Monumental

Artist Adam Pendleton on Taking Over MoMA’s Atrium With a Monumental Tribute to Black Dada


For his first solo exhibition at a New York institution, the 37-year-old American artist Adam Pendleton has taken a big swing in the heart of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). 

Scaling three sides of the soaring atrium space, modular black 60-foot scaffolds support black-and-white text-based paintings as big as 10 by 20 feet; large-scale drawings; a massive screen for moving images; and speakers projecting a sound collage. Together, they form a single work of art titled Who Is Queen?, which opens on September 18. 

The monumental installation explores the artist’s concept of Black Dada, which has underpinned his work for more than a decade. He explores how theories of Blackness relate to abstraction and the avant-garde, and how mass movements such as Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter could influence the form of the exhibition. At the tail end of an eight-week installation, the Brooklyn-based artist took a break to talk about the long gestation of the show and the sum of its parts. 

Installation view of "Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?" at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Andy Romer.

Installation view of “Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Andy Romer.

How would you define the essence of Black Dada?

It’s a way of talking about the future while talking about the past. It’s about looking at Blackness as an open-ended idea that is not just related to notions of race. It looks at Blackness in relationship to politics, in relationship to art, in relationship even more specifically to the avant-garde. It’s kind of a framing device but it’s fluid and it’s unfixed. 

What was the genesis of this exhibition?

I did a residency at MoMA in 2011. It was a little-known secret that when [former MoMA associate director] Kathy Halbreich was at the museum, she invited a handful of artists to interact with the museum however they saw fit. Before meeting with her, I stayed up all night putting these different texts and ideas and artists and writers and thinkers together. I made this reader and handed it to Kathy: this is Black Dada. It was a kind of wild dream. The primary thing that came out of the residency was taking the Black Dada that existed in spiral-bound photo copies, DIY, and turning it into this hardbound book with essays from two MoMA curators and other curators who engaged with my work. Burning in the background was the idea for Who Is Queen?

Why did you choose that name—Who Is Queen?—for the show?

Queen could be a derogatory or loving—depending on who you are—name for a queer man. But specifically in Black culture, it has different connotations. If you’re an effeminate gay man, someone would say, “Oh you’re such a queen.” A long time ago, someone said this to me, and on the one hand I was offended and on the other hand I wanted to embrace it. Then I was repulsed by having to decide between one or the other. There’s something about being a vulnerable being in society. We’re all vulnerable in different ways and at different times. That’s at the heart of Queen, this idea of who we are, what we are, and looking at that in personal but also collective terms. It’s a question I pose to myself but also a question I’m posing to the viewer. 

Adam Pendleton, Untitled (WE ARE NOT) (2021). Image courtesy of the artist.

Adam Pendleton, Untitled (WE ARE NOT) (2021). Image courtesy of the artist.

So many of the paintings and drawings here are text-based, including two monumental canvases densely layered with the repeated phrase “We Are Not.” Is it important to you that viewers are able to decipher these or know the source of the text used?

In this instance, I’m referring back to a series of “We Are Not” statements I made in the Black Dada text I wrote in 2008. So not defining yourself by what you are, but by perhaps what you are not. We are not what they say we are. It’s this tension between legibility and illegibility, abstraction and representation, that is embodied in the piece visually but also within the language the painting utilizes. 

One of the things I want to do is get people’s attention. I want there to be this moment of recognition where you realize there is language. It’s legible, but layered or abstracted enough to refuse an immediate or easy interpretation. I think sometimes if you immediately read something and understand it, you move on. I’m much more interested in this site of engagement, where you actually stop and think about what you’re reading and what you’re looking at. 

Who Is Queen? was originally supposed to open last summer. In terms of content, what kind of an impact has the past year and a half had on the project?

One video is called Notes on Robert E. Lee, about the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond, Virginia, which is actually my hometown. That monument became a focal point during the summer of protest. It was completely transformed by graffiti. It’s fenced off and I shot it through the fences. That is something that is very responsive. [The stature of Lee was just removed from its pedestal last week.]

The statue of Robert E. Lee stands on the ground. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

I just locked the edits on all three of the video pieces that will be shown. There’s also a video portrait of the queer theorist Jack Halberstam and a piece that’s titled Notes on Resurrection City, an ad-hoc city that was resurrected on the National Mall in D.C. in 1968. It was up for six weeks. It’s commonly referred to as the culmination of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign. It was a site where people from all over the country gathered—Black, white—and demanded economic justice. What really strikes me about Resurrection City was the architecture. They were using very simple two-by-fours to construct these A-frame structures that the people lived in. These structures elevated a humble material and created something unexpected out of ordinary wood. That’s an example of architecture that really influenced Who Is Queen?

Installation view of "Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?" at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Andy Romer.

Installation view of “Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Andy Romer.

How is sound being integrated into the work?

When the whole piece is “on” and all elements are conversant, you’ll hear the sound collage, and then when the sound collage is not audible, you’ll hear the audio from the video works. They’ll phase in and out. It’s all automated. It’s contrapuntal.  

The three core tracks of the sound collage are a 2014 phone recording of a New York solidarity protest in Manhattan with Black Lives Matter, a 1980 reading that the poet Amiri Baraka delivered at the Walker Art Center, and a 1994 composition by the composer Hahn Rowe called Yellow Smile. These are interwoven with music by Jace Clayton, Julius Eastman, Laura Rivers, Frederic Rzewski, Linda and Sonny Sharrock, and Hildegard Westerkamp. 

There’s also a series of podcasts I’m doing with people including Jack Halberstam, Lynne Tillman, Tyshawn Sorey, Alexis Pauline Gumbs—writers, philosophers, poets, musicians. They will be in conversation with each other. I’m operating as a kind of moderator. The audio [from the podcasts] will fold back into the sound collage. The exhibition is almost like a feedback loop. It’s generative. It’s basically an algorithm that does not allow for the same thing to repeat, even if it is using the same elements. Very much like life. No day is the same. 

Adam Pendleton, Untitled (HEY MAMA HEY) (2021). Image courtesy of the artist.

Adam Pendleton, Untitled (HEY MAMA HEY) (2021). Image courtesy of the artist.

I can’t think of another artist who has taken over this atrium so completely.

I don’t think they’ve ever had a piece that’s used the entire height of the atrium and transformed it into a space for painting, for drawing, for sound collage, for moving image. The piece becomes a different thing depending on where you are in the museum—on the third floor, fourth floor, fifth floor, sixth floor. You can look down and see it. It really plays with the experience and the architecture of the museum on multiple levels. I really think of Queen as a kind of beautiful machine. It’s an insertion of Black Dada into an institutional space—conceptually, theoretically, and just physically. 

Installation view of “Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Andy Romer.

In the wake of the last year, when institutions have been held accountable on racism and equity in a new way, which kind of critique or disruption would you hope Queen delivers?

I hope that one of the things that Queen does is productively overwhelm the institution. Outside of just thinking about this institution, I hope as a concept, as an idea, as a form, it disrupts and reconfigures institutional spaces. I hope it breaks down the things we think are known. 

 

“Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?” is on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from September 18, 2020–January 30, 2021.

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‘They Are Given a New Life’: Watch Ghanaian Artist El Anatsui Weave Bottle Caps Into His Monumental, Innovative Sculptures


Ghanaian artist El Anatsui creates monumental assemblage sculptures woven from colorful, shiny objects, creating tactile curtains that seem to breathe on their own. The works sell routinely for more than one million dollars each at auction, but their beginnings are humble.

The works may be made from pieces of wood, metal, ceramic, and—most often—bottle caps, but they are not rigid at all. In fact, Anatsui says “as a matter of principle” the works don’t come with installation instructions: “since they are so free and so loose and so flexible, it would be difficult to have a specific format for any one of them at any time.”

The artist now lives in Nigeria. He employs local studio assistants from his neighborhood to create an environment of camaraderie and community.

Studio assistants working on El Anatsui's massive assemblages. Photo: production still from the "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 6 episode, "Change." © Art21, Inc. 2012.

Studio assistants working on El Anatsui’s massive assemblages. Photo: production still from the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” Season 6 episode, “Change.” © Art21, Inc. 2012.

In an exclusive interview with Art21 filmed back in 2012 as part of the Art in the Twenty-First Century series, Anatsui explained why he uses bottle caps from discarded liquor bottles as such a primary medium. “How did liquor come into my culture and what does it mean?” he asks in the film, before describing the system of European traders who descended upon Africa, ultimately trading drinks for slaves who were brought to America to “grow more cotton and sugar cane to make more drink”—a continuous a cycle of trauma and colonization. 

Another reason the artist was drawn to the caps is because an accumulation of the colorful, shiny baubles appears to replicate the popular kente cloth fabric of Ghana, though he adds that this provided its own difficulty because viewers began to look at the works as textiles, an art form that is often derided and not appreciated as fine art.

The artist is adamant that his practice shouldn’t be considered a form of recycling, because he says it doesn’t pertain to the industrial process. Instead, the process is more akin to reincarnation. “I don’t, for instance, return the bottle caps back as mere bottle caps,” telling Art21. “They are given a new life and I make them not objects that do something utilitarian, but objects of contemplation.” 

Right now through November 14, El Anatsui’s work is on view at the Conciergerie in Paris in a site specific exhibition curated by  N’Goné Fall, general commissioner of the Africa2020 Season at the institution. Metal assemblages are installed surrounding the Hallway of Men-at-Arms in a winding route that alludes to the Seine, tracing a path through the medieval architecture of the city and its myriad cultural influences.

The rivers flow, they do change their course,” the artist tells Art21, “And I think my work has principally been about change and non-fixity of things, the fact that things are there and they have to grow old and change and do all kinds of things.” Laughing he insists, “It’s not because I’m old now!”

 

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Art in the Twenty-First Century series, below. “El Anatsui” is on view at the Conciergerie through November 14, 2021.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Midnight Publishing Group News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org

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The Art World Remembers the Late Painter Hung Liu, Who Valorized Everyday Immigrants in Monumental Portraits


On the eve of her first museum retrospective, Oakland-based painter Hung Liu, one of the first Chinese artists to find success in the U.S., died on Saturday, August 7 from pancreatic cancer. She was 73.

Over the course of her career, Hung Liu created large-scale paintings and installations based on photographs, often drawn from her own family history as well as those of other immigrants and refugees.

“She left this world in the same way she lived, with compassion for those who will miss her so profoundly, with immense courage, and with unthinkable generosity and grace,” the artist’s Santa Fe gallery, Turner Carroll, wrote on its website.

Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands” is due to open at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., on August 27. It will be the institution’s first solo show by an Asian woman.

Hung Liu. Photo courtesy of Hung Liu and Jeff Kelley.

Hung Liu. Photo courtesy of Hung Liu and Jeff Kelley.

“The National Portrait Gallery mourns the loss of Hung Liu, whose extraordinary vision reminds us that even in the midst of despair, and when people help each other, there is joy,” Kim Sajet, the museum’s director, said in a statement. “She believed in the power of art—and portraiture—to change the world.”

Born in Changchun, China, in 1948, just months before Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China, Hung was a baby when her family fled the Red Army. Her father was imprisoned, and she did not see him again until 1994. During the Cultural Revolution, the artist herself spent four years doing manual labor in the countryside for “re-education.”

Hung Liu in 1972. The art spent four years doing manual labor during China's Cultural Revolution. Photo courtesy of Hung Liu.

Hung Liu in 1972. The art spent four years doing manual labor during China’s Cultural Revolution. Photo courtesy of Hung Liu.

Out of fear of the government, Hung burned most of her family photographs during the Cultural Revolution. “Even to have a family photo taken, that itself showed that you were not poor enough,” she explained to the Smithsonian’s Portraits podcast just last month. “In China, the poor are the most trustworthy.”

This loss led to a fascination with old photographs that became the foundation of much of Hung’s work, creating work that she hoped gave voice to the working class, to people lost to memory. Her canvases are overlaid with linseed oil that causes the paint to drip, a style she dubbed “weeping realism.”

These layered visions of the past speak to the difficulties of life in Maoist China. Hung also documented the challenges of the immigrant experience. She spent her last few years making works based on Dorothea Lange’s photographs from the Oakland Museum of California’s archive, seeing parallels between families displaced by the Dust Bowl and the Chinese farmers of her youth.

Hung Liu, Twelve Hairpins of Jinling (2011). The painting was based on a photograph from World War II. ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Twelve Hairpins of Jinling (2011). The painting was based on a photograph from World War II. ©Hung Liu.

“Whether exploring the conditions of women and children, the brutality of the Cultural Revolution, or the collapse of American feudalism, Liu’s paintings humanize the lives of everyday people,” artist Carrie Mae Weems told Turner Carroll. “She’s remarkable.”

In recent years, Hung’s work had become controversial in China, where a 2019 exhibition at the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing was canceled due to government censorship.

The artist initially trained in Social Realism, the propagandistic style favored by the Communist regime, at Beijing Teachers College and the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing. After waiting four years for a passport, Hung moved to the U.S. in 1984 to study at the University of California San Diego under Allan Kaprow, Fluxus artist and Happenings pioneer.

Hung Liu, Resident Alien (1988). Collection of the San Jose Museum of Art, gift of the Lipman Family Foundation, ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Resident Alien (1988). Collection of the San Jose Museum of Art, gift of the Lipman Family Foundation, ©Hung Liu.

It was at a 1988 residency San Francisco’s Capp Street Project that Hung painted one of her best-known canvases, Resident Alien, a self-portrait of the artist’s green card replacing her birthdate with her date of arrival in the U.S. and her name with “Cookie, Fortune.”

Other major works include Going Away, Coming Home, a 2006 layered glass mural permanently installed at the Oakland airport that measures 10 feet by 160 feet. Currently, she has a solo show at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, featuring Resident Alien.

Hung’s work appears in the collection institutions including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and Metropolitan Museum in New York City, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Hung Liu, <em>Going Away, Coming Home</em> (2006) at the Oakland International Airport. ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Going Away, Coming Home (2006) at the Oakland International Airport. ©Hung Liu.

“Hung Liu was such a vibrant and vital part of the art world in the Bay Area and beyond,” de Young curator Janna Keegan said in a statement. “Hung Liu’s art practice focused on recovering the stories of people who have been often forgotten in traditional historical narratives. The legacy and wonderful oeuvre she leaves behind will ensure that she too will always be remembered.”

Hung is survived by her husband, art critic Jeff Kelley, their son, Ling Chen Kelley. She is also represented by Rena Bransten Gallery in San Francisco.

See more photos of the artist and her work below.

Hung Liu in her studio with Rat Year (2020). Photo by John Janca, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu in her studio with Rat Year (2020). Photo by John Janca, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Sisters (2000). Collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., gift of the Harry and Lea Gudelsky Foundation, Inc.; ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Sisters (2000). Collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., gift of the Harry and Lea Gudelsky Foundation, Inc.; ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Untitled (2005, from "Seven Poses" series. Collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, gift of the Greater Kansas City Area Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Untitled (2005, from “Seven Poses” series. Collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, gift of the Greater Kansas City Area Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu. Photo by Paul Andrews, courtesy of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

Hung Liu. Photo by Paul Andrews, courtesy of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

Hung Liu, Winter Blossom (2011). Collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Winter Blossom (2011). Collection of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, <em>Migrant Mother: Mealtime</em> (2016), based on a Depression-era photograph by Dorothea Lange. Collection of Michael Klein, ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu, Migrant Mother: Mealtime (2016), based on a Depression-era photograph by Dorothea Lange. Collection of Michael Klein, ©Hung Liu.

Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands” will be on view at the National Portrait Gallery, 8th and G Streets NW, Washington, D.C., August 27, 2021–May 30, 2022.

Hung Liu: Golden Gate (金門)” is on view at the de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, July 17, 2021–March 13, 2022.

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Richard Serra’s Monumental Sculpture in the Qatari Desert Has Been Vandalized Yet Again


Richard Serra’s largest public artwork to date, a line of four 45-foot-tall steel plates spanning nearly four miles in the western Qatari desert, has been vandalized once again. 

The incident was announced this week on social media by Qatar Museums, a government organization that oversees the country’s public art. It did not share details of the damage, which took place in late December, but the organization said in a statement that the “vandals were apprehended by authorities, and were referred to Public Prosecution for the necessary legal action to be taken against them.”

“Vandalism of all kinds is a crime punishable by law,” the statement continues, “and Qatar Museums emphasizes our collective social responsibility to preserve public art.”

Neither Qatar Museums nor Gagosian Gallery, which represents Serra, immediately responded to requests for comment.

Despite its remote location in the Brouq nature reserve, Serra’s sculpture, East-West/West-East, has been defaced numerous times since it was erected in 2014. Last March, Qatar Museums reported that the artwork saw “significant and deliberate damage” from visitors. 

In September, the organization launched an “anti-vandalism campaign” to protect public artworks in the country. As part of the effort, Serra’s sculpture was cleaned of graffiti and the state installed banners in the nearby village of Zekreet discouraging vandalism. The state may also soon implement surveillance systems in the area.

“Monitoring the artworks has proven to be quite challenging, as many of our artworks are interactive,” acting director of the public art department at Qatar Museums, Abdulrahman al-Ishaq, told Gulf Times last month. 

The director explained that Qatar Museums are hoping to launch a series of educational programs around the state’s public art, including lectures and debates, and will make freely available informational materials about the collection for children and families.

“Although these artworks are not confined to a closed space, the community must understand that public art is an extension of a vast collection built by [Qatar Museums] and it is in part their responsibility to embrace and take ownership of these artworks,” al-Ishaq added in the newspaper.

East-West/West-East is one of two public artworks created by Serra in Qatar. A cluster of large steel plates comprises the other, titled 7, which was installed outside the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha in 2011.

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