UMOCA's First Friday events are a chance at the top of the month to come check out something new entering the impressive downtown gallery, which has now become a more modernized home for traveling national exhibitions, as well as a space helping grow major local names. This month, the gallery welcomes a unique treat, the roaming gallery Triple Candie (formerly housed in Brooklyn) as they bring their showcase Of The Siren And The Sky to SLC. Today, I chat with the two founders behind Triple Candie about their history and the exhibition you can check out at UMOCA for the next few months, all with pictures I took of what's currently on display at UMOCA for you to check out in this gallery here.
Shelly Bancroft & Peter Nesbett
Gavin: Hey, everyone. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Peter: We are art historians and exhibition-makers who run an alternative gallery called Triple Candie. We met in Seattle in graduate school in the early 1990s. Collectively, we’ve worked in art galleries, a museum, an auction house, a community art center and two art foundations. We’ve produced an art-radio show and published an internationally distributed art magazine. We now live in Philadelphia with a black cat and a 1985 Toyota pickup. We have no credit cards, smart phones, real estate, and we don’t buy gifts at Christmas. We started Triple Candie in 2001.
Gavin: Where did the idea come about to start Triple Candie, and what made you decide to open it in Harlem?
Shelly: Peter had published several books on an artist from Harlem named Jacob Lawrence and we moved there so he could start a foundation. While he was doing that, I found an old warehouse and decided to start the gallery. Harlem is a great place.
Gavin: Over the years, Triple Candie went through several changes as far as what you decided to exhibit or promote. What made you change the direction every couple of years, and how did that affect the popularity of the gallery?
Shelly: Each approach grew out of the next. Our initial approach lasted six months. We invited other galleries and nonprofits to curate shows in our space. In phase two, we curated the shows ourselves. Two years later, we began commissioning artists from North America and Europe to make ambitious, fleeting installations. We are constantly trying to challenge ourselves and learn from what came before. We don’t really focus on whether or not we are popular, but vis-a-vis attendance and reception, the changes didn’t seem to make a difference.
Peter: By 2005, we were frustrated by the shifting power relationships between artists and curators, limited access to interesting work and the hype of the market. We decided to research and make a show on the art of David Hammons, an artist whose work we respect but who is notorious for being both reclusive and very controlling of how and where his work is exhibited. Hammons lived in Harlem, and we had met him, though he never would have agreed to show at a nonprofit like ours. He only shows at high-end galleries. We conducted research at the Museum of Modern Art’s library, photocopying every work we could from every catalog and brochure we would find. We then took these photocopies—100 of them—and arranged them chronologically around the perimeter of our very large gallery. Because there was pent-up demand to see Hammons’ work, when the show opened people came in droves. Since then, we’ve curated more than three-dozen exhibitions in a similarly unauthorized, guerrilla spirit.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to do the UMOCA exhibit?
Peter: We’ve known Aaron Moulton, UMOCA’s senior curator, since 2005 when he was at Flash Art in Milan. We’d closed our Harlem gallery and wanted to work with someone who has known our work for a long time. Letting Triple Candie curate a show at your museum can be a nerve-racking experience. Few curators have that kind of courage or curiosity.
Gavin: Tell us a little bit about what you have on display at UMOCA.
Shelly: The exhibition is an expanded portrait of a Salt Lake City-born artist named Siren Bliss (aka Sky Jones, aka Michael Whipple), who was a friend of Paul McCarthy’s at the University of Utah in the late 1960s. He’s an itinerant mystic who is mind-boggingly prolific—he claims to have created 80,000 artworks—and who barters his work rather than sell it. We based our research on Bliss’s writings, photographs of his artwork, and two depositions he gave to the Securities Exchange Commission in 1997 and 2001. When you visit the museum, what you’ll see are recreations of his drawings and sculptures -- some accurate, some not -- small reproductions of his paintings, objects in cases and posters with quotes by him. There is lots to read and see.
Gavin: What kind of new challenges did the UMOCA exhibit bring?
Peter: For us, the challenges were parsing fact and fiction. Bliss claims to have traded more than $500 million in art, but maintains no worldly possessions. He is incredibly prolific, but completely unknown in museum circuits. In fact, he runs his own museum, which, like him, is itinerant. He has multiple personas. He claims that his entire career is an elaborate art performance. Historically speaking, he is an unimaginable character.
Shelly: For UMOCA, as for any museum, the challenges are squaring their goals with our methodology. In curating this show, we did not contact the artist. We also chose not to exhibit any of his art. The exhibition is more like one you will find in a history museum, wherein the objects on view area all replicas, recreations and surrogates, instead of originals. We wanted to approach the exhibition this way to force some historical distance between us and our subject—we are trained as art historians, after all—and to ground the viewer’s experience in ours as much as our subject’s. The risk is that the museum could be viewed as insensitive to an artist, that the show could be misinterpreted as parody. But Aaron understands that that is not our intent: We are interested in curating a show on an unconventional artist in an unconventional way. We want the exhibition to create a situation in which the whole notion of an authentic art experience is called into question.
Gavin: Will the exhibition travel to other venues?
Shelly: It was conceived specifically for Salt Lake City. We generally destroy or recycle the objects in our shows when they are de-installed.
Gavin: What are your plans for Triple Candie after your stay in SLC?
Shelly: We’ve been invited to curate exhibitions in museums in Los Angeles, Detroit, and Paris. But what is of greatest interest to us at the moment is talking to people about Siren Bliss’s work. Maybe one day, we’ll even get the chance to meet him. Now that the exhibition is done, we’d like that.
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This past Friday was the December Gallery Stroll, but I'm not gonna talk about it this month. --- While I do enjoy the Stroll every month and do my best to show you something new each time it comes around, the truth about December is that 90% of it is a rehash from November. The rest are holiday group shows that are only around for a couple of weeks, as the holidays tend to mess with business hours, and setup for January comes sooner than expected. So, this month we're changing pace before the year comes to a close.