Special holiday report: Holland Cotter and the call of the herd
Post #1104 • December 28, 2007, 7:51 AM • 15 Comments
Artnet, December 12:
Which is better, a complete set of facsimiles or a limited selection of originals? Ambitious viewers can decide for themselves this month, as the Triple Candie exhibition space in Harlem presents full-color offset reproductions of the 60 paintings in Jacob Lawrence's The Migration of the Negro, an epic work made by the 24-year-old artist in 1941. According to Triple Candie, Lawrence considered the paintings to be a single artwork and intended that they all be exhibited together, though he sold half the series to the Museum of Modern Art and half to the Phillips Collection shortly after it was made.
Edward Winkleman, December 14:
So I get why Triple Candie is offended by this continuous misrepresentation of the work to the public (the title of their exhibition clarifies their feelings about this: "Undoing the Ongoing Bastardization of The Migration of the Negro by Jacob Lawrence,"), but once again I find myself uncomfortable with the nature of their response. I am on record as opposed to reproductions being exhibited as if art. Even when the nature of the reproductions is clearly stated, I find the context overwhelmingly misleading and thus potentially as much of a bastardization as only partial groupings. ... All the same, I love their commitment and passion.
EW commenter Joseph Giannasio, December 17:
...I support what they are doing, and would say by really taking chances and engaging the discourse it is more interesting than everything else that is going on and important that they do what the are doing, and present non-commercial alternatives that take risks.
Yours truly in reply, December 17:
From the standpoint of the attention economy, in which attention is the coin of the realm, this is a fiscally conservative maneuver. After all, Holland Cotter swooned over [Triple Candie's] Cady Noland show, which purchased credibility for the gallery in the currency with which it is bought in this segment of the art world: the raising of issues. ... Being ingnored is the red ink of the attention economy, so you run a greater risk by displaying objects that exist primarily for their own ineffable purposes in an atmosphere of humble respect.
Holland Cotter, today, December 28:
Jacob Lawrence painted "The Migration of the Negro," 60 small pictures in tempera on hardboard panels, in what seems like a flash. ... The series is about the shift of African-American populations from a poor and repressive rural South to a prosperous but unwelcoming urban North between the two world wars. Lawrence’s family participated in that shift. For him it was lived history, an organic phenomenon, and he conceived his depiction of it that way. But two concurrent exhibitions - one at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the other at Triple Candie, a nonprofit space in Harlem - suggest that his concept has not come down to us intact. ...the [Whitney] show represents a mere fragment of the Phillips Collection’s larger fragment. The overarching drama of the series, the cumulative product of Lawrence’s thought-through formal calculation and narrative subtlety, is, if not lost, much diminished. And such editing has spurred a second exhibition, "Undoing the Ongoing Bastardization of ‘The Migration of the Negro’ by Jacob Lawrence," at Triple Candie. ...
Triple Candie is one of few nonprofit spaces in the city, or at least in Manhattan, to offer a serious alternative to the market-addled art mainstream. It has done so in a series of exhibitions that have had, by traditional standards, no art at all, and that might even be considered a threat to the very idea of art as the market defines it. ...there are two good reasons to visit the Triple Candie show: It presents the complete "Migration of the Negro" series, or a version of it; and it shows it in the Harlem neighborhood where Lawrence created it, a neighborhood that became predominantly African-American as a direct result of that migration. ... What’s more real, after all, art or the feeling of it? History or the telling of it? Medium or message? We know the conventional market wisdom. It’s important to have the alternative.
Next: the bleat goes on.