The 2008–09 artists in residence, Khalif Kelly, Adam Pendleton and Dawit L. Petros, consider looking at an artwork akin to the act of reading. In his own way, each shows a deep concern with how images generate meaning and has developed his own grammar and narrative system with which to make images. The resulting works and projects that make up Encodings reflect contemporary art’s concern with language and its use across media and beyond the studio and gallery spaces. For these artists, images are as much readable containers of information as they are systems for masking meaning.
Khalif Kelly’s paintings depict the allegorical tale of a preadolescent hero and his friends on their adventures in a mythical land. While the paintings’ composition and subjects are often borrowed directly from historical old master paintings, they feature hard edges and striations from the low-bit computer graphics that inspire their style. Drawing from a range of pop-cultural references as vast as 1930s and 40s cartoons to Stanley Kubrick’s films, these canvases give viewers a story out of sequence, so Museum visitors must actively reconstruct the narrative from these fragments.
Adam Pendleton’s conceptual practice uses language as its medium. Sometimes he works with language literally by combining text and image, and other times figuratively by treating sculptural objects as an alphabet. Pendleton’s practice demonstrates how a single idea can be represented in multiple media and manners, and how at its most extreme, in works such as Code Poem, image (Hannah Wiener) (2009), it refuses concrete representation altogether. By playing with signs and their systems, Pendleton’s artworks and the meaning we extract from them rely as much on divergent sources as they do on context.
During his residency, Dawit L. Petros took a series of walks around Harlem. Out of these meanderings came Petros’s “Harlechrome” series (2008–09), which photographically isolates and captures colors and textures from the area to create an abstract and semiabstract photographic archive of Harlem. By editing images to reduce the neighborhood to texture and color, Petros offers an alternative narrative for the community, one told through formal attributes rather than social history and mythology.
There is no one key to understanding the work of these three artists, but each practice engages the viewer in an active process of interpretation and understanding. As a result, it is the viewer who must ultimately complete the artworks in this exhibition by “reading” them and making meaning from the art.
Organized by Assistant Curator, Naomi Beckwith, Encodings is the latest annual summer exhibition featuring works by the three artists who have been awarded year-long residencies at The Studio Museum in Harlem. The Artist-in-Residence program represents one of the founding initiatives of the Museum from its inception in 1968 and has helped nurture the careers of almost one hundred artists. Past participants in the program include Chakaia Booker, David Hammons, Kerry James Marshall, Wangechi Mutu, Nadine Robinson and Kehinde Wiley. This year’s exhibition highlights new talent and ideas, and continues the Museum’s core mission and vital tradition into its fourth decade.
The Artist-in-Residence program and annual exhibition are presented with the support of Nimoy Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency; Jerome Foundation; Robert Lehman Foundation, Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation; and by endowments established by the Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Trust and Andrea Frank Foundation.