Sonic Union crafts soundscape for Adam Pendleton’s “Who Is Queen?” at MoMA

(New art installation at MoMa)

Adam Pendleton: Who Is Queen? – at MoMA now through February 21, 2022- transforms MoMA’s Marron Family Atrium into a monumental multi-story, dynamic installation exploring identity, abstraction, and Black Dada.

Sonic Union and Sound Designer/Mixer Owen Shearer and Executive Creative Producer Halle Petro were called on to be a part of the team to support Adam Pendleton’s large-scale, sensorial experience. 

Located in one of the world’s most influential art spaces, Who Is Queen? questions the traditional notion of the museum as a repository, and addresses the influence that mass movements, including Black Lives Matter and Occupy, could have on the exhibition as a form. Paintings, drawings, film, spoken word, music and sound come together in an installation that sits at the nexus of abstraction and politics.

Through this combination of media and subjects, presented in multi-story scaffolding, Who is Queen? builds an alternative structure – literally and figuratively – for the examination of history as an endless variation. 



Sonic Union’s Owen Shearer, who has collaborated with Pendleton over the last few years including on “Ishmael in the Garden: A Portrait of Ishmael Houston-Jones” worked closely with the artist and the sonic installation team on a number of elements for Who Is Queen?

Among them, sound design and mix for “So We Moved” a film portrait of Columbia professor of Gender Studies Jack Halberstam, the custom mix for a short film “Notes on Resurrection City,” and the randomized audio collage that envelopes the reverberant space and bleeds out from the atrium piquing the curiosity of visitors. 


“When the whole piece is “on” and all elements are conversant, you hear the sound collage, and then when the sound collage is not audible, you’ll hear the audio from the video works. They phase in and out,” notes Pendleton. “The three core tracks of the sound collage are a 2014 phone recording of a New York solidarity protest in Manhattan with Black Lives Matter, a 1980 reading that the poet Amiri Baraka delivered at the Walker Art Center, and a 1994 composition by the composer Hahn Rowe called Yellow Smile.


These are interwoven with music by Jace Clayton, Julius Eastman, Laura Rivers, Frederic Rzewski, Linda and Sonny Sharrock, and Hildegard Westerkamp.”


“This was an extraordinary opportunity to support a visionary installation with a rather unique series of considerations when it comes to audience and sound,” says Shearer. “The list of people who contributed to the project’s implementation is a testament to Adam’s collaborative nature and the scope of his creative vision. The many individual elements combine into a very powerful experience.”


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“We have been fortunate to collaborate with Adam and his team on previous projects,” says Petro, “so when Studio Pendleton came to us over two years ago with the opportunity to work on Adam’s installation for MoMA, we jumped at the chance! The work is a true reflection of the social and political climate during a global crisis, and Adam’s point of view is truly one of the most empathetic and poignant I have experienced. The culmination of time (as the pandemic had pushed the dates back) and efforts that went into this work were extraordinary. We are honored to have been a part of it.”