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Review: Becoming Imperceptible

Multimedia works by Adam Pendleton at the Contemporary Arts Center


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Early on, there were two great American global cities that were multi-ethnic from the start. New York and New Orleans both evolved from ever-shifting demographics, but New York became a smorgasbord of distinctly competing cultures while New Orleans simmered into a riotously diverse gumbo that over time became cohesively and indelibly Creole. That history may explain how New York-based Adam Pendleton's Becoming Imperceptible expo could cover almost exactly the same black history as New Orleans-based Brandan Odums' Studio BE (reviewed April 19) yet look so different. Both art stars are millennials, but Odums' pop-graffiti imagery is like a visual second line in which visceral gravitas mingles with transcendent exuberance. Pendleton merges Eurocentric ingredients like Dadaism and French postmodern philosopher Gilles Deleuze (who inspired the title) with the late New York poet LeRoi Jones' black identity polemics into a pristine stylistic extravaganza that quietly subsumes the gravitas and exuberance of both Odums and Jones.

  Pendleton's seamless first-floor collage panels recall spray paint graffiti but are actually cleverly printed with big halftone dots in graphical patterns punctuated with mirrored works based on black history, so you can look into a picture of a vintage African Magicienne (pictured) and see your own reflection. A text painting of some quotes from an interview with French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard reads like a Zen-Dada word salad — or redacted cultural history run through a food chopper. Hyper-esoteric insider references convulse into a deadpan crescendo upstairs with opaque black and white sculptural glyphs titled Code Poems as well as a cryptic Godard-inspired video loop, Satomi — terse examples of zombie formalism that double as biting parodies of postmodernism. On the third floor, a moving multimedia account of the 1968 shootout between police and the Black Panthers in Oakland, California brings us down to earth. Much of this reflects Pendleton's "Black Dada" philosophy and might be more transgressive if not so oddly affectless. Curated by Andrea Andersson, Becoming Imperceptible is the largest solo exhibition to date by New York's most wildly successful 31-year-old black artist.


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