New Orleans

Adam Pendleton: Becoming Imperceptible at Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans

Curated by Dr. Andrea Andersson, Adam Pendleton: Becoming Imperceptible is the most extensive museum presentation of the artist’s work to date—a significant triumph for a cultural institution located in New Orleans, one of the most racially and politically fraught cities in the southern United States. While the exhibition’s rich display resonates with the variety of material and conceptual strategies at work in Pendleton’s oeuvre, it is the artist’s subversive modes of intervention into historical discourses of vanguard art and politics that lend weight to the complexities of his practice.

Adam Pendleton. Installation Shot of Yes, But. 2008. Acrylic paint on wall. Dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the artist and the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans.

Adam Pendleton. Yes, But, 2008; acrylic paint on wall; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist and the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans.

The immediate impact of Pendleton’s engagement with the architectural space of the institution invites visitors to understand his engagement with site as a form of occupation. The vertical space of each gallery is dramatically papered with the artist’s stark black-and-white materials—collages, posters, paintings, silkscreens, and acrylic texts swarm the walls, covering the visual field with appropriated and fragmented photographic materials that shout and stutter across three dimensions.[1] Viewers are continuously met with a cacophony of printed matter and textual fragments that tautologically enact Pendleton’s desire for hierarchies of aesthetic representation, production, and historical origins to cross-reference, and subsequently, re-signify.

This mode is powerfully introduced at the start of the exhibition with Yes, But (2008), a wall painting of quotes appropriated from the legendary French New Wave film director Jean-Luc Godard in the 2002 film The Future(s) of Film. Oscillating somewhere between portraiture, poetry, and fragmented non sequitur, Pendleton covers the wall with appropriated text—a gesture that nods to the French auteur’s critique of style and his embrace of the productive possibilities inherent in the accumulation of found content. Pendleton’s destabilization of authorship is a strategy that follows the structures and dynamic history of the avant-garde in the 20th century, and forms the conceptual foundation for a practice that expands from a dissolution between material and process.

Adam Pendleton. Installation Shot of System of Display, X (EXPRESS/Poro secret society mask, Mano, Liberia). 2016. Silkscreen ink on Plexiglas and mirror. Image courtesy of the artist and the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans.

Adam Pendleton. System of Display, X (EXPRESS/Poro secret society mask, Mano, Liberia), 2016; silkscreen ink on Plexiglas and mirror; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist and the Contemporary Art Center of New Orleans.

The heterogeneous series of silkscreen works entitled System of Display (2016) present the ways that Pendleton lifts source materials to create an image that points to discourses of artistic and political emancipation rather than re-presenting them. By resisting the tendency to simply align and insert himself within the lineage of negational art—from Dada to Conceptual Art—Pendleton complicates this history of oppositional art and institutional critique by interrupting it with his own subjectivity as a politicized African American artist. Pendleton states, “I am working to establish a system of display, of organization. I want to create a situation where we’re inclined to rethink notions of the past and the future, as well as our ability to understand them enough to make reductive statements.”[2]

Adam Pendleton. Installation Shot of the series Untitled (code poems). 2016. Ceramic. Image courtesy of the artist and the Contemporary Art Center New Orleans.

Adam Pendleton. Installation view of the series Untitled (Code Poems), 2016; ceramic. Courtesy of the Artist and the Contemporary Art Center New Orleans.

At the heart of this exhibition is Pendleton’s continual engagement with an expanded history and definition of abstraction as it has developed and cross-pollinated in the visual and poetic arts. A new series of ceramic floor works referred to as “code poems” gather a range of references to the interaction of visual form and language, namely a nod to the American L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetics through an appropriation of Hannah Weiner’s experimental text Morse Code (2002), as well as the spatial elegance of Carl Andre’s minimal floor sculptures. Again, Pendleton’s appropriation of ready-made sources turns the act of referencing into an integral part of the creation of new systems of representation. Pendleton’s foregrounding of the processes of organizing, arranging, and classification—themes that are at the heart of Western modernism, and specifically the minimalist canon—are then mobilized, critically mined, and reopened to create new forms of consciousness that ignite with our present aesthetic and political moment. For Pendleton, abstraction is not a dead, empty visual language, and appropriation is not a form of meaningless relativism, but rather a charged set of assumptions and strategies that, when displaced, offer 21st-century viewers a vital affirmation of the possibility of new orders and narratives.

Adam Pendleton: Becoming Imperceptible is on view at Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans through June 16, 2016.


[1] Andrea Andersson’s thoughtful exhibition-catalog essay points to the ways in which Pendleton uses “incompleteness” of language and “dysfluency” (commonly known as stuttering) as a formal and conceptual strategy. See Andersson’s“The Disobedient Copyist: Adam Pendleton’s Language of Resistance” in Becoming Imperceptible: Adam Pendleton, exhibition catalog (New York: Siglio Press, 2016), 4–12.

[2] Quote lifted from the CACNO’s gallery guide, “Adam Pendleton: Becoming Imperceptible,” compiled by Dr. Andrea Andersson, Curator of the Visual Arts.