Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Midnight in America

In fairness, the art show was completed long before the election.

"Midnight in America" is an exhibition by Adam Pendleton that I came across in my weekly perusal of The Atlantic. While previously unfamiliar with Pendleton's art, I was immediately drawn to what I saw because of what it combined: visuals (spray paintings and silkscreens), language (renderings resembling pages torn from notebooks), history, and social struggle. His artistic manifesto describes the work as "Black Dada." He had my curiosity and then he had my attention.

The title of the exhibition is an obvious play on Reagan's 1980 campaign slogan, "Morning in America." The political overtones of the show are further underscored by titles of individual paintings, such as "Untitled (A Victim of Democracy in America," but Pendleton insists this isn't an exhibit of right and wrong mores. You can read the full interview with him, but I thought I would extract a few of the points that I found interesting:

" “Midnight in America” seems appropriate as it plays on Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America,” and I think with the tone and the dynamic of the recent election it seemed as though we were headed toward a darker place. This isn’t a binary that I’m setting up between light and dark, where light is good and dark is bad. It’s rather that we’re opening up to a different realm, a different sense of possibility."

"I’ve been using this phrase “Black Dada” to articulate my body of work in general. When Dada came about it had a direct relationship to World War I and how artists responded to that moment. I think there are many different ingredients that are utilized to make something of some kind of cultural worth, so I’m not going to make a direct connection. The exuberance I speak to is the fact that I respond to things visually. And I often refer to what I do as visual note-taking. So in saying there’s an exuberance in the work itself, it’s not necessarily me responding to socio-political dynamics that may cause or create the exuberance. It’s really me investing deeply in my project as an artist and asking myself perpetually, what does Black Dada look like? And each project, exhibition, or publication, offers an opportunity to better articulate that."

"I hope that artists realize that there are stakes involved in everything they do. No gesture lacks weight even when you want it to. It matters. Personally, as an artist, I always attempt to be as rigorous as I can, but I hope that I take even more seriously what I find to be a responsibility as an artist, as someone to look at something to think about it—to acknowledge it exists."

Pendleton is certainly right about one thing: these turbulent times present opportunities for artists. I don't mean "opportunity" in any American lucrative sense (although that's possible too, I suppose), but rather situations that cry out for reactions from the artistic community. For example, crying for mansuetude while the powers that be are vindictive and gradgrindian.

There I go again. Spending your 50 cent words in haphazard manner. That's sure to land me in one of the camps. I might as well paint a painting while I'm at it and really fit the profile.

Anyway, Pendleton's work is on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Looks like I need to make a return visit.

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