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Adam Pendleton


Working predominantly in black-and-white, Adam Pendleton’s works recontextualize theories of abstraction, Blackness, and the avant-garde by creating a new visual language of cultural encounter. He uses letters, words, drips, splatters, sprays, and collected images as primary materials. Adam Pendleton came to the Museum in the fall of 2008 when the academic fervor of the city was in full swing. He attended lectures and events in Boston and Cambridge and at the Gardner and immersed himself in the collection, in particular the contents of the covered cases throughout the galleries. Pendleton also used his time to begin a new body of work, System of Display, which has featured prominently in his exhibitions since.

Pendleton works in multiple media, including silkscreen, installation, performance, sculpture, and text. He adopts existing imagery and text, drawing on a wide range of cultural and political references, as a means to free them from their existing frameworks. His work is a kind of continuous writing, in which language and gestural marks are recorded, transposed, and overwritten. Blurring the edges between modes of viewing and reading, between representation and abstraction, and between painting, drawing, and photography, Pendleton’s work is a visual philosophy of incomplete postulates. One of the works he created as part of System of Display incorporates the pattern of a silk furnishing fabric Isabella Stewart Gardner originally used to cover the Yellow Room walls.

Over the years Pendleton has returned to the Museum multiple times to participate in projects and install his own new works. Pendleton performed twice at the Museum during Gardner After Hours (later called Third Thursdays). Shortly after his residency, artist Joan Jonas invited him to participate in Reading Dante, a live reading and video performance. Filmed excerpts from this performance are now incorporated into Jonas' current Reading Dante video. Two years later, Pendleton returned with a newly conceived work. Entitled three scenes (variation one), the work used texts from sources and material from all of Pendleton's performances to date, which he reassembled and re-appropriated, invoking the notion of a retrospective. three scenes (variation one) incorporated a re-orchestrated interpretation of Stephin Merritt's pop song The Book of Love with vocalist Colin Killalea, a string quartet made up of Emily Deans, Marika Hughes, Yon Joo Lee, and Mazz Swift, and a vocal solo by classically-trained singer and future Gardner Artistin-Residence, Alicia Hall Moran.

In 2020 Pendleton installed Elements of Me at the Museum, transforming the Fenway Gallery in the historic building into an immersive installation with collage and sculpture that explored the relationship between geometric abstraction, Blackness, and representation. In conjunction with the exhibition, he published a limited-edition artist book. As a special program that season, Pendleton showed Lorraine O'Grady: A Portrait, a film he had made with the artist in 2012. The screening was followed by a conversation between the two about representation in their respective careers.

The construction of a New Wing, designed by Renzo Piano and opened to the public in 2012, provided an opportunity for the Museum to dedicate a space to rotating, commissioned, site-specific works on Evans Way. The Anne H. Fitzpatrick Façade extends the Museum’s gallery space beyond its interior walls, providing a space for public art in service to the City of Boston. Adam Pendleton was the second artist invited to create a work for the Gardner’s façade. Untitled: (Fang Man from the Upper Ivindo Area, Northern Gabon, 1905-6/ Furnishing Fabric, French or Italian, 1725-50, featured an early 20th century photographic portrait of an African man set against an 18th century European silk damask from the Gardner’s collection. The artwork, with its dramatic size and placement, combined and transformed works representing different historical periods.

Said Pendleton about his work, “…it’s really just sort of asking, what happens when these two things come together? But it is not telling, it’s asking. The work expresses itself through questions.”

In 2023 Pendleton was invited to create another work for the Façade. For Untitled (Giant not to scale), he combined an image of a carved figure taken from a book against one of his own paintings on mylar of circles and squares. The figure, several times removed from its source, becomes the connective tissue that hovers between transparency and opacity.

Adam Pendleton’s (b. 1984 USA) work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, notably at the Contemporary Art Center, New Orleans; the Walker Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Studio Museum, New York; the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin; and the Tate Liverpool. Biennials and exhibitions include Whitney, New York; Gwangju Biennale, South Korea, Greater New York, MoMA/PS1, Long Island City, New York; The Generational: Younger Than Jesus, New Museum, New York; Performa 07, New York; Manifesta 7, Trentino-South Tyrol, Italy; Object, The Undeniable Success of Operations, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Hey Hey Glossolalia, Creative Time, New York; Manifesto Marathon at The Serpentine Gallery, London; The Future as Disruption, The Kitchen, New York; Talk Show, ICA, London; Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock n' Roll since 1967, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago; After 1968: Contemporary Artists and the Civil Rights Legacy, High Museum, Atlanta; and ELTDK Amsterdama three-part exhibition organized by Kunstverein and de Appel, Amsterdam in 2009.

Adam Pendleton: Untitled (Giant not to scale)