New York City–based multimedia conceptual artist Adam Pendleton makes his manifesto clear in “what a day was this,” an immersive installation continuing at Lever House through August 28. The thirty-four-year-old Pendleton has combined black-and-white text and visuals and mirrors from his series “OK DADA OK BLACK DADA OK” and “System of Display” along with silkscreen works on Mylar. Words such as naive, function, and if can barely be read through redacted-like black blotches on several canvases. Large-scale spiral notebooks contain quotes from W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, which declares, “The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land,” and Hugo Ball’s Dada Manifesto, which explains, “The word, gentlemen, is a public concern of the first importance.” A wall of masklike portraits of black faces, newspaper clippings (about the 1930 Congo Crisis and other events), and abstract geometric shapes looks out onto Park Ave. An unfinished question asks, “What is the bla?”
Pendleton, whose “Black Dada Flag (Black Lives Matter)” recently flew over Scylla Point, previously known as Negro Point, as part of the Frieze art fair on Randall’s Island, started writing poetry as a young boy in Richmond, Virginia. His mother was an elementary school teacher and his father a contractor and a musician. Pendleton, who lives in Brooklyn and Germantown with his husband, Yumami Food Company cofounder Karsten Ch’ien, and works in two studios in Sunset Park, has had such previous one-man and group shows as “shot him in the face; “I am you, you are too”; “Becoming Imperceptible”; and “How to Live Together” around the world. The site-specific “what a day was this” also includes excerpts from Du Bois’s “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” and Pendleton’s Black Dada Reader as well as an interview with choreographer Trajal Harrell. While the mirrors implicate the viewer, Lever House’s glass walls dare people outside to confront the systemic racism staring right at them. “Black Dada is a way to talk about the future while talking about the past. It is our present moment,” Pendleton says.