Kirk Varnedoe: In the Middle at the Modern is an exhibition curated by Triple Candie and commissioned and organized by Telfair Museums. A multimedia exhibition that challenges reality, questions authenticity, and ignites discussions about the power of museums to bestow objects with “high” or “low” value, Kirk Varnedoe: In the Middle at the Modern will reflect on Varnedoe’s contributions to curatorial practice and examine the first major exhibition he organized as chief curator of painting and sculpture at MoMA, High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture (October 7, 1990–January 15, 1991), with the hindsight of three decades.
Blending personal biography with art historical scholarship to explore the controversial—and incontrovertible—influence of former MoMA curator Kirk Varnedoe on the art world today, this exhibition uses fabricated objects in the form of altered historical documents, sculptural recreations, photographs, sets, animations, modified posters, ephemera, and wall texts to immerse audiences in a multisensory show that is about art yet largely devoid of “true” art objects. Triple Candie’s curatorial directive is to raise questions about art and the often unquestioned ideas surrounding it, like originality, authenticity, influence, history, formal value and biography-as-value.
Kirk Varnedoe (American, 1946-2003) is a figure deeply connected to Telfair Museums and Savannah, famed as a native to the city and both a local and national art legend. In his role as Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA (1988-2001), he set in motion huge debates that continue in the field of contemporary art today—a narrative that weaves together how Kirk’s upbringing shaped his values (social and scholarly), interests, motivations and choices alongside strategies Varnedoe employed to navigate MoMA’s thorny political landscape and Varnedoe’s philosophy of incremental change.
Kirk Varnedoe: In the Middle at the Modern presents an exhibition not only about the work and influence of Kirk Varnedoe, but also about the nature of exhibitions themselves. For instance, how do museums place value on art objects, and how might this affect how visitors behave around them? Does “authenticity” make an object more valuable, even if the surrogate allows visitors to engage with the original more deeply? What is more real: the object, or the feeling it is meant to convey? These questions form the foundation for Triple Candie’s work, introducing audiences to a whole new way of experiencing art and exhibitions, placing visitors not on one side of the debate, but in the middle of it.
About Triple Candie:
Triple Candie is a phantom-like institution run by internationally-noted art historians Shelly Bancroft and Peter Nesbett. Founded in Harlem in 2001, Triple Candie produces exhibitions about art but largely devoid of it. Its primary purpose since late 2005 has been to explore the possibilities of exhibition-making as a truly alternative, critical practice. The New York Times once characterized Triple Candie as “Manhattan’s only truly alternative alternative space,” and Domus described it as “one of the most mysterious and creative institutions on the contemporary scene.” From 2001 to 2010, Triple Candie operated a series of galleries. When it left Harlem in 2011, it began guest-producing exhibitions for museums in the United States and Europe. In 2015, Triple Candie was curator-in-residence at Gertrude Contemporary in Melbourne, Australia, and in 2016, Edward E. Elson Artist-in-Residence at the Addison Museum of American Art in Andover, Massachusetts. Today, Triple Candie works out of a townhouse in Washington, D.C.
Brigitte Lacombe (French, b. 1950)
Kirk Varnedoe, Artist’s Proof, 1999
silver gelatin print
Sight: 18 x 18 inches
Gift of Brigitte Lacombe, 2006.16
© Brigitte Lacombe
Kirk Varnedoe Collection, Telfair Museums