, April 11, 2008


By Tyler Coburn

Harlem's Triple Candie came to my attention a handful of years ago as a nonprofit space to watch, alternatively turning out thoughtful solo and group exhibitions by top-tier artists like Kiki Smith, Jessica Stockholder, and Andrea Zittel, and helping young artists — particularly those based in the neighborhood — realize large-scale installations with honorariums and cadres of volunteer assistants.

Founded by artonpaper co-publisher Shelly Bancroft and co-publisher and editor Peter Nesbett in 2001, the space could just as well have rested upon its laurels, given its considerable curatorial rigour and status as the only location for contemporary art in Harlem alongside the Studio Museum. Yet in the years since its inception, the co-founders have resisted the lure of compacency, almost entirely ceasing the exhibition of actual artworks since 2006 in favor of exhibitions that not only appraise the art-world's system of valuation, but the very validity of Triple Candie, as an alternative space, in launching such critique. In this sense, as the co-founders take paints to point out, Triple Candie is not simply another another agent of institutional critique, but is, properly speaking, an "institution of critique", within whic the various facets of the art-world—itself included—may receive their comeuppance.

The current exhibitiona t the gallery, "Thank you for Coming: Triple Candie 2001-08," on view until 27 April, marks the conclusion of the organization's residence in their current digs, both by their own design and due to the extensive construction overwhelming their building. For those unitiated in the center's programme, this survey does a remarkable job of condensing and documenting the history of Triple Candie's first incarnation through characteristically roundabout means, presenting only ephemera, fragments, and reconstructions of the previously exhibited works. This tactic, as acknoweldged in one fo the exhibition's many wall texts, is a way to emphasize the survey's incompleteness while also employing it in the service of Triple Candie's historicization. The works on display thus frequently belie their past and intended modes of exhibition, to self-critical effect, as with Jacob Lawrence'sThe Migration of the Negro (1941), here presented as a fragment of the artist's series of sixty paintings, and a film from Mark Lewis, intended for large-scale projection yet presented on a grainy television monitor. Other elements introduce an unusual transparency to an alternative space, such as a display case full of letters, checks and charts documenting Triple Candie's financial infrastructure and funding base—which notably declined with the center stopped showing actual artworks in 2006—and a series of laudatory, preplexed and critical emails in response to exhibitions, including one from Kara Walker, remarking on the Jacob Lawrence show: "Is this an artwork, or a curatorial conceit?"

Fragments of some of Tripel Candie's most adventurous (and notorious) shows crop up through the retrospective. Hanging on a small wall in the back o fthe space are select images from the 2006 exhibition David Hammons: The Unauthorized Retrospective, which to this day remains the most conprehensive exhibition of Hammons' elusive work (authorized or unauthorized). For that exhibition, the co-founders sourced a full four-decades' worth of material, entrely by means of photocopies and print-outs, glued them on letter-sized sheets of paper, and hung them in chronological order in the exhibition space. The collective effect makes Hammons' output secondary to the at turns banal and opaque way it is presetned: the varied quality of reproductions of seminal works like Hammons' 1983 street-side snowball sale or rendering of a Caucasian Jesse Jackson (How Ya' Like Me New?, 1989) can make legibility seem besides the point. As the exhibition press release explains, given Hammons' reputation as 'art-world trickster' in the lineage of Duchamp, it's entirely fitting that he be given a retrospective that effectvely takes the air out of a market predicated upon originary, object-based manifestations of artistic genius (a subject Hammons has also taken on, most recently with his 200 exhibition of six distressed luxury fur coats at L&M Arts in New York). Elsewhere in the space hangs a clown graphic on a scuffed-up board, which the co-founders discovered leaning against the entrance to Triple Candie the day after the opening of their Hammons retrospective — and which they justifiably speculate may be a sign from the Harlem-based artist.

Triple Candie's two Anonymous Artist Project (made in 2004 and 2005), are also represented in their closeout show. They consisted of installations from anonymous artists that attempted to show "how much judgment is predicated upon biography'. On this level, the actual content of the installations is secondary to the anxiety they invoked in the art-world at large, spectating without knowledge of the curatorial and critical opinion on the exhibiting artists. As Walker Art Center deputy director/chief curator Philppe Vergne remarked in relation to the second exhibition, as if proof of this rule, 'This artist either really knows what he or she doing or he or she is totally naive. But I can't tell which.'

Bancroft and Nesbett have reiteratedtheir plan to move to another space as soon as possible. This is a happy fact for a city that will this month lose another venerable alternative institution, Ochard 47, which — to be fair — had from the start intended to exist for no more than three years. While we'll have a smattering of other on-the-ground spaces like Dispatch Bureau, Pocket Utopia, and Momenta Art to comfort us in the following months, one can only hope that Triple Candie will soon return to replant its tongue into the art-world's cheek and remind us all to take things a little less seriously.


On View