Adam Pendleton is a New York-based artist whose current exhibition, ‘Begin Again’, is showing at David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles, California. Pendleton’s work is significant because it highlights the politics surrounding race and identity, but also demonstrates the chaotic nature of the artistic mediums he uses. Pendleton works with a thick application of paint on canvas, a polyester film called ‘mylar’, and video. His various methods of representing words through mediums allow viewers to separate themselves from any preconceived meanings of language. Pendleton’s work is a representation of the intersections that connect art to the political and social interpretations that text can present.
Pendleton’s large black-and-white paintings engross the viewer with their vast scale and textual content. The series presented at David Kordansky is called ‘Untitled (WE ARE NOT)’, in which Pendleton uses a thick application of spray paint to present the phrase, ‘WE ARE NOT’. The words drip and overlap each other. The textual rendering is left purposefully to the viewer’s interpretation. Pendleton embraces the ambiguity of the negative predication or political assertion that the words imply. However, Pendleton insists racial implications are not relevant here. Arguably in contemporary society, people are consistently defined by what they are or who they appear to be. Pendleton’s canvasses are profound because they create space for meaningful discussions about what they are not. The ambiguous perception of the words Pendleton uses is compelling because it is the viewer who ultimately determines their meaning.
Pendleton refers to his collage-like intermingling of words as ‘Black Dada’ - a reference to the Dada movement of the twentieth century. The Dadaist were known for embracing the avant-garde by disrupting logic and established narratives regarding art and art-making. Mainly white artists composed the group, and by reimagining their movement as ‘Black Dada’ Pendleton alludes to the racial politics of contemporary art and art history. Pendleton reinterprets and redefines the aesthetic and meaning of his collaged words by connecting historical techniques to the process of modern art-making and racial discussions. His method is an investigation of words and text as a medium to reshape history.
Entering the second room of Pendleton’s exhibition, rows of framed black-and-white silkscreen collages fill the walls. The works are a combination of sketches, brushwork, and paper cut-outs that incorporate both image and text. Some recall the chance aesthetic of Dada artist Hans Arp, who would drop pieces of painted paper onto canvas and glue them according to where they accidentally fell. Others exhibit facial masks and abstract collages of differing shapes. Phrases and incomplete propositions compose other works; ‘BLACK DADA’, ‘SEE THE SIN’, WHO IS QUEEN’, among others, are staggered throughout the rows. Pendleton creates a space that allows both discussion and silence, and the contradictions that those conflicting elements permit, to resonate equally. Pendleton’s work is a lot like viewing fragments, a way to move in and out of visual displays which challenge the viewer to reform and reconsider meaning from those parts. Definitive conclusions may never be completely apparent, yet the works reveal how words can define us.
A dark viewing room concludes the exhibition with a video titled, ‘What is your name? Kyle Abraham, A Portrait’ (2018-19). The footage starts as an interview-like exchange between Pendleton and the American dancer and choreographer, Abraham. As this exchange takes place, disjointed snapshots capture Abraham’s artistry. Pendleton asks open-ended questions such as ‘Do you feel it?’ ‘Does it hurt?’ ‘Is it hard?’ The ‘it’ is left to free interpretation. Abraham is then asked about the loss of his mother and being black. The insertion of personal queries gives the previously obscure ‘it’ a powerful agency. Pendleton utilises the abstraction of language throughout his work, which lets viewers recontextualise their understanding of words in radical new ways. Ambiguity is significant in Pendleton’s work and asks how we can begin again, and start new conversations surrounding racial politics via new interpretations of language and text.