November 9, 2018

Edgar Arceneaux
Library of Black Lies

Henry Art Gallery at University of Washington

View of Edgar Arceneaux, Library of Black Lies, 2016. Wood, mirrored glass, mylar, newspaper, hard-bound books, sugar crystals, lighting fixtures, audio component. Courtesy Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Photo: Charlie Villyard.

The Henry is proud to present Los Angeles-based artist Edgar Arceneaux’s (US, born 1972) architectural installation Library of Black Lies which posits that there is no singular truth to history and that even well-intentioned narratives can lock things down to one agenda or cause.

The unpacking and reconstruction of history—especially systems of power—is a central concern in Arceneaux’s installations, sculptures, and drawings. His work recombines anachronistic juxtapositions of imagery and text into patterns that reveal either blatant or subtly extant flaws in accepted social structures. Arceneaux argues that the true nature of people and events, which is insistently messy and chaotic, is often whitewashed and sterilized.

The plain wood exterior of Library of Black Lies is mute, minimalist, and seemingly a solid, singular object. Only upon discovering the entry can the “truths” it contains can be discovered. Structured to recall a labyrinth, the installation contains stacks of books, some readable and some obscured by a crust of crystalline sugar or thick black paint and vinyl. The titles evolve like a game of telephone, slightly misheard and misrepresented, documenting tomes that figured strongly in Arceneaux’s intellectual history (e.g. Birth of a Nation) then evolving into invented or unrelated ones (Birth of a Night, Nation Goodnight, Goodnight Moon). His deadpan interventions, connected but often illogical or nonsensical, gesture towards the inherent limits of translation, making clear that it is always an act of interpretation—just as is the nature of knowledge, and of history.

The physical space of the labyrinth—not a maze, which is designed to disorient—is circuitous but ultimately leads to a center, and is intended to be a vehicle of spirituality, a meditative journey mapped into the physical experience. The viewer’s literal progress through the space references the idea of “progress” and our desire to believe we are always moving forward and getting better. Concurrently, it reveals the multiple complicated, fractal, and divergent paths that are more truly at the heart of the human endeavor.

With this particular library, Arceneaux suggests that there is no empirical way to establish a single reading as the definitive one. This philosophy ultimately concludes that if things have no inherent meaning, it is the act of reading and creating meaning that should be emphasized. This position requires viewers to remain ever open and ready to shift subjectivities, to realign combinations, and to resist the passive acceptance of history. The artist reminds us we must restlessly push forward to create new significance from previously-accepted images as old structures break, collapse, and make way for the future.

Library of Black Lies is the first exhibition presented by new Senior Curator Shamim M. Momin who joined the Henry in September. Momin was previously Director and Curator of LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division), a nonprofit public art organization committed to curating site- and situation-specific contemporary art projects.

Join Momin and Arceneaux in a discussion about the ideas presented in Library of Black Lies on Saturday, November 17 at 3pm. Find more information about this program and other opening weekend activities at

Edgar Arceneaux: Library of Black Lies is organized by Shamim M. Momin, Senior Curator. Library of Black Lies was originally commissioned by LAND (Los Angeles Nomadic Division) and first presented in Paris in Wasteland: Art from Los Angeles at the Mona Bismarck American Center and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac Paris Pantin in 2016.

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