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Art Books: Review of Black Dada Reader 

Adam Pendleton, Black Dada Reader (2017). Courtesy Buchhandlung Walther König

BY Evan Coles

In Books

Artist Adam Pendleton establishes himself as one of Conceptual art’s most visionary thinkers in Black Dada Reader. The recently published book is a collection of texts and documents that help define “Black Dada”, Pendleton’s term for “a way of articulating a broad conceptualization of blackness”.

Adam Pendleton, Black Dada Reader (2017). Courtesy Buchhandlung Walther König

Published by Koenig Books, Black Dada Reader spans an eclectic range of subjects, such as the historical trajectories of syntax, black America and feminism. It includes essays by poets, artists, philosophers and sociologists: from civil rights figures such as the scholar and African-American activist W.E.B. Du Bois and the Trinidadian-American Stokely Carmichael; to writers including Gertrude Stein and Joan Retallack; from artists of different generations such as sound poet Hugo Ball (who wrote one of the founding Dada manifestos), Ad Reinhardt, Joan Jonas, William Pope.L and Felix Gonzalez-Torres; to new essays by curators Adrienne Edwards, Laura Hoptman, Susan Thompson, Jenny Schlenzka and the critic Tom McDonough.

Adam Pendleton, Black Dada Reader (2017). Courtesy Buchhandlung Walther König

The cacophony of different voices chimes with the way Pendleton’s practice has been underpinned by a wide variety of sources over the past decade in his painting, collage performance and video. In the Reader, for example, we see how Pendleton, aged 33, derives Black Dada’s theory from LeRoi Jones’s seminal 1964 poem Black Dada Nihilismus and articulates its practical utility in Jenny Schlenzka’s essay What Can Black Dada Do for My Institution?

Essentially a compendium of manifestos, the book makes the case that the 20th-century manifesto was a quintessentially Modernist genre in which process is privileged over product, and in which art comes from the viewer’s (or reader’s) ability to give objects order and meaning. Pendleton seems to be insisting that the manifesto tradition can, and should, bring ethical and aesthetic imperatives back into the conversation about art.

Adam Pendleton, Black Dada Reader (2017). Courtesy Buchhandlung Walther König

*Black Dada Reader is published by Buchhandlung Walther König

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