David Adjaye: Making Memory

Q&A with Adam Pendleton

To mark the David Adjaye: Making Memory exhibition, the Design Museum speaks to conceptual artist, Adam Pendleton about his critical use of conceptual art for Sir David’s proposed Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King Memorial in Boston.

Adam Pendleton Untitled, 2018. © Adam Pendleton, courtesy the artist. Photo: Andy Romer Photography

Q: How did your collaboration with Sir David Adjaye come about?

I’ve long admired David’s work, but in 2016 I had the chance to install a show in a museum he designed: The Museum of Contemporary Art Denver. This made me even more interested in his practice. Shortly after that show we met by chance and stayed in touch and started talking about working on a project together. When the opportunity to collaborate on the King memorial presented itself, we took it.

Q: What was the relevance/importance of Boston Common to the Kings and how does your design respond to the site and Dr. King’s final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”?

This part of the park—where the Massachusetts State House faces the Common—often hosts demonstrations and gatherings. In 1965, Dr. King spoke here and led a march to the Common from Roxbury, the Boston neighborhood where he had worked as a preacher, and where he and Coretta Scott King first met.

The design harmonizes with the landscape, which has a slope that embodies and extends this idea of the “mountaintop.” The “mountaintop” is a biblical metaphor that King was using as a political metaphor: the point from which the movement could continue to plot a path forward.

Q: Many historians contend that Coretta Scott King’s contribution to the civil rights movement has been overlooked. How does the memorial give Coretta Scott the recognition she deserves?

The design of the memorial incorporates excerpts from the speeches and writings of both Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King. Their language will be represented equally and extensively.

Adam Pendleton System of Display, I (WRITING/Art of Black Africa, Kunsthaus Zurich, 1970), 2018. © Adam Pendleton, courtesy the artist. Photo: Andy Romer Photography.

It was a seamless collaboration and process. You don’t get in the way of someone else’s expertise and what they must contribute. When it became clear that engraved text would be a primary element of the memorial, I knew we needed to engage with a designer like David Reinfurt who thinks critically and historically about typography.

Q: Your work often features spoken and written word, how can language shape subjects, re-engage history and point towards the future?

Language moves us, and it makes movements. Moving language around, displaying it and framing it in old and new ways—these have always been prominent features of social and political action.

Q: Are there any writers who have inspired you and why?

I perpetually return to the work of Ron Silliman, Joan Retallack, and Jena Osman. Their conceptual approaches to language remain important points of departure for my own work.

Installation view of “Adam Pendleton: Our Ideas” at Pace Gallery, London (2018). © Adam Pendleton, courtesy Pace Gallery Photo: Damian Griffiths, courtesy Pace Gallery.

Q: What is your vision for the Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King Memorial in Boston?

A real and sustained encounter with the Kings’ work, accessible to all.

Q: What’s the one thing you’d like people to remember about your design when they leave the David Adjaye: Making Memory exhibition?

A 21st century memorial cannot be a statue or a sculpture in the landscape. It must be an open site of engagement where a diverse population can gather.

Adam Pendleton Black Dada Drawing (A), 2018. © Adam Pendleton, courtesy the artist. Photo: Andy Romer Photography.

Adam Pendleton Black Dada (A/K), 2017–18. © Adam Pendleton, courtesy the artist. Photo: Andy Romer Photography.

Related exhibition

David Adjaye: Making Memory

Experience the storytelling power of architecture through an exploration of seven monumental projects from celebrated architect Sir David Adjaye OBE.

Background image | Liam Gillick Adam Pendleton