Emerging a couple of generations after African-American artists such as Glenn Ligon and Charles Gaines, Pendleton’s work furthers the discourse around appropriation and identity politics of the ’80s and ’90s in a way that allows us to reexamine the richness of that history as well. As a new-generation black artist, experiencing an increasingly ahistorical moment flattened by the internet age, he moves beyond subverting history into the mode of producing fictions-and sometime science fictions-that carry within them moments of sincerity and authenticity. He seems to be carving out another time zone: one in which the past’s version of the future meets the future’s version of the past. He has also been greatly influenced by writers such as the Chilean Raúl Zurita (the title of Pendleton’s exhibition is a line from Zurita’s 1979 book, Purgatory) who invest their artform with political agency and question: “What can poetry do in the face of violence?” Similarly, Pendleton’s work asks how something as simple as a font choice might illuminate insidious corporate oppression against the human condition. In the details of his materials, surfaces, reproduction values, and performances, one may locate the subtle but important shifts toward a poetic agency, or as he refers to it, a “poethical” stance. The term “poethical,” coined by Joan Retallack and used mostly in literary circles, has become a kind of signpost for Pendleton’s own practice.
During his Artpace residency, Pendleton concentrated on the production and reproduction of a familiar set of forms that recall Modernist sculptor Constantin Brancusi. As if to propose a faulty memory of the precise appearance of the Romanian artist’s The Endless Column, Pendleton slightly skewered the shape so that it remains recognizable but incorrect. Aided by a studio team who crafted and sanded the molds meticulously to create an inky-black surface (a color Brancusi never used for his column sculptures), he designs a collection of totemic structures that appear to be future ruins. The forms, stacked at varying heights, act as stand-ins for an impossibility. Not by coincidence, they also resemble totemic structures that carry ritualistic or mystical potential.