Critics’ Picks

Edgar Arceneaux, “The Gods of Detroit,” 2010, clay, charcoal, enamel, eight unstretched canvases, each 100 x 65”.

Los Angeles

Edgar Arceneaux

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects
6006 Washington Boulevard
November 6–December 11

Can cities, like molecules, be reduced to elemental wholes? Is there hope, for example, in regrowing Detroit from certain purified ingredients: clay, charcoal, sugar? Edgar Arceneaux grounds his latest series of paintings and sculptures in the economically and racially troubled city. Witty, saccharine, and unsettling, his exhibition distorts well-worn notions of evolution in society, humankind, and art (shades of Smithson and Morris), consistently blocking its own exit without ever seeming trapped.

A visitor to the exhibition steps first into The Crystal Palace (all works 2010), a ring of industrial shelves piled with bricks and cardboard boxes that are partially burned and encrusted with crystallized sugar. The Pendulum, a paper lamp and plastic bucket, casts a sickly light as it swings in the center of the room; the environment suggests both derelict restaurant storage and a pagan ceremonial circle. Proceeding through a thick felt curtain, the viewer finds eight paintings on unstretched canvas from the series “The Gods of Detroit,” lithic anthropomorphs rendered in clay, charcoal, and enamel, bearing the jumbled labels of human institutions: “PUILBC SIVEERCS,” “IRUNDSTV,” “MUUESMS AND LIRBRAEIS.” At the head of the assembled “Gods” leans Natural History, a large painting in clay, chalk, and acrylic, whose shape and content crudely parody Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The piece depicts a bone-wielding ape-man above a soldier firing a rifle from the cover of a toppled monolith. Whereas 2001 imagines an evolutionary quantum leap from cave dwellings to space stations, the exhibition stays mired somewhere in between. In the next room, represented in the canvas God of Detroit (hsounig), a cluster of angles haphazardly resembling habitable boxes is emblematic of the artist’s sardonic vision of urban planning as an alchemy yielding only warped crystals.