Shotgun Review Archive

Michael Arcega

By Shotgun Reviews December 16, 2007

Okay so who comes to mind when thinking of Bay Area contemporary artists who use language brilliantly to decode cultural meaning, from the point of view of communities of color? Hank Willis Thomas and Guillermo Gomez-Pena come to mind quickly, and so does Michael Arcega, who has a one -person show as part of the De Young Museum's ongoing series of Collection Connections exhibitions. This series, inspired by the breakthrough work of Fred Wilson who has been deconstructioning museum collections for some two decades, offers artists the chance to demonstrate how their work compares and contrasts to the canonized work in the encyclopedic museum's holdings.

windows Arcega chooses in large part to invade the museum using assault ladders made of linguistic and visual puns.

Chief among these is the word club, which could refer to war club, night club, social club, or men's club, to name just a few. War clubs from Oceanic cultures are well represented in the De Young collection; Arcega chooses to make these the centerpiece of his project. With several fearsome-looking objects filling one vitrine, the artist juxtaposes several others with his own contributions to clubbing. These of course place Arcega solidly within his identity as an American: each of his clubs ends not in a lethal knob but in a fragile miniature of modern warfare--fragments of warships rendered in Arcega's signature perfectionist style. Each tiny detail of a warship is painstakingly rendered in wood. Others are perfectly recreated miniature dance clubs sited in hotels, bars, and restaurants; some even have music and lights coming from inside. The title of his show, Homing Pidgin, reinforces the nature of this kind of exchange, in which immigrant culture and new culture merge to create a new, hybrid and stylized pidgin form. destroyer beach Arcega has two more sections of his show. One is a large number of window treatments at the top of a major staircase, and a few more for good measure in his gallery, that similarly synthesize Island people's culture with Western traditions. Made to resemble stained glass, the vinyl applications are traditional indigenous designs of a spiritual nature in red, blue and green. While rife with clunky jokes--"take one look at the world through my eyes"--what is equally of note is how few museum visitors note this site-specific work's presence, and so the intervention goes unremarked. spork spork Finally, he has amassed a notable collection of touristware from the Phillipines and elsewhere in the Pacific. These are painted or carved, often outsized, forks and spoons that serve as inexpensive kitsch souvenirs of one's trip to the Islands. Arcega has trumped these efforts and upped the scale of cultural inversion by making a gigantic, tiki-scale spork out of carved wood. The combo fork and spoon given at some fast-food outlets awkwardly merges two functions(read: cultures). The artist's gigantic version is a quasi-religious symbol--inevitably suggesting a crucifix--at which we can worship colonial power and its absorption by the colonized as an ongoing joke on itself. Not only is it a synthesis of religious iconography, but in the way this ridiculous item is carefully mounted and displayed it gently critiques museological culture's ethnological dilemmas as well.

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