Amsterdam News: The New Black view, April 10-16, 2008


by Damaso Reyes

In the days after September 11, few New Yorker's minds were focused on the lofty world of art, or what it could provide for a city in need. But art is one of the ways that civilization copes with tragedy, and Shelly Bancroft put down a deposit on a large warehouse spae where 126th Street somehow intersects with 128th Street in Harlem. For the past six-and-a-half years, Triple Candie has brought world-class art tand artists to Western Harlem. The more than 50 shows at the gallery have provoked controversy and inspired praise, but the space and its curators have allowed art to fulfill its most important role: to provoke thought.

Now, the gallery is closing with one final show, "Thank You for Coming: Triple Candie 2001-08." The building that houses the gallery is currently undergoing massive renovations, leading to pervasive dust, noise and flooding that have made programming all but impossible. So rather than wait it out, the gallery's directors, Bancroft and her husband Peter Nesbett, decided to break their lease in the hopes of finding another space in West Harlem in the near future.

The show is a survey of the past exhibitions in the gallery as well as a history of the creation of Tripole Candie itself. In the spirit of some of the gallery's more provocative shows, the exhibition doesn't have any "actual" art in it, just ephemera from previous installations. A visitor gets the sense of what has happened without actually seeing the evidence. The gallery never produced posters for any of its shows but one wall has several newly created ones. Several color photocopied panels of Jacob Lawrence's "Migration Series" are on display, as well as the deposit check that secured the gallery and other correspondence.

"We came in very quiety. It happened very much by chance," Bancroft said regarding the founding of the gallery.

The huge warehouse space was secured at a favorable rate and she used her life savings of $3,000 as a deposit. From the beginning, the idea was not to be an agent of gentrification, which ironically is now forcing the gallery out, but to provide a community underserved by the arts another outlet.

"We lived in Harlem and thought it would be great to have a place that supported the visual arts," Nesbett said.

Though the gallerists tried to keep a low profile, several reviews in the New York Times helped change that, bringing visitors from both inside and outside Harlem and expanding the gallery's reach. And as the gallery evolved ove rthe years, so did the perspective of the two people running it.

"We've had more freedom here than anywhere else," Bancroft told the AmNews in an interview at the gallery, with the sounds of construction filling the space. "We've taken a lot of risks and not had the pressure of answering to a board of directors," she added, noting tat the non-profits board consists of only two members.

"It's totally changed my view of art and what is possible," Nesbett offered.

Since the gallery never concerned itself with being commercially successful or selling art and most of the fuding came from private individuals and city agencies like the Department of Cultural Affairs and the City Council, Bancroft and Nesbett were able to mount some unconventional shows, such as showing all the panels of the "Migration Series" as color photocopies.

"We shifted from supporting artists to supporting the audience," Nesbett said, citing the Lawrence show and the large number of school groups it brought to the gallery. While the gallery will close at the end of the April, Nesbett and Bancroft are actively looking for another space in Harlem, reaffirming a commitment to serving the community with world-class visual art.

"We feel a responsibility since we've been here," Bancroft said when asked why the gallery wouldn't relocate to another part of the city. The new space "could take a completely different direction, but we can't know what it will be until we start," she added.

Hopefully, the gallery will be able to find a new home, even with the 500,000 luxury condos that are springing up. Until then...Triple Candie: thank you for staying.


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