Nomadland: How Candace Huey of re.riddle Broke the White Cube Gallery Mold

Emilie Trice | May 7, 2021 (Updated September 20, 2022)

Candace Huey of re.riddle. Photo courtesy of re.riddle and artist Pegan Brooke, photographer: Heather Shames.

In the 1970s, a series of essays were published in Artforum by critic Brian O’Doherty regarding the “ideology of the gallery space.”

These essays would later become a book, entitled Inside the White Cube, which critically examined what had become the de-facto norm for most commercial art galleries. According to O’Doherty, the white cube was designed to elicit the same transcendent response as a cathedral and was intended as a place of worship and metaphysical contemplation. 

“A gallery is constructed along laws as rigorous as those for building a medieval church,” writes O’Doherty. “The outside world must not come in, so windows are usually sealed off. Walls are painted white. The ceiling becomes the source of light ... in this context, a standing ashtray becomes almost a sacred object, just as the firehose in a modern museum looks not like a firehose but an aesthetic conundrum. Modernism's transposition of perception from life to formal values is complete.”

To this day, the white cube remains the preferred spatial construct for exhibiting art.

However, some gallerists find the white cube paradigm limiting in its asceticism. Simply stated, hanging art on the same white walls over and over (and over) again can begin to feel stale, both for the curator and for the viewer. 

As more experimental and immersive spaces emerge across the cultural landscape as welcome alternatives to the white cube monopoly, gallerists are embracing less traditional platforms to exhibit and promote their artists. Although the brick-and-mortar gallery has long been a signifier of an art dealer’s status, that sentiment is shifting across the “old guard” art world. 

Some well-regarded art fairs, for example, have relaxed their admissions criteria and no longer require exhibiting galleries to have a brick-and-mortar space at all. This has allowed itinerant galleries to exhibit alongside white cube staples and gain important exposure to collectors — thereby establishing the nomadic, pop-up gallery model within the art world ecosystem as a commercially viable platform. 

re.riddle is one of these galleries and has exhibited at Untitled Art Fair in both Miami and San Francisco, as well as Intersect Chicago. re.riddle was founded by Candace Huey as an “itinerant gallery” in 2017. An art historian by training, Candace studied at the renowned Courtauld Institute in London and is now based in San Francisco. 

re.riddle shows what most commercial galleries would term “difficult work” — highly conceptual, often site-specific, and generally more concerned with intellectual integrity than market salability. For a show re.riddle mounted in 2019 entitled Pour the Line, for example, Candace worked with creative director L. Lui and renowned perfumier Yosh Han to interpret “an area scent of what a drawn line might smell like.” 

The resulting fragrance was embedded in cashmere and wool thread that was then hung with geometric precision, creating a sculptural installation that was also a multi-sensory, yet minimalist, experience. That sort of contrast is a delicate balance and tough to pull off, but it’s Candace’s forte. Entitled Sliver and inspired by noted conceptual American artist Fred Sandback, this type of refined, cross-disciplinary, and historically-conscious collaborative art is what re.riddle has come to be known for. 

Pour the Line, 2019, courtesy of re.riddle and Abacus Row et al. Photographer: Melissa Habegger. 

Candace also sits on the board of SF MOMA’s SECA council and is an active member of the Artadia San Francisco Council, among many other appointments. She has conceptualized exhibitions for cultural institutions such as the consulates of Mexico, Spain, France and the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco. Additionally, Candace works with private clients in the U.S., Hong Kong, London, and Paris to develop and curate their art collections.

We sat down with Candace to talk about her prescient gallery model, how she works with artists and the myriad influences that drive her curatorial programming, including a career in academia and motherhood. Here’s how she does it all. 

AA: Tell our readers about your gallery and why you opted for a nomadic exhibition platform. 

CH: re.riddle is an itinerant gallery that curates site-specific installations and pop-up exhibitions around the world. I was interested in this model for two primary reasons: first to reach a wider, more diverse demographic within the public space that would foster critical engagement with the work, and secondly to allow for the various locations and settings to enrich or complicate the artist’s work in a holistic, transdisciplinary and dynamic manner. 

A lot of the artists that I work with make work that really resonates in a very specific setting. So I thought that being more flexible and creative in that regard would allow them to create and exhibit their anywhere — from topiary gardens in France to rooftops in San Francisco, or even in a traditional gallery or museum space. It really just depends on the artist.

Keeping it fluid and open is also effective because it can align with the collectors’ varied interests and tastes. Many collectors are interested in commissioning site-specific work or pieces that are interactive, dynamic, and experiential. 

AA: You also teach — how has your academic career influenced your work as a gallerist?

CH: My academic training and scholarly research has assisted in having me think in broader terms about how my artists might contribute to the ongoing discourse in both art history and contemporary visual culture. How does their art encapsulate or reflect the zeitgeist of their era or articulate humanity in their current cultural context? In what ways might their work re-present, reconfigure or subvert it?

I love rigor, but I also want the work to be legible and accessible to everyone. And for that reason, I enjoy working with artists that consider multiple ways in which their work — whether it be a formal, stylistic language or its message/questions posed — can become entrances for people to enter.  

Marqueyssac, Image credit: Courtesy of Atelier YokYok, re.riddle, Jardins de Marqueyssac. Photographer: Atelier YokYok

AA: What are some other common threads that unite the artists exhibited and represented by re.riddle?

CH: We work with esteemed artists from all over the world, ranging from emerging to mid-career, creating art in various media and with a transdisciplinary approach. They create thoughtful, processed-based artwork that is aesthetically pleasing and technically sophisticated.

Their work might contain a notion of whimsy or humor, whilst others address themes related to geopolitics, cultural identity, feminism, ecology, social justice, and art & tech. 

AA: It seems that more and more galleries are adopting re.riddle’s nomadic approach — why do you think that shift is happening now?

CH: I think the model allows for more flexibility, innovation and creativity with exhibitions and engaging the audience. Also, the economic downturn during the pandemic really hurt smaller, emerging and some mid-size galleries. As a result, many had to think about readapting or reinventing their business model. The keyword of the year was “pivot,” after all. Hence, I would say the pandemic has indirectly amplified this trend.

AA: You’re a gallerist, active in academia, and also a mother — how has motherhood influenced your work and how do you juggle it all?

I could not do it without my village. I am so grateful to have their support in all ways and forms. Being a mother has prompted me to consider more immediately, both directly or indirectly, the ways in which art is able to shape and reshape the world that my children grow up in. 

Follow re.riddle on Instagram to stay informed about future projects and pop-up exhibitions. 

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