Material Behavior

Carl Cheng


Throughout his nearly six-decade career, Carl Cheng’s artistic practice has been a means of exploring the capabilities of natural and manufactured substances. From his early use of emerging plastic technology for 3D photographs to his daily application of resin in his Liquid/Solid Series to his self-sustaining environments, Cheng continues to make art that demonstrates its own materiality and that encourages close observation from viewers. 

Under the auspices of John Doe Co.—a business created at the suggestion of his accountant that also furthered the artist’s access to manufacturers—Carl Cheng began creating art tools as a method for mechanizing art while also allowing the medium to determine the object. With the art tools, users could execute a limited number of choices each time the tool was operated, but the resulting possibilities were infinite as no outcome would be the same. Influenced by Japanese katana boxes—and out of necessity as Cheng traveled Asia for two years—each of the art tools had a branded carrying case for when the tools were not in use. He liked how intention was required to view the artwork and hoped that would spur careful attention. It all adds to an inherent sense of value in the art-viewing experience that Cheng wants to create for viewers.

After returning to Los Angeles from his travels and settling into a new studio, Cheng began to work on larger artwork and installations. REDCAT’s upcoming exhibition will feature Sand Rake (1979-ongoing), a prototype for the art tool that first appeared in Natural Museum of Modern Art (1979), an early public installation staged by the artist at the Santa Monica Pier. Sand Rake has evolved with each installation as Cheng has included components that allow the tool to drop water and pile on sand in addition to its initial raking capabilities. Cheng also does not follow a predetermined design when creating his installations with the art tool. Every installation is an experiment for the artist and can be experienced for a limited time, but cannot be recreated. As always, the artist relies on the ephemerality of the artwork to draw in viewers and raise the value of their experience. 

There will be a reception for the artist and a public program on Wednesday, October 26th at 7 PM.

About the Artist

Carl Cheng

Carl Cheng (b. 1942, San Francisco; lives and works in Santa Monica, Calif.) received his MA (1967) and BA (1963) from the University of California, Los Angeles. A retrospective exhibition of his work is scheduled to open at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia in 2024. Other monographic exhibitions have been organized at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles (2006); SculptureCenter, New York (2000); Contemporary Arts Forum, Santa Barbara, Calif. (1984, 1991); Capp Street Project, San Francisco (1989); MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, Mass. (1988); ASG Foundation Gallery, Nagoya, Japan (1980); Exploratorium, San Francisco (1977); and Expo ‘70, Osaka, Japan. Cheng’s public works can be viewed at the Santa Monica Library, Santa Monica, Calif.; the Port of Los Angeles, San Pedro, Calif.; and The Promenade, Long Beach, Calif. His work has been included in numerous group exhibitions, including Potential Worlds 2: Eco-Fictions, Migros Museum of Contemporary Art, Zürich, Switzerland (2020); 3D: Double Vision, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles (2018); Under the Big Black Sun, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2011); Organic Laboratory Museum, Santa Monica Museum of Art, Santa Monica, Calif. (1998); ARTEC’93, Nagoya Art Museum, Nagoya, Japan (1993); Erosions & Environmental Changes, Baxter Art Gallery, Caltech, Pasadena, Calif. (1975); and Photography into Sculpture, Museum of Modern Art, New York (1970). Cheng has received many grants, awards, and fellowships from organizations, such as LACMA Art + Technology Lab, Los Angeles (2017); Pollock-Krasner Foundation, New York (2001); Getty Foundation, Los Angeles (1990); The Clocktower, New York (1987); and National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC (1982, 1986).