, Wednesday, December 12, 2007


By Walter Robinson

Which is better, a complete set of facimiles or a limted 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.

Despite Lawrence's intentions, major Lawrence retrospectives have routinely included only parts of the work, and thus "radically misrepresented" it, Triple Candie say. The Lawrence retrospectives of 1960 (at the Brooklyn Museum and 16 other venues), 1974 (at the Whitney Museum), and 1986 (at the Seattle Art Museum) all featured only fragments of the work. Both MoMA and the Phillips Collection have also exhibited it in truncated form. The Migration of the Negro has never been shown in its entirety in Harlem, where it was originally made.

What's more, the misrepresentation of the work continues to this day. The Triple Candie exhibition is mounted to coincide with "Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series: Selections from the Phillips Collection" at the Whitney Museum, Nov. 21, 2007 - Jan. 6, 2008, which presents only 17 of the 60 panels. That show was originally scheduled to appear at the Studio Museum in Harlem, but had to be moved to the Whitney due to high humidity in the original venue's galleries.

The Triple Candie show, titled "Undoing the Ongoing Bastardization of the Migration of the Negro by Jacob Lawrence," is organized by the directors of the space, Shelly Bancroft and Peter Nesbett. Nesbett, who is also editor of artonpaper magazine, was formerly director of the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, and is the co-author of the two-volume The Complete Jacob Lawrence (2000), which includes a catalog raisonne and Over the Line, a collection of essays. He is also author of Jacob Lawrence: The Complete Prints (1963-2000).

"Undoing" also includes 14 custom-designed posters that document the many museum exhibitions over the years that presented only parts of Migration, by reproducing postage-stamp-sized images of the panels that were included in each show. Also featured in the exhibition is "a rural wooden shack," not unlike those painted by Lawrence, but here brightly colored and "meant to serve as a surrogate for Triple Candie." These parts of the show were devised by the curators themselves.

Triple Candie has become known in the last season or two for exhibitions that raise provocative questions about museum practices, often by seeming deliberately to misrepresent the artworks on display. Notable in this regard were a pair of monographic exhibitions done without the approval of their subjects, that is, shows of facsimiles of works by David Hammons and Cady Noland, both artists who tend to resist the blandishments of the art system.

Art critic Jerry Saltz called the 2006 Triple Candie exhibition, "Cady Noland Approximately," which contained only copies of works by the artist, an "esthetic act of karaoke, identity theft, body snatching and entrepreneurial table turning." This time around, Triple Candie is taking what Nesbett called "the moral high ground," by representing the work "as it is meant to be seen" -- with the except that it isn't the actual work, of course. At press time, email queries to Whitney Museum curators on the question ad gone unanswered.


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