did not exist. Celant’s argumentation is unreliable and contradictory.
Q: How is your thesis that Arte Povera never existed demonstrated through the four elements (disorientation galleries, gallery of altered surrogates, portrait walls and Celant Museum)?
A: The evidence is unreliable and contradictory.
Artissima writes that, “the visual material in question [is] potentially very offensive to artists and gallerists who participate in the fair. . . . Here in Italy eight exhibitions have just opened about the subject in all the most important museums. Due to the potential offense, we need to make sure that your project is able to have the critical weight to stand up to them otherwise we will all look foolish. And I mean all of us: it has not only to do with my situation. The altered portraits and representations of their works that you sent me could make the project be judged here as a superficial joke on them. This is because in New York the context is characterised by a sophisticated art world able to understand and accustomed to art-world parody, in Italy the public barely knows what arte povera is and they are likely to think that your project is in bad taste, ridiculing the work and to bill Triple Candie’s work as one-liner.”
Artissima updates website with list of curatorial projects. Triple Candie’s show is not included; another project appears in its place. Triple Candie emails Artissima for an explanation.
Manacorda emails Triple Candie that the show is canceled.