Learn about historical and political events, in this clip of season 8 of Art21’s Art in the Twenty-First Century, as Edgar Arceneaux investigates these themes through performances, installations, drawings and sculptures. In his LA show, the artist attempts to explore vulnerabilities of persons in a position of leadership and the concept of monumentalization and heroism. He uses original civil rights era recordings and documents and creates multi-channel videos to design politically charged artwork, installations, and performances that deal with the issue and possibility of democracy in the light of the US’s history with genocide and slavery, at the same time questioning if the current political situation is even improvable.
The artist likes to use materials that trouble the gaze of the viewer; for his project “A book and a medal”, he printed two letters on mirrors to consciously give the viewer no neutral place to stand when viewing the artwork. One of the letters is known as the “suicide letter” and was sent to civil rights leader Martin Luther King in 1964 by Edgar J. Hoover of the FBI, in an attempt to discredit and intimidate King, threatening to expose his hidden fraudulent agenda, private affairs and secrets, and prompting to commit suicide.
In November 2015, Edgar Arceneaux directed a performance piece called “Until, until, until…” of Ben Vereen’s famous and tragically misunderstood performance at the televised 1981 Republican presidential inaugural gala, with Frank Lawson as Ben Vereen. The gala marks a huge turning point in Vereen’s life, as the TV broadcast of the event was cut before his performance reached the end, causing it to be misunderstood and him being condemned by audiences nationwide. Arceneaux’s show in New York attempts to tell the whole story of this famous performance the way it was meant to be seen and to communicate the essence of Vereen’s original idea.