Adam Pendleton often recounts how Sol LeWitt’s buying one of his first pieces reassured him in his decision to position his work in the field of conceptual art – and it’s therefore through that prism that his production should be viewed. Frequently realized in black and white, it includes the appropriation of text or archival images (like the frequent appearance of a detail from a sculpture by LeWitt) as well as films that focus on the idea of portrait documentaries. His Black Dada series of pictorial works, which has also been published in book form, takes its title from a 1964 poem by LeRoi Jones, Black Dada Nihilismus, and collages together photocopied, reprinted or serigraphed snippets of sentences, like the repetitive layers of linguistic sediments, which form residual discourses that are similar to slogans or urban graffiti. Several of these images are hung in frames against wallpaper that was made in the same way.
Other works are realized on mirrors, such as the series System of Display, and indeed it turns out that Pendleton is particularly interested in systems – as processes of artistic production –, which led him to put on the exhibition System Subject at the Pace Gallery stand at Frieze, next to works by Agnes Martin and Robert Ryman – two abstract artists who have become references for him. His inclusive method allows him to call upon a whole pantheon of black and gay (but not only) artistic sources who never had the recognition they deserved in a culture that is majoritarily white and straight. Pendleton recently put on a double show entitled Who We Are at the Galerie Max Hetzler in Berlin, and it was during the realization of this project that Numéro met up with him in the immaculate atelier that serves as his New York base.
NUMÉRO: What’s your background? How much did the context you were raised in influence you?
ADAM PENDLETON: I grew up in Richmond, Virginia – in other words the South. My mom was a book lover and my dad a music lover. Both of these passions have collided in me.
What made you decide to become an artist?
I think I always wanted to be an artist. It never felt like it was something I chose to do – I just did it.
What did you study?
Everything I could: music, literature, all aspects of modern and contemporary art.
“I think I always wanted to be an artist. It never felt like it was something I chose to do – I just did it.”
What did you look at then, and what are you looking at today?
I was looking at the work of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and William Johnson early on. These were the books we had around. I was also reading Audre Lorde, June Jordan and Adrienne Rich. I’m still always reading, looking and listening. Today I’m thinking a lot about Fred Moten, Joan Jonas and Julius Eastman.
Do you feel associated with a community or a movement?
Like any artist, I have inherited much from the movements of the past – particularly the conceptual traditions and some of the techniques of the Language poets – but I’m not sure there is any established movement of which I would be considered a member. Black Dada is a method of conjecturing one.
You seem very comfortable in different media. Is there one you prefer?
I’m interested in hybrid forms, and don’t privilege any medium over the others in which I work.