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A quiet afternoon with Derrick Adams

Derrick Adams, ‘sometimes i just don’t feel like myself’. Installation and performance. Courtesy of Collette Blanchard, New York.

The first words out of my mouth as I picked up Derrick Adams from the Floridian condo on West Avenue was ‘Man, that shirt is totally Kehinde Wiley!’ He laughed and agreed that the bright, Oriental-type floral pattern reminded us both of his friend’s aristocratic renderings of urban youths amongst Victorian wallpapers. “Yeah! Especially since he just came back from China.” Thus began an afternoon packed with art world theory and rants regarding some of the beauteous and bestial personalities we’d both encountered thus far in the commercial art sphere.

Adams was born and educated in New York, earning his BFA from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, moving into the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in Maine and then achieving an MFA from Columbia. Adams cites his artistic origins with two-dimensional works and live performances in costume pulled from the childlike world of fantasy cartoons coupled with the burdens of ‘adult’ societal constraints, protocols and taboos. Films and live performances would expand to include more complex social psychologies within the fantasy-world sphere, incorporating traces of African-American film, music and sporting reference (one of note entitled ‘I’m Smoke, You’re Mirror’ (2005) at Participant Inc. would feature recent MOCA solo exhibitor Shinique Smith).

Derrick Adams, ‘The Statue’ (2009). Mixed Media, 27″ x 17″. Courtesy of Collette Blanchard, New York.

Just the day before we met Adams had delivered a talk at Bas Fisher Invitational – an artist run space that gained recognition recently for its tour/exhibition ‘Weird Miami’ – regarding the development of this career from drawing, experimental video and installation, to teaching at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), a solo performance at last year’s NADA Art Fair (entitled ‘Bizarro Wiz’), and the honor of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Award.

When asked about the burgeoning arts culture in Miami, Adams pauses and says, “Miami doesn’t have the same diversity in the style of works yet, like in New York. There isn’t that environment for jam sessions, coffee houses and public projects just yet. But it’s exciting so far, it’s coming along.” Adams had been a resident of Miami for six weeks at the groundbreaking Fountainhead Residency and acknowledged a kernel of possibility for those genuinely seeking the academic solidification of Miami as a global hub for contemporary art. “I haven’t really had the opportunity to explore all of Miami’s offerings in terms of its artists, but from what I’ve seen, there’s some really dedicated people out there.” Now, there’s a bit of hope for the art-minded few and faithful here. The presence of Adams at Bas Fisher was one of several signs that Miami may be ready to discover a sense of maturity and focus in the contemporary art establishment, but the way Adams talks about the vibrant, buzzing community of art-goers in New York, it seems like a far cry from the purported drunken buffoonery within Wynwood’s Second Saturdays.

Derrick Adams, installation view at NADA, Miami (2009). Courtesy of Collette Blanchard Gallery, New York.

“I still go to the coffeehouses to check out young musicians, poets and artists,” says Adams, “both in Chelsea and the Lower East Side. But people in the galleries are pretty serious. When they step inside, it’s a business, not a party.”
Sipping at my bok choi noodle soup, I asked “But even the younger people seem to have a quiet respect for these spaces, they know that the works are special and the gallery isn’t a bar.”
Adams nods. “Yeah, I mean there are plenty of places for the after-party crowd and all that. But the commercial space is for business, deals are made. People are coming in to buy works and ask questions.”
“And how about this cold persona of gallery consultants not speaking to you when you walk in. I don’t know about you, but I’m there for the art, not for the spa treatment!”
With a laugh, Adams replies, “Sure, I mean the person sitting at the front is there if you need them, but you’re there to look and absorb it. They’re not going to hold your hand the minute you walk in.”

Perhaps Miami isn’t quite prepared for that type of gallery atmosphere, but the point is that there shouldn’t be much of a surprise when you’re not coddled by the director or consultant. What Miami is ready for, I’m sure, is to have more distinguished, young artists like Adams return to inject some hardcore understanding and insight into the atmosphere to combat the threat of kitschy, commercial demons such as (dare I say it) Britto and Gamson[.]

This post was contributed by Shana Beth Mason.

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A quiet afternoon with Derrick Adams