Our Ideas

Pace Gallery, London

Oct 2 – Nov 9, 2018

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Pendleton, a New York-based artist, is known for work animated by what the artist calls “Black Dada,” a critical articulation of blackness, abstraction, and the avant-garde. Drawing from an archive of language and images, he makes conceptually rigorous and formally inventive paintings, collages, videos, and installations that insert his work into broader conversations about history and contemporary culture. Pendleton’s multilayered visual and lexical fields often reference artistic and political movements from the 1900s to today, including Dada, Minimalism, the Civil Rights movement, and the visual culture of decolonization.

In his own words:

 Black Dada is an idea. When pressed, I often say it’s a way to talk about the future while talking about the past. It surfaced in a conversational space, when I was just talking to friends. I had Amiri Baraka’s book The Dead Lecturer, which contains the poem “Black Dada Nihilismus.” I found the language striking: “Black Dada.” Just that. The “Black” and the “Dada.” “Black” as a kind of open-ended signifier, anti-representational rather than representational. And then “Dada”—sort of nonsense. A sound, but also referencing a moment in art. So this language became a productive means to think about how the art object can function, and does function, in the world. What can art do?...Not “what is it?” It’s whatever you want it to be, but what can it do?

Our Ideas showcases the most recent developments in Pendleton’s oeuvre, alongside several pieces from earlier bodies of work the artist has been engaged with for nearly a decade. Encompassing a full spectrum of mediums, the exhibition will feature four Untitled (A Victim of American Democracy) paintings, one Black Dada painting and drawing, a video work, two grids of works on Mylar (in 36 and 32 parts each), a group of collages, and one Wall Work with several small System of Display works.

The Untitled (A Victim of American Democracy) (2018) paintings are 96–by–69-inch canvases, on which spray- painted vertical lines are layered with enlarged, cut-up language. The phrase “A VICTIM OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY,” drawn from a 1964 speech by Malcolm X, has been spray painted, photographed, laser printed, collaged, and finally screen-printed across the striated ground. The fragmented compositions function as visual counterpoints to the Black Dada painting and drawing (both 2018), a pair of minimal, black-on-black monochromes that translate photographs of Sol LeWitt’s Incomplete Open Cubes.


Pendleton’s video portrait of choreographer, dancer and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer takes centre stage in the exhibition. Just Back from Los Angeles: A Portrait of Yvonne Rainer (2016–17) will be presented in a black box environment in the gallery. Initially commissioned by Performa, the piece features Pendleton and Rainer sharing a meal at Rainer’s favourite Manhattan diner. Through a scripted and unscripted exchange, Pendleton and Rainer reflect on life and work, politics and art, and the relationship between memory and movement. At one point, Pendleton invites Rainer to read from quoted correspondence published in her own memoir, as well as from the writings of Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, Ron Silliman, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. Later, Rainer shares a movement exercise with Pendleton. The encounter, which traverses lines of generational, racial, and gender difference, is an inquiry into the shared concerns of the two artists.

The titular Our Ideas #2 and #3 (both 2018) are two large groups of framed Mylar transparencies. These works are based on collages that incorporate visual material from various found sources, as well as from the artist’s own drawings. Isolated images and fragments photocopied from the pages of books are layered with marks, shapes, and handwriting that frequently verges on the abstract. Recurring elements include masks, ceramics, certain phrases from the artist’s own writing and from literary sources (“WHAT A DAY WAS THIS”; “IF THE FUNCTION”), and historical images related to decolonization. A series of smaller collages on board, complementing the Mylars, are being shown as well.

For System of Display (2018), Pendleton again photocopies and crops images from his extensive library, in this case silkscreening them onto small mirrors. Each mirror is placed in a shadow box and overlaid with a plexiglass facade, upon which is printed a piece of a word—typically a single letter—indexed in each work’s title. Here, they are hung across a massive Wall Work, Midnight (A Victim of American Democracy) (2017), a black-and-white montage that echoes the four Untitled (A Victim of American Democracy) paintings.


Courtesy of Pace Gallery and © Adam Pendleton
Photos by Damian Griffiths


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