New Books on Christopher D'Arcangelo and African-American Artists in Los Angeles

In 1975, D’Arcangelo, the son of Pop Artist Allan D’Arcangelo, stripped off his shirt outside the Whitney, revealing an anarchist statement emblazoned on his back in black marker, and chained himself to its front doors, temporarily blocking access to the museum. Similarly disruptive interventions followed that year at the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim.

Mr. Deitch gamely explains how each of the museum’s responses revealed their “institution personalities.” At the Whitney, administrators let in visitors through a side door and blocked the public’s view of the artist with a folding screen, as if to emphasize that his work was not condoned by the museum. D’Arcangelo eventually unlocked himself and walked off. (The Observer, by the way, would happily pay for a book collecting the columns Mr. Deitch wrote for Flash Art in the 1980s, if a publisher is willing to assemble it.)

Much of D’Arcangelo’s work followed a similar course: expanding to the limits of a given institutional structure without ever quite trying to overturn the given constraints. For instance, he agreed to a show at Artists Space itself in 1978, but required that his name be removed from promotional materials. His work “entailed both negation and affirmation,” as curator Dean Inkster puts it in an one essay, which links the artist’s practice to those of his artist-friends Lawrence Weiner and Ian Wilson.

The young Mr. Deitch argued that D’Arcangelo—with whom he was then working at the John Weber Gallery in Soho—was trying to make art that “could successfully combine political action with intrinsic artist interest.” That is a difficult feat, he admitted, but he wrote that Arcangelo “seems to be on the right road, that is, if he can continue to stay one step ahead of the law.” Three years later, he killed himself at the age of 24, and today his work exists as memories and documentation.

The catalogue also includes copies of the typed pages that D’Arcangelo and artist Peter Nadin produced in the 1970s, listing the hours and materials that they used to complete various construction projects around the city. The works transpose the grammar and look of Conceptual art into the realm of politics and labor. As Mr. Inkster writes, artists of D’Arcangelo’s generation—like Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer—were becoming aware that “Conceptual Art’s linguistic claims of neutrality and self-referentiality could no longer be sustained.” Though his career was brief and untested–and is, consequently, easy to fetishize–D’Arcangelo is a crucial part of that story.

arusseth@observer.com

New Books on Christopher D'Arcangelo and African-American Artists in Los Angeles