Installation view of the exhibition Built in USA: Post-War Architecture, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, January 20–March 15, 1953. Photographic Archive. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York

My odyssey with Adam Pendleton began some eight years ago, when he held an Annenberg Artist Research Residency at The Museum of Modern Art. Central to his interest was the deep documentary holdings of our Archives, and he and I had many a conversation about the archival collections, the stories they hold, the omissions they reflect, and their potential for reuse, either to interpret history or to actively frame engagement with today. This was thrilling to me, because as an archivist, I firmly believe in the power of historical documents to help us understand our past, and in so doing to more productively envision how we want to build our future. On a daily basis, our work contributes to the production of knowledge and scholarship created by writers, historians, curators, and others. But some of the most exhilarating points of my career have been collaborations with creative producers, including visual artists. Chief among these has been the years-long engagement with Adam Pendleton.

Adam’s keen curiosity, insight, and critique, not to mention his ever-generative approach, have provided me much inspiration. Our initial conversations centered on Adam’s interest in undertaking a possible project related to the 1970s avant-garde magazine Avalanche, the archives of which we hold. But over the years his interest shifted, with his artistic process fomenting something else altogether, leading ultimately to Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?. Organized by Stuart Comer, with Danielle A. Jackson, Gee Wesley, and Veronika Molnar, Who Is Queen?, like so much of Pendleton’s work that is guided by his concept of Black Dada, benefits from harvesting and remixing many types of media across culture and history to address the subject of Blackness: photographs, critical texts, unpublished documents, music, and audio recordings of lectures, panel discussions, and poetry readings. Among that vast sampling from the world, I’m sharing six moments from past MoMA exhibitions that in some way inform or inspire Who Is Queen?.

Installation view of Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?, on view September 18, 2021–January 30, 2022

Installation view of Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?, on view September 18, 2021–January 30, 2022

Installation view of the exhibition Arts of the South Seas, January 29–May 19, 1946

Installation view of the exhibition Arts of the South Seas, January 29–May 19, 1946

In addition to exhibiting and collecting modern and contemporary art, the Museum in its first decades also presented a regular program of non-Western art from the present and the past, including arts from Africa, Oceania, and the indigenous Americas. One of the chief proponents of this interest was Rene d’Harnoncourt, who would go on to become Museum director in 1948. His Arts of the South Seas in 1946, seen here during installation, presented the objects as items of aesthetic merit, but also sought to suggest the context of their making. Notably, the exhibition employed a dramatic and inventive exhibition design, for which d’Harnoncourt would become renowned.

Installation view of the exhibition “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, September 19, 1984–January 15, 1985.

Installation view of the exhibition “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, September 19, 1984–January 15, 1985.

The controversial 1984–85 exhibition “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern is legendary for the criticism it inspired. Organized by curator William Rubin and then New York University professor Kirk Varnedoe (who would later join the Museum as curator), the show presented works by modern artists like Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, and Constantin Brancusi alongside objects from Indigenous cultures of Africa, Oceania, and North America.

The curators’ intention was to present the significant influence of these Indigenous works on the thoughts and practices of early-20th-century modern Western painters and sculptors. The presentation was much maligned, however, for not including any contextualizing information about the indigenous works—such as name of the creator, date, function, or context—unlike the treatment of the modern works, revealing a colonial, Eurocentric point of view.

Under construction, installing the exhibition Exhibition House by Gregory Ain, May 17–October 29, 1950.

Under construction, installing the exhibition Exhibition House by Gregory Ain, May 17–October 29, 1950.

In 1950 MoMA invited Los Angeles architect Gregory Ain to erect a house in the Sculpture Garden. This was the second in a series of three houses installed in the Garden (the first by Marcel Breuer and the last being a traditional wooden house in the style of 17th-century Japanese temple architecture). Ain’s structure was a three-bedroom house fitted with sliding walls that allowed for a flexible floor plan, and was suitable for a typical American real estate subdivision at that time, with lots of 60 × 120 feet. Its compact but flexible plan avoided the small rooms of the homes in most typical housing developments at the time. Perhaps its greatest benefit was its prefabrication, making it readily accessible to families. The structure, as can be seen here, was created from a simple wooden frame approach, which is utilized in constructing most houses in the United States. Wooden framing interested Pendleton in its ability to ultimately create structures and to create dwellings, and it is key to his thinking about the monumental framing structure of Who Is Queen?.

Installation view of the exhibition Built in USA: Post-War Architecture, January 20–March 15, 1953

Installation view of the exhibition Built in USA: Post-War Architecture, January 20–March 15, 1953

With its founding in 1932, MoMA’s Department of Architecture was the first of its kind in an art museum. Dedicated to showcasing the best in modern architecture, and later design as well, the department organized exhibitions such as this one from 1953, Built in USA: Post-War Architecture. The show presented 43 buildings deemed to be the most significant structures erected in the United States since 1945, including examples of houses and apartment buildings, office buildings, schools, industrial plants, and a stadium, a hospital, a music center, a retail store, and a chapel. As is often the case for architectural exhibitions, models and photo enlargements prevailed. The design device employed for the display of the latter included these upright lumber screens with strong vertical elements, clearly bearing a resemblance to Pendleton’s scaffolding design.

Installation view of the exhibition De Stijl, December 16, 1952–February 15, 1953

Installation view of the exhibition De Stijl, December 16, 1952–February 15, 1953

In 1952–53, the Museum hosted the first historical survey in the United States of the influential modernist movement of de Stijl, or “The Style” in Dutch. The art movement was composed of a group of artists and architects active in the Netherlands from 1917 to 1928; they advocated for pure abstraction—a reduction to the essentials of form and color, simplifying elements to vertical and horizontal axes, and using only black, white, and primary colors. The founder of the group, Theo van Doesburg, was a painter but also an architect, typographer, and writer, and he published a journal of the same name that espoused the group’s theories.

Installation view of the exhibition Sol LeWitt, February 3–April 4, 1978

Installation view of the exhibition Sol LeWitt, February 3–April 4, 1978

In 1978 MoMA mounted the first major museum retrospective in the United States of the acclaimed artist Sol LeWitt. A pioneer in the Minimalism movement of the 1960s, LeWitt was profoundly influential on Conceptual and post-Conceptual artists of succeeding generations. At the core of his practice are modular and serial structures, with the cube and the square as his primary elements. The black, gridded lines in the sculptures above clearly resonate with Pendleton’s scaffolding, as does this idea of seriality, in which a system can be closed and yet open at the same time—creating, in the case of Who Is Queen?, a literal physical structure to attach ideas to, as well as the forms being ideas in and of themselves.

Installation view of Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?

Installation view of Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen?