Terry Adkins: The Smooth, The Cut, and The Assembled
Terry Adkins: The Smooth, The Cut, and The Assembled
January 10 – February 17, 2018
Following Lévy Gorvy’s recent announcement of its representation of the Estate of Terry Adkins, the gallery will debut its first solo exhibition devoted to the acclaimed artist and composer on January 10th. Terry Adkins: The Smooth, The Cut, and The Assembled will explore the visual and conceptual concerns that define the late artist’s sculptural output, inviting a new appreciation of his unique interdisciplinary practice.
Curated by Charles Gaines, Adkins’ close friend and frequent collaborator, this exhibition seeks to illuminate a revolutionary oeuvre through fresh eyes, grounded in the conceptual and personal rapport between these two groundbreaking artists. Based in Los Angeles, Gaines has maintained his own art practice since the late 1960s.
Presented on two floors of Lévy Gorvy’s flagship Madison Avenue location, Terry Adkins: The Smooth, The Cut, and The Assembled will be comprised of works spanning over three decades of Adkins’ career (1986–2013), which ended prematurely when he passed away unexpectedly in February 2014 at the age of 59. The exhibition focuses on the formal methods he employed to distill his art down to the very “essence” of his materials, often mining the history of the African diaspora for marginalized forms and figures. By reconsidering and reconfiguring established narratives in his installations and performances, Adkins sought access to a deeper realm of experience: a “spirit world,” as he called it, contained within each object and individual. The exhibition will be on view through February 17th.
A fully illustrated publication to accompany the exhibition will be released this winter. This intimate volume will include an introductory text by Gaines; a scholarly essay by Michael Brenson, Senior Critic at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design; and newly commissioned poetry by Robin Coste Lewis, winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Poetry.
About the Exhibition
Terry Adkins: The Smooth, The Cut, and The Assembled highlights the physical force through which Adkins activated materials in space, with an emphasis on the pure action of constructing and operating within the realm of abstracted narrative.
While on residency at the BINZ39 Foundation in Zürich, where he lived and worked between 1986 and 1987, Adkins for the performance collective Lone Wolf Recital Corps, a rotating ensemble of artists, musicians, and friends. Upon returning to New York in 1988, his experience with the Corps reinforced new connections between his sculptural and musical pursuits. “My quest has been to find a way to make music as physical as sculpture might be, and sculpture as ethereal as music is,” he commented. In an effort to infuse his sculptures with the intangible lyricism of music, Adkins expanded his approach to materials as both props for performances and monuments to the feelings that he extracted from them. The exhibition includes two Untitled works which accompanied his performance Buffet Flat (2008–09); the blown-glass figurines, reunited for the first time, are identical except for their discordant surface texture and hue. No longer accessories to a theatrical set, these amorphous shapes acquire an aura of their own, frozen in anticipation of musical accompaniment.
While such totemic “smooth” works are characterized by modesty, other works on view reveal Adkins’s distinctive approach to acoustics. Reply (1987), made during the artist’s Zürich residency, evidences the dialogue between metaphor and metonym that would become central to Adkins’ sculptural practice thereafter. Resembling a primitive tool frozen in the white cube, this work slices at the gallery’s physical limits. It projects from the surface of the wall in precarious position that actively penetrates or “cuts” space, altering timbre of the room. Its affective charge forms phrases in Adkins’ visual language; this work is separated from its former function in order to amplify their sensuality and aura.
In the 1990s, Adkins began integrating historical research into his art, often ruminating on a single figure over the course of several series. His extended investigations into the lives of abolitionist John Brown, blues singer Bessie Smith, and author and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, position each as a spectral persona whose presence can be felt in Adkins’s handling of his materials. Works classified as “assembled” demonstrate the intricate hybridity of the artist’s sculptures and the layered complexity of the historical figures to whom he pays homage. Darkwater Record (2003–8), a stack of five Nakamichi 550 cassette decks topped with a porcelain bust of Mao Zedong, plays Du Bois’ famous speech, “Socialism and the American Negro” (1960), in a continuous loop. The sculpture lacks speakers, however, and the viewer cannot hear a word—here, sound is represented by the erratic dials on the decks, jumping at each tone in Du Bois’s voice. Adkins illustrates the energy of Du Bois’s speech, all the more poignant for its inability to be heard.
Curated by Charles Gaines, Adkins’ close friend and frequent collaborator