Visiting Artist Profiles

Triple Candie

By Matthew Harrison Tedford December 7, 2011

The Visiting Artist Profile series, which highlights some of the artists, curators, and scholars who intersect with the Bay Area visual arts community through the various lecture programs produced by local institutions.


This article is part of the Visiting Artist Profile series, which highlights some of the artists, curators, and scholars that intersect with the Bay Area visual arts community through the various lecture programs produced by local institutions. California College of the Arts will present Triple Candie as part of their Graduate Studies Lecture Series on Thursday, December 8, at Timken Hall on their campus in San Francisco.

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David-Hammons-Triple-Candie

David Hammons: The Unauthorised Retrospective, 2006; installation view, Triple Candie, New York. Courtesy of Triple Candie.

Triple Candie, formerly of Harlem, now in Philadelphia, is what one might call a meta-gallery, as its subject matter, whether explicit or implicit, often appears to be curating itself. Spearheaded by directors and founders Shelly Bancroft and Peter Nesbett since 2001, the gallery is known for exhibitions that are often devoid of art, or at least of artists’ originals. Lacking art, that seemingly necessary element of a gallery, the work shown at Triple Candie is often described as “conceptual.” Bancroft and Nesbett insist that they are art historians and curators, not artists, but their intentions seem to negate their position. Their practice blurs the boundary between artist and impresario. Triple Candie shows viewers that exhibition production can result in experiences that look, feel, and act like art, but just might not be art. 

By 2006 Triple Candie had already been trying to produce an exhibition of David Hammons’ work for some time. Hammons and his collectors showed little interest in the project, however, and Triple Candie could not procure a single work from the artist. Undeterred by circumstances or intellectual property law, they continued to plan the show.1 That year the resulting exhibition, David Hammons: The Unauthorized Retrospective, displayed photocopies of Hammons’ work from books and magazines, as well as images downloaded and printed from the Internet. Claiming to be the first retrospective of the artist’s work in fifteen years, the exhibition was a retrospective without art—or so it might seem. As Julia Bryan-Wilson states in a frieze review of the exhibition, a disparity between the size and quality of the photocopies created a unique visual experience.2 The photocopies were neither resized proportionally to one another nor fit to the letter-size sheets of paper they were mounted on. Instead, the exhibition presented a house-of-mirrors retrospective of Hammons’ portfolio, with some large-scale works shrunk almost to invisibility, and other smaller pieces occupying the full eight-and-a-half-by-eleven inches available to them. The exhibition catered to an audience familiar with Hammons’ work, and for them, this was not an unadulterated display of art but a unique aesthetic experience.

As a result, David Hammons resembled a conceptual art project. The retrospective’s reliance on appropriation paralleled Hammons’ practice and that of scores of artists who use preexisting cultural artifacts in creating new aesthetic entities. Triple Candie’s retrospective was divergent enough from the traditional typology to highlight the generative nature of their exhibition. By truly stripping the photocopies on display of pre-established significance or the artist’s touch, Triple Candie guaranteed that any affect a viewer experienced was in large part due to their creative engineering. This tactic of appropriation begs questions for viewers accustomed to more traditional exhibition forms, including: To what extent is an art-viewing experience the work of the artist or of the curator? Can one even untangle aesthetic experiences as if they’re mere algebraic equations?

Later that same year Triple Candie produced another apocryphal retrospective of the work of Cady Noland. Cady Noland Approximately: Sculptures & Editions, 1984-1999  featured what Triple Candie calls “surrogates” of actual Noland works. Like the Hammons photocopies, these surrogates aren’t quite reproductions and they aren’t quite documentations. Triple Candie and four artists made the surrogates based on images of the actual works. The gallery claimed to intentionally “fall short” on these surrogates in order to “incite the public’s desire and curiosity to experience the real thing.” Not Titled (1989/2006) included a large

installation of Budweiser cans, metal pipes, and scaffolding. Likely no one noticed the installation’s imperfections except its constructors, Noland, and the staunchest of Noland aficionados. It resembles a work of art in every way, save for its premise that it is not.

Jerry Saltz of the Village Voice accused the exhibition of “identity theft” and of being a “slap in the face” to Noland.3 This sentiment is neither surprising nor completely unfounded. After all, Triple Candie profited off the work of another. Though none of the works were for sale, Triple Candie used Noland’s intellectual efforts without her permission to the advancement of their brand and programming. But central to Cady Noland Approximately was hyperawareness of Triple Candie’s falsification of Noland’s oeuvre. There was no intention to intentionally deceive viewers about the provenance of these works. Saltz even documented extensive checklists in the exhibition that detailed the differences between the surrogates and the originals.

Ken Johnson of the New York Times was similarly unimpressed by the exhibition. While acquiescing that the show might pose interesting questions, Johnson ended his short review by asserting that Triple Candie’s lack of clarity about whether they were running a gallery or producing their own conceptual art impeded such inquiry.4 Johnson failed to address whether this is a false dichotomy. Without batting an eyelash, he inadvertently suggests that there is a natural divorce between curating and conceptual practices. It seems, however, that the difficulty critics (and the gallery itself) have in delineating Triple Candie’s research-based and appropriation strategies as curatorial or artistic arise from a taxonomic deficiency.

In May 2011, Triple Candie was invited to participate in the November Artissima art fair in Turin. The gallery agreed to curate an exhibition in Simple Rational Approximations, the non-commercial portion of the fair. Bancroft and Nesbett proposed an exhibition that would call into question the very existence of Arte Povera, an art movement that is central to the Turin art landscape. In October 2011, however, Artissima director Francesco Manacorda canceled Triple Candie’s participation, saying, “I feel that I could not defend the show as it stands, given its simplistic and insubstantial content, and slight research grounding.”5 According to the New York Observer, Manacorda argued more to the point in an email to Triple Candie, saying that the exhibition could be “potentially very offensive to artists and gallerists who participate in the fair” and could “negatively impact government funding of the arts in Italy.”6

Triple Candie didn’t originate the idea that Arte Povera was not a real, identifiable movement; Dan Cameron put it forth in 1992.7 Bancroft and Nesbett intended to use his thesis a starting point, proving the case by displaying documentation of artwork and exhibitions in what they said would “evoke that of small-town history or anthropology museum.” Triple Candie eventually persuaded Manacorda with a passionate email in which they referred to the exhibit as a “fleeting performance.” A long exchange of subsequent emails details how this optimism turned into a fear of association with right-wing anti-intellectualism, leading to the cancellation.

Though this performance as exhibition was never realized, its ability to animate the Italian art scene was not an unreasoned concern. Historical accuracy aside, Triple Candie offered an emotional, historical, and political intervention in the form of an aesthetic experience. What this defeated exhibition—and Triple Candie’s others—really demonstrate is that curatorial and even historiographical practices can result in the same psychological and intellectual experiences as those called art. Triple Candie offers a control in any study of exhibition-making; they show what is behind and beyond what is hanging on the walls.

Triple-Candie-Cady-Noland

Cady Noland Approximately: Sculptures & Editions, 1984 - 1999, 2006; installation view, Triple Candie, New York. Courtesy of Triple Candie.

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The Visiting Artist Profile series is supported by the San Francisco branch of the Kadist Art Foundation. Kadist participates in the development of society through contemporary art by collecting and producing the work of artists and conducting various programs to promote their role as cultural agents. The foundation also supports the work of curators, academics, and magazines internationally through its residency program and by hosting public events on Wednesdays and a Saturday Reading Room at its space at 3295 20th Street in the Mission.

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NOTES: 

1. Holland Cotter, “A Street Seer's Vision, or Photocopies of It at Least,” the New York Times, January 31, 2006. [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/31/arts/design/31cott.html]

2. Julia Bryan-Wilson, “David Hammons: The Unauthorized Retrospective,” Frieze 98 (April 2006). [http://www.frieze.com/issue/review/david_hammons_the_unauthorised_retrospective/]

3. Jerry Saltz, “Invasion of the Sculpture Snatchers,” the Village Voice, May 9, 2006. [http://www.villagevoice.com/2006-05-09/art/invasion-of-the-sculpture-snatchers/] 

4. Ken Johnson, “Art in Review; 'Cady Noland Approximately',” the New York Times, May 12, 2006. [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9402EED6173EF931A25756C0A9609C8B63]

5. “Artissima Releases Statement on Cancelation of Triple Candie Project,” Artforum.com, October 13, 2011. [http://artforum.com/archive/id=29170]

6. Andrew Russeth, “Channeling Occupy Wall Street, Triple Candie Battles Artissima Over Canceled Show,” the New York Observer, October 17, 2011. [http://www.galleristny.com/2011/10/channelling-ocuppy-wall-street-triple-candie-battles-artissima/]

7. Rachel Withers, “Michelangelo Pistoletto - Brief Article,” Artforum (February 200). [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_6_38/ai_59923230/]

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