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Adam Pendleton, Untitled (WE ARE NOT), 2021, silkscreen ink on canvas, 120 x 144" (304.8 x 356.76 cm) © Adam Pendleton

Essays

Exploring Historical and Cultural References in Adam Pendleton's "Who Is Queen?" at MoMA

By Claire Selvin
Published Sep 19, 2021

With Who Is Queen?, a monumental installation on view in the Marron Atrium of the Museum of Modern Art in New York through January 30, 2022, Adam Pendleton takes up explorations of Blackness, abstraction, the avant-garde, and the ways in which mass movements can influence artistic form.

Centered on the artist’s notion of Black Dada, this presentation features three five-story scaffold towers housing paintings, drawings, sculptures, three moving-image works, a sound collage, and a textile piece. The installation includes references to historical and contemporary events and major cultural figures. The following guide offers details about some of the subjects spotlighted in Who Is Queen?, from the construction of Resurrection City in Washington, D.C. in 1968 to the work of queer theorist Jack Halberstam.

Resurrection City

One of the moving-image pieces in Who Is Queen? focuses on an ad-hoc city constructed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 1968. Resurrection City was organized as part of efforts by the Poor People’s Campaign to address poverty and economic inequality in America, and it involved the construction of tents and wooden homes for some 3,000 temporary occupants on the National Mall. (The Poor People’s Campaign was led by Martin Luther King Jr. until his assassination in April 1968, at which point the activist Ralph Abernathy took the helm.) The demonstration lasted six weeks, and Pendleton has incorporated archival footage from the event in his work Notes on Resurrection City. The artist has cited Resurrection City as an influence on the structures in his MoMA exhibition, telling Artnet News, “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.”

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Detail of Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen? A Reader, Courtesy of the Artist

Shirley Clarke’s Ornette: Made in America

In Notes on Resurrection City, Pendleton puts the 1968 demonstration in conversation with material from other sources, including filmmaker Shirley Clarke’s 1985 documentary Ornette: Made in America, the last film she would make before her death. The documentary traces the life and work of the pioneering jazz musician Ornette Coleman, who was known for his experimental and improvisational approaches to performance in the 1960s. Coleman, whose storied career spanned 50 years, received the Pulitzer Prize for music and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.

Robert E. Lee Monument

The presentation also includes a film titled Notes on Robert E. Lee, which centers on the Confederate monument of Robert E. Lee that was removed from public view in Richmond, Virginia, where Pendleton grew up, in September 2021. The statue was the site of protests against police brutality in 2020. In his video, Pendleton uses a circular spotlight to illuminate parts of the statue, segments of graffiti on its base, and actor Thai Richards, who stood in front of the monument on a platform during filming as a kind of counterpoint to the monument.

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Adam Pendleton, So We Moved: Portrait of Jack Halberstam © Adam Pendleton

Jack Halberstam

So We Moved: A Portrait of Jack Halberstam is part of the Pendleton’s series of video portraits of artists, dancers, and thinkers. Halberstam, who is Professor of Gender Studies and English at Columbia University in New York, has authored the books Female Masculinity, In A Queer Time and Place, Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal, and, most recently, Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire. “I think the push for Adam is to get at the unconscious of contemporary politics,” Halberstam told The New York Times of Pendleton’s work. “He’s looking for these wild unscripted terrains, beneath the surface of socially mandated discourse.” So We Moved: A Portrait of Jack Halberstam is screened at 12:30 PM and 4:30 PM daily.

Amiri Baraka

A reading by the late poet Amiri Baraka figures in the sound piece in Who Is Queen?, which also incorporates a recording of a Black Lives Matter demonstration in New York and a composition by composer Hahn Rowe. Baraka, whose work pushes the conceptual and aesthetic potential of language, was a co-founder of the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and 1970s. His writings include the poetry collection The Dead Lecturer, the play Dutchman, and the pivotal historical text Blues People.

Hahn Rowe

Yellow Smile, a 1994 composition by violinist, guitarist, composer, and producer Hahn Rowe, features in Pendleton’s sound collage in the MoMA exhibition. Rowe’s scores have accompanied various films and performances, including dance works by choreographer Meg Stuart such as BLESSED which was presented at the Centre Pompidou in 2018.

Explore Who Is Queen? on MoMA's website.
Essays — Exploring Historical and Cultural References in Adam Pendleton's "Who Is Queen?" at MoMA, Sep 19, 2021