Edgar Arceneaux, Untitled, 2009
We have somehow just noticed Roberta Smith’s reference to this work in The New York Times, in a rather snooty 2009 review of grupa friend Naomi Beckwith’s exhibition at the Studio Museum, 30 Seconds Off an Inch. Smith likes the photograph, or at least what she gathers from looking at it: “One of the most quietly poignant works,” Smith notices, "is Edgar Arceneaux’s untitled black-and-white photograph of a little metal grid sculpture placed on an outdoor chess board in a desolate playground, which resonates between life and art, imagination and deprivation, playful and oppressive geometries."
For what it’s worth, this is an image of a micro-monument Edgar made for a visit to Detroit in 2007, with Julian and a group of his students from California College of the Arts. The location is the corner of Clairmount and Rosa Parks, the site where the urban revolt of 1967 began. The work is an ambivalent memorial to those events, and what followed them. The little grid is made of mirror squares, not metal, and riffs on Jack Ward’s metal sculpture behind it — itself a piece of guerrilla public art inasmuch as Ward placed it there without commission, payment, notice, or permission. The material also evokes the frequent deployment of mirrors in 1960s sculpture and “anti-form” art, and not least the Mirror Displacements of Robert Smithson, whose essay “Incidents of Mirror Travel in the Yucatan” inspired the title of Edgar’s collaboration with Julian, Mirror Travel in the Motor City, a body of work in which this photograph is a central evidence.
Smith’s assessment is not wrong, or not exactly, but neither do we recognize the work in her description. Her genericized crisis — “life,” “deprivation,” “oppression” — makes the little monument (and the photograph of it in situ) into a cheap moral lesson; the work is asking questions, not answering them.
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