Adam Pendleton

The Short Century


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Not on display

Adam Pendleton born 1984
Screenprint on commercial paint on canvas
Support: 1665 × 1228 × 39 mm
Presented by Drew M. Aaron and Hana Soukupova (Tate Americas Foundation) 2014, accessioned 2021


The Short Century 2006 is a silkscreened painting on canvas by American artist Adam Pendleton. It is executed in black on a monochrome red ground. The title, which features prominently within the image towards the bottom right, is taken from an exhibition curated by Okwui Enwezor at the Museum Villa Stuck in Munich in 2001, the full title of which was The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa 1945–1994. The silkscreened image depicts two figures in the foreground with their backs to the viewer and a number of other figures to the left of the middle ground facing the viewer. These two sets of figures are separated by a double handrail. In the background is a street with a row of parked cars that runs diagonally across the image. The image is a still taken from the French New Wave film La guerre est finie (The War is Over) 1966, directed by Alain Resnais.

The artist has explained that ‘the image was reproduced in a book of the film’s screenplay; I collect books of screenplays (Resnais, Godard, Straub etc.) and this is one of the books I have in my library’ (correspondence with Tate curator Tanya Barson, August 2011). The War is Over is Resnais’s most overtly political film, a thriller dealing with the activities of communist opponents of the Franco dictatorship in Spain, although it is as much about the psychological impact of hiding true identities and adopting false ones. The script was written by Jorge Semprún, who was himself a long-time member of the Spanish Communist Party active in opposing the Franco regime. Pendleton’s work thus links an exhibition with a post-colonial, revisionist agenda focusing on liberation movements, to a film about clandestine political activism and the construction of identity in the context of an authoritarian regime, highlighting the uneven power relations between individual and state.

The Short Century was included in Pendleton’s solo show Bam Split Lab and The Afro Futuristic Underground at the Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York, in 2006. The show included eighteen silkscreened paintings employing a combination of text, image and abstraction. However, The Short Century stands out among the paintings in this show as its specific theme and imagery is unique among them. This body of work led on to a later series entitled Black Dada, named after the American poet Amiri Baraka’s poem ‘Black Dada Nihilismus’ (1964).

The Short Century is characteristic of Pendleton’s work in its use of a combination of text and carefully chosen and symbolically laden images, which are usually taken from books or catalogues. In referencing a landmark exhibition, it also engages with the history of exhibition and display, which Pendleton examined further in his series System of Display, which focused on particularly significant exhibitions, such as the first Documenta in 1955. Pendleton has commented: ‘The painting is a bit of a harbinger as many of the images I use in my System of Display works are sourced from The Short Century’s catalog’ (correspondence with Tate curator Tanya Barson, August 2011). Both this painting and System of Display demonstrate how narratives of modernism are a recurrent preoccupation in his work.

Further reading
Mark Beasley, Jena Osman, Adam Pendleton and others, Adam Pendleton EL T D K, exhibition catalogue, Haunch of Venison, Berlin 2009.
Klaus Biesenbach, Connie Butler and Neville Wakefield, Greater New York 2010, MoMA PS1, New York 2010.

Tanya Barson
August 2011

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