Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?
Through January 30, 2022, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City presents Adam Pendleton’s most ambitious project to date: Who Is Queen?, a large-scale installation on view in The Donald and Catherine Marron Family Atrium.
Adam Pendleton’s (American, born 1984) paintings, drawings, and other works use linguistic, political, and historical material in unlikely forms and configurations to explore the relationship between Blackness, abstraction, and the avant-garde. Who Is Queen? questions the traditional notion of the museum as a repository, and addresses the influence that mass movements, including those of the last decade, such as Black Lives Matter and Occupy, could have on the exhibition as a form. Drawing on the work of figures as disparate as pianist Glenn Gould, political philosopher Michael Hardt, and activist and public theologian Ruby Sales, this monumental installation sits at the nexus of abstraction and politics.
Developed over the past decade, Who Is Queen? transforms the Marron Atrium into an monumental floor-to-ceiling installation consisting of three vertical, black scaffold towers that each span five stories. This construction, visible from every vantage point within the Museum that overlooks the Atrium, extends outward into the Museum and reframes visitors’ experience of the space. The modular scaffolding systems are built from four basic units designed to resemble the balloon framing typical of American domestic buildings, and they serve as supports for layers of exhibited artwork: paintings, drawings, a textile work, sculptures, moving images, and a sound piece. Forming an alternative structure for the examination of history as an endless variation, the installation is a Gesamtkunstwerk—a total work of art—for the 21st century.
“Who Is Queen? is undergirded by a kind of Afro-optimism balanced by an abiding Afro- pessimism,…It is optimistic in a deeply American sense of the word, and pessimistic along those same lines. That is to say, it is not black or white, and locates each within the other. It articulates the ways in which we simultaneously possess and are possessed by contradictory ideals and ideas.”—Adam Pendleton
“Who Is Queen? is Adam Pendleton’s most ambitious project to date, interweaving the many strands of deep research and experimentation that have distinguished his career,” said Stuart Comer Stuart Comer, The Lonti Ebers Chief Curator of Media and Performance at MOMA. “Working across poetic, spatial, architectural, linguistic, painterly, sonic, cinematic, and political means, this ‘total artwork’ reverse-engineers the idea of the museum, breaking down entrenched models of history into building blocks that can be remixed into new possibilities for the future.”
The artwork hanging on the scaffolds—on the front, in between, and jutting out from the sides—form a spatial collage. In his paintings, Pendleton creates layered fields of unresolved text, marks, and gestures, built up from spray-painted and brushed “originals” that have been photographed, photocopied, and enlarged for screenprinting. His drawings feature sketches and visual “notes,” as well as images of African art and other reproductions from books in his library. The artist’s visual language challenges legibility and sense-making, continuously writing and overwriting itself.
Sculptures composed of simple black lines and shapes, as well as three moving-image works, are also installed on the scaffolds. The moving-image component directly integrates the aesthetics and architecture of protest into the installation, including: footage of the embattled Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond, Virginia; depictions of scenes from Resurrection City, the ad hoc protest site built in 1968 on the National Mall in Washington, DC, dedicated to freedom and the elimination of poverty; and a new video portrait of the queer theorist Jack Halberstam.
A sound collage incorporating speech and music plays throughout the space. The collage functions like a “machine,” regulated by an algorithmic score that collects, digests, and recombines fragments from the past to generate new forms. The work is anchored by recordings of Amiri Baraka, Hahn Rowe, and a 2014 phone recording of a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Manhattan. These excerpts are interwoven with music by Jace Clayton, Julius Eastman, Laura Rivers, Frederic Rzewski, Linda and Sonny Sharrock, and Hildegard Westerkamp.
A series of conversations organized and moderated by Pendleton will be published on moma.org on a monthly basis. Fragments of these dialogues will be introduced iteratively into the sound installation, periodically renewing the combination of looped tracks and sound fragments playing simultaneously. In so doing, the audio component places the formal mechanics of musical counterpoint—the folding and unfolding of simultaneous voices—at the heart of the installation. Counterpoint, for Pendleton, is a means to affirm complexity and invent a space for aesthetic and political experimentation rooted in difference.
Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen? is organized by Stuart Comer, The Lonti Ebers Chief Curator of Media and Performance, with Danielle A. Jackson, former Curatorial Assistant, and Gee Wesley, Curatorial Assistant, and with the support of Veronika Molnar, Intern, Department of Media and Performance.