Thursday, July 17, 2008

Triple Candie and the Advent of Photocopy Art

Triple Candie – an exhibition space respected for its status as the only art gallery in Harlem – concluded its seven year-long run this past April with an exhibit entitled Thank You for Coming: Triple Candie 2001-08. This farewell opening highlighted the gallery’s best moments over the course of the past few years… most of which did not actually feature ANY original artwork. Triple Candie, curated by Shelly Bancroft and Peter Nesbett, in fact, exhibited photocopies, reproductions, and facsimiles of popular artworks in an effort to question its own status as an alternative exhibition space. Exhibits like David Hammons: The Unauthorized Retrospective, Jacob Lawrence: Undoing the Ongoing Bastardization of the Migration of the Negro, Cady Noland Approximately, and (perhaps most obviously) the Museo de Reproducciones Fotográficas – which featured scaled reproductions and print-outs of museum masterpieces seemingly haphazardly all taped to a wall – called the art-world’s attention once again to issues of authorship, originality, appropriation, and reproduction.

At this stage, these questions have begun to both frustrate and annoy the artworld. The unauthorized David Hammons exhibit, in fact, stirred up a surprising amount of discussion: it was the first comprehensive exhibit of the artist’s work (representing close to one hundred of his pieces), but only thanks to images that had been downloaded from the internet or photocopied and cut from catalogues. Responses varied (see below for an article and forum concerning the exhibit), some even speculating that David Hammons, a Harlem-based artist known to be a “trickster”, had in fact been involved with the exhibit’s conceptualization.

Regardless of the truth behind these postulations, the public reaction (which concentrated exclusively on the concept behind the opening and not on the works themselves) indicates a necessity to attribute artwork to an artist, often eliding the works and exhibition spaces themselves. Whether Triple Candie executed a successful and telling experiment that played on the artworld’s arbitrary priorities or whether it simply assembled a large David Hammons exhibit is no longer the issue – the issue is that the opening had a strong and significant effect, even though we've been dealing with these questions for some time. Triple Candie's seven years of successful activity have proved that galleries can now use the extensive availability of images (thanks to the internet and the rise of the age of digital media) to their advantage, using it to consider the new ways in which we are encountering images (with different pixel sizes and colors) as well as the corruption – or propagation? – of the artist’s work through those same venues. Is a poorly reproduced image in any way related to the original? If we take a Van Gogh and decorate an umbrella with it, who do we credit?

Several artists have worked specifically with these concepts (in fact, we could be asking: are Bancroft and Nesbett artists, and not curators?) and some have even worked with the same kind of media. Considering these questions of authorship, Richard Pettibone, Elaine Sturtevant, and Sherrie Levine, for example, made their names in the art-world by carefully reproducing and reconstructing works by artists like Duchamps, Roy Lichtenstein or Jasper Johns. Although surrounded by similar controversy, these artists have also been met with relative success through the appropriationist movement of the 1980s. But it seems as if Triple Candie - alongside the rest of the art world - has moved beyond that movement to something more complex and troubling.

More along the same lines as the Triple Candie exhibits, for example, Esteban Pena’s artwork is based off the shabby photocopies he received as an art history student in South America. Lacking access to the original textbooks, students in his program learned about the canonical masterpieces by studying poor-quality black and white reproductions. Grainy and sometimes indiscernible, everyone from Albrecht Durer to Andy Warhol has become part of Pena’s photocopy-esque visual idiom. His works, like Triple Candie's exhibitions, demand a re-evaluation of the ways in which images and art enter our visual consciousness now that we are able to do so through so many indirect venues.

Although these questions were familiar to us since Walter Benjamin wrote “Art in the Age of Mechanincal Reproduction”, Triple Candie’s innovative gesture was to challenge the art-world with the advent of an art gallery – and not just an artist or an artwork – that was encouraging these inquiries. Triple Candie thus made possible the “copy museums”: spaces that promote reproductions and deconstruct notions of image copyrights, making us question, instead, whether art can really be studied, seen, created and re-created on the internet. Simultaneously, by calling our attention to objects and catalogues sold in museum shops, Triple Candie subverted the definition of galleries as mere loci for artist promotion.

Edward Winkelman blog article on Triple Candie exhibition

New York Times article on Triple Candie exhibition

By Jacob Carroll, Philagrafika Intern

1 comment:

El-Jay DoubleYou said...

Hay, Im an art student and doing work that uses photocopies, i found your post really interesting and its quite hard finding references to photocopy artwork.
if youve got any links or more images of Esteban Pena's work id be really apreciative if youd send something on to me.
leave me a comment at my blog