New York Times, Friday, August 11, 2006
ART IN REVIEW: THE SOCIAL HISTORY OF OBJECTS
By Holland Cotter
As we know, art fashions go in cycles. At present, in some quarters of the art world, there's a push to circle back to pre-Conceptualist state, in which paintings and sculptures are art, and everything else is not. In this view the Duchampian ready-made is anathema. So it makes sense that an against-the-grain space like Triple Candie is offering a group show entirely of ready-mades.
It is also a show without a curatorial "eye," and made up of both artists and nonartists. A news release lists among the participants "the reverend of the oldest church in harlem, the deputy director of a major New York museum, a scholar who is also the daughter of two prominent civil rights activities, and a Harlem-based architectural historian and city planner."
They were eached asked to contribute an ordinary object, one that they didn't use for its original purpose, but kept anyway. These are displayed side by side on plain wood planks, accompanied, as in any self-respecting Conceptualist show, but extensive text labels, in this case written by the owners.
The range of items is wide and unspectacular: a baseball cap, a sock, a Plaza Hotel ashtray, a stone chip. Certain items were acquired or found by their present owners; other were hand-me-downs or gifts. A few are said to have Proustian powers to evoke a time, place, or personality.
From the Harlem pastor, for example, comes a small still life of four separate objects: a metal pyx for holding liturgical ashes, surmounted by a dried ear of corn and two nuts. The pyx was a gift from his predecessor at the church; the ear of corn is from the farm where his grandmother was born; the nuts were carried around as a charm by his grandfather. As an ensemble they form a little personal altar.
By contrast, other objects in the show carry a weight of what you might call negative charisma. The owner of the baseball cap has a seriously conflicted relationship with her item of choice. She received it as a present from a boss she hated, kept it at the back of a drawer and gave it to the show on the condition that it not be returned.
So, is this an art show or what? It certainly gave me an art experience. I found the labels absorbing, and most of the objects at least as interesting as what I've seen in Chelsea this summer, for the sense of lives, values and ideas they convey. It's the old Duchamp lesson, which is also a history lesson: art is an attitude, and the mid is every bit as much a sharpening organ as the hand and the eye.