The sculptures, installations, and works on paper included in this exhibition illustrate American artist Derrick Adams’ ongoing study of racial identity as it is both filtered through popular culture and also reimagined for the future. Each body of work featured in this exhibition highlights a particular strain of Adams’ sharp yet unexpectedly playful representations of figures both real and imagined, from the past and the future.
Included in Transmission is his series of Boxhead sculptures depicting androgynous figures as viewed through an analog TV set. Held within these tight frames, the figures seem to burst forth from their boxes. Adams presents these faces as though from multiple viewpoints, toying with their flatness and suggesting that such portrayals on television might do better by endowing their characters with more dimensionality. His interactive sculptures On invite viewers to perform their own infomercials, using generic objects as stand-ins for consumer products similarly pitched to a captive audience via television and the internet. Another interactive installation completes this survey of Adams’ work: Future People. A video projection transports viewers who are sitting in specially designed chairs on a platform into an imagined future. Passing through constellations of objects in a sci-fi setting, the viewer journeys to a particular future—one that is inspired by far-ranging sources related to AfroFuturism.
Adams offers a future that fuses sci-fi elements with historically significant objects from his close study of the archives at Chicago’s Stony Island Arts Bank. The archives there preserve the Johnson Publishing Archive, and the Edward Williams’ collection of negrobilia (mass cultural objects depicting stereotypical images of black people), as well as Frankie Knuckles’ record collection. Adams’ approach to artmaking is at once generous and inviting, and though it is often inspired by real world objects, he takes a much more handmade approach to his artmaking. As he notes, “I like materials with a physical appearance. Imagination is in everyone, and if you can envision things and not worry about high production, you can do more and affect people in a way that’s equally relevant and impactful.”
Derrick Adams was born in 1970 in Baltimore, Maryland. He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. His multi-disciplinary practice includes performance, video, sound, collage, and sculpture. A recipient of a 2009 Louis Comfort Tiffany Award, and 2014 S.J. Weiler Award, Adams received his MFA from Columbia University, BFA from Pratt Institute, and is a Skowhegan and Marie Walsh Sharpe alum. Recent exhibitions include: Greater New York '05, MoMA PS1; Open House: Working In Brooklyn '04, Brooklyn Museum of Art; PERFORMA ‘05, ‘13, ‘15; Radical Presence & The Shadows Took Shape, Studio Museum in Harlem; and The Channel, Brooklyn Academy of Music. His work is in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Studio Museum in Harlem, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Birmingham Museum of Art.