Featuring wildly popular comedian David Alan Grier on a lushly colored, multi-channel video, The Alchemy of Comedy...Stupid examines the nuances and structures, rapture and pathos of jokes, comedy routines and the relationship between performer and audience. By destabilizing our familiarity with the joke and its context, Edgar Arceneaux reveals existing but rarely acknowledged possibilities for unique, coherent meaning created from non-linear logic. The exhibition serves to highlight comedy as an alchemical process: its ability to turn pathos into entertainment and debased material into gold.
Intercut among the multiple screens are reconfigured video segments of Grier debuting poignantly difficult material, his interactions with audience members and awkward moments of anticipation or rumination. The video and a single-channel companion piece were shot in Chicago in May 2005, primarily on the University of Illinois at Chicago's campus at the UIC Theater and the Science and Engineering Building, as well as a local Chicago bar. They and accompanying works in drawing and sculpture are the culmination of Gallery 400's commission of the artist that was initiated in 2004. A catalogue documenting the project along with an essay by exhibition organizer Lorelei Stewart was published in Summer 2006.
Edgar Arceneaux has shown his drawings, sculptures, installations, and films in solo exhibitions at The Kitchen, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Kunstwerke, Berlin; UCLA Hammer Museum; the Studio Museum, New York; and Montgomery Gallery, Pomona College, among others. His work has been included in group exhibitions at Astrup Fearnley Museum of Art, Oslo; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco; Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; Witte de With Museum, Rotterdam; Kunsthalle Basel; Bronx Museum, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
Arceneaux was the subject of an Artforum feature by Jeffrey Kastner in 2006 and featured in essays by Charles Gaines and Catrin Lorch in Afterall 10. Arceneaux's books Lost Library and 107th Street Watts were published in 2003 by Kunstverein Ulm, Germany and Revolver, Frankfurt, respectively. Arceneaux lives and works in Los Angeles and is represented by Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects; Adamski Gallery for Contemporary Art, Aachen, Germany; and Galerie Kamm, Berlin.
Edgar Arceneaux's The Alchemy of Comedy...Stupid received funding in the form of a 2005 Joyce Award from The Joyce Foundation. The Joyce Awards are presented annually to honor Midwest mainstream cultural organizations that commission works by artists of color in each of four genres: visual art, dance, music, and theater.
The catalogue was generously supported by Sara Szold. Special thanks to David Alan Grier and Cheryl Lynn Bruce for their talented contributions. The video was produced by Merc Arceneaux. Artist Ron Clark was its director of photography. The exhibition was additionally made possible by the Pasadena Arts and Culture Commission and the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division; Artpace San Antonio; a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; and the College of Architecture and the Arts, University of Illinois at Chicago. The Daryl Gerber Stokols and Jeff Stokols Fund provides general support to Gallery 400 programs.
The Alchemy of Comedy…Stupid was later featured at the 2008 Whitney Biennial.