Critics’ Picks

View of “Ben Sakoguchi: Bombs,” 2017.

Los Angeles

Ben Sakoguchi

2130 Valley Blvd
November 16–January 28

Hung in a tight grouping on a single wall, Ben Sakoguchi’s suite of twenty-four paintings, Bombs, 1983, depicts a host of nuclear weapons, tests, and strikes, and constitutes one of the most eloquent and acerbic arguments against nuclear proliferation in contemporary art. Created in just four months, the works’ small scale and significant visual wallop parallel what is most incomprehensible about atomic weapons—the deep disjuncture between their destructive capacities and their relatively small size. Rage seethes through paintings such as Mk.17, wherein the artist has added a graphic of an exploding stick of dynamite and the word “Super.” Linguistic intensifiers rarely match, or combat, the level of hubris and slaughter enacted by nuclear weapons, but this comes close, undercutting the bomb’s necropolitical extension of human capability.

At the center of the group are two diptychs that set the mushroom clouds of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (generated by the perversely named Little Boy and Fat Man, respectively) alongside the physical traumas of those who survived—at least for a time. A human hand is painted into each of these frames, holding a placard that dutifully, economically describes what is being shown: “Flash Burns, Nagasaki, August 9 1945” and “Keloid Tumors, Hiroshima, August 6 1945.” This highlighting of suffering, scarring, death, and the callous disregard for life that nuclear weapons engender animates the rest of the installation.

Political works such as this suite are not just artifacts of a time gone by. Recently, the president of the United States—at once fat man and little boy—boasted on social media of his ability and willingness to push the “nuclear button” (which, of course, is much bigger than anyone else’s). Super.