• Photography by Tom Snelgrove

Terry Adkins

Terry Adkins

Terry Adkins (b. 1953, Washington, DC; d. 2014, Brooklyn, New York) established an interdisciplinary and frequently collaborative practice that encompassed sculpture, music, printmaking, and video. Engaging with the improvisatory spirit of free jazz, he sought to “find a way to make music as physical as sculpture might be and sculpture as ethereal as music is.” Offering meditations on the relationships among image, sound, and ritual, his works resonate with a powerful material presence and reflect his deep investigations into various histories of Afrodiasporic culture.

Adkins grew up in a musical household. He played guitar and saxophone and counted John Coltrane, Nina Simone, and Jimi Hendrix among his influences. He had an early affinity for drawing, which was nourished at Fisk University in Nashville, where he studied with David Driskell and Martin Puryear. He was also mentored by Aaron Douglas, a prominent Harlem Renaissance muralist who founded Fisk’s art department Adkins completed his B.S. in printmaking in 1975 and then pursued an M.S. in the field from Illinois State University. In 1979, he received an MFA in sculpture from the University of Kentucky. Adkins returned to DC, where he joined a free jazz band led by Yahya Abdul-Majid of the Sun Ra Arkestra and, in 1979, mounted an exhibition of watercolors at the punk Hard Art Gallery.

Adkins moved to New York to pursue residencies at the Studio Museum in Harlem and, subsequently, P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center. These experiences offered fertile terrain for his performative practice and prompted experimentation with sculpture and installation. Even at this early stage, these aspects of his practice evolved in tandem. He found inspiration in the work of Constantin Brancusi and Yves Klein as well as vanguard jazz musicians such as Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and Archie Shepp. In 1986, Adkins was awarded a residency in Zürich, where he founded the Lone Wolf Recital Corps, a performance collaborative including a rotating ensemble of artists, musicians, and friends, including Charles Gaines, Kamau Patton, Jacolby Satterwhite, and Jamaaladeen Tacuma. He termed the group’s multimedia happenings “recitals.” His interest in hybridity provided a mode through which he sought to render immaterial qualities present in the matter around him. Following a research trip to Uganda and Ethiopia in 1991, Adkins conceived his notion of “potential disclosure,” wherein found objects reveal dormant lives and histories. He approached such objects as a composer would a score: his materials came to life by way of improvisational shifts and fluctuations.

Adkins’s belief in the emancipatory potential of music—which he grounded and extended through his embrace of collaboration—served as a reinforcement for his artistic practice. His recitals were often dedicated to recovering the narratives of historical figures important to the cultures of the African diaspora, such as botanist and inventor George Washington Carver, musician Jimi Hendrix, intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois, composer Ludwig van Beethoven, and blues singer Bessie Smith. Adkins reached beyond conventional interpretations of the past in his “abstract portraiture,” coming to understand his subjects through site-specific research, by engaging relevant contemporary communities, and by employing historically potent materials for his installations and recitals.

In 1995, Thelma Golden curated an exhibition of Adkins’s work at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Phillip Morris, including his Akrhaphones: giant horns which are both sculptures and invented instruments. In 1999, he mounted a solo exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia and initiated his cycle of recitals on John Brown at the abolitionist’s sheep farm in Akron, Ohio. In 2000, he joined the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design in the departments of Fine Arts and Africana Studies. His work was included in Double Consciousness—Black Conceptual Art Since 1970 at the Contemporary Art Museum, Houston in 2005, and in 2008, his work featured in Black Is, Black Ain’t at the Renaissance Society, Chicago, and the traveling exhibition NeoHooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith. In 2009, he received the Jesse Howard, Jr. / Jacob H. Lazarus—Metropolitan Museum of Art Rome Prize. As an artist-in-residence at the Anchorage Museum in 2011, Adkins traveled to the Arctic Circle to research Matthew Henson, the first African American Arctic explorer.

In 2012, the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, presented Terry Adkins Recital, a retrospective that spanned three decades of the artist’s career, and in 2014, his sound-based installation Aviarium was included in the Whitney Biennial.

Adkins performed his recitals across the world, including at Washington Project for the Arts (1981); MoMA PS1 (1985, 2009); Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (1988); Museum Arti et Amicitiae, Amsterdam (1991); Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris, New York (1996); John Brown House, Akron, Ohio (2000); New World Symphony, Miami (2000); Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, Eatonville, Florida (2001); New Museum, New York (2009); Romanian Academy in Rome (2010); Amistad Gallery, Philadelphia (2011); the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2013); and Performa 13, New York (2014).

On February 8, 2014, Adkins passed away at the age of 60. His work has posthumously been included in significant exhibitions internationally, including the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, the 2015–16 traveling exhibition The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now, and the thematic survey Terry Adkins: Infinity Is Always Less Than One at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (2018). In 2017, the Museum of Modern Art in New York hosted the first exhibition and performance series to reunite the Lone Wolf Recital Corps since Adkins's death.

Work by Adkins can be found in the collections of major public institutions, including Art Bridges Foundation, Bentonville, Arkansas; de Young, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Pérez Art Museum Miami; Tate Modern, London; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

In 2018, Lévy Gorvy held its first monographic exhibition with Adkins's estate, Terry Adkins: The Smooth, The Cut, and The Assembled, curated by the artist’s friend and collaborator Charles Gaines. The accompanying catalogue includes essays by Gaines and art historian Michael Brenson and features poems written by Robin Coste Lewis.


Selected Works

  • Terry Adkins.
    Copper and wood,
    67 3/4 x 11 x 4 5/16 inches (172 x 28 x 11 cm).
    © Terry Adkins. Courtesy of the Estate of Terry Adkins.
    Photo: Stefan Altenburger.

  • Terry Adkins.
    Ars Memoria Alexandria,
    Digital print,
    Framed Dimensions:
    64 1/2 x 43 1/2 inches (163.8 x 110.5 cm).
    © Terry Adkins.
    Courtesy of the Estate of Terry Adkins.

  • Terry Adkins.
    Bona Fide,
    Stencil board,
    86 inches (218.4 cm) in diameter.
    © Terry Adkins.
    Courtesy of the Estate of Terry Adkins.
    Photo: Tom Powel Imaging.

  • Terry Adkins.
    The Still,
    Wood, pigment,
    75 x 9 1/2 x 11 inches (187 x 24 x 28 cm).
    © Terry Adkins. Courtesy of the Estate of Terry Adkins.
    Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein.

  • Terry Adkins.
    Untitled (Bessie Smith Head, Red),
    Blown glass,
    20 x 16 x 11 inches (50.8 x 40.6 x 27.9 cm).
    © Terry Adkins. Courtesy of the Estate of Terry Adkins.
    Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein.

  • Terry Adkins.
    Steel, glass, wood, and plaster,
    63 x 54 x 18 inches (160 x 137.2 x 45.7 cm).
    © Terry Adkins. Courtesy of the Estate of Terry Adkins.
    Photo: Tom Powel Imaging.

  • Terry Adkins.
    Mvet Majestic II,
    Wood and acrylic,
    Overall dimensions variable: approx. 80 x 36 x 2 inches (203.2 x 91.4 x 5.1 cm).
    © Terry Adkins. Courtesy of the Estate of Terry Adkins.
    Photo: Tom Powel Imaging.

  • Terry Adkins.
    Wood and enamel,
    72 x 72 x 2 inches (182.9 x 5.1 cm).
    © Terry Adkins. Courtesy of the Estate of Terry Adkins.
    Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein.



Charles Gaines on Terry Adkins

January 22, 2020

Coinciding with Lévy Gorvy's solo presentation of Terry Adkins at FOG Design+Art 2020, artist Charles Gaines sat down with us to discuss the multidisciplinary artist's comparison to jazz and its sense of improvisation, repetition, and collaboration.


Museum Exhibitions

Selected Press

SF Chronicle | Fog Art + Design makes a scene in San Francisco

January 22, 2020

Like its atmospheric namesake, the recent Fog Design + Art exposition extended its shift-shaping tendrils …

ARTFIXdaily | FOG Design+Art Draws Largest Crowd to Date for Seventh Edition of Fair

January 22, 2020

Lévy Gorvy organized a focused, survey solo booth of Terry Adkins’s work at FOG Design+Art — his …

BroadwayWorld | National Endowment of the Arts to Award Art Works Grant in Support of Terry Adkins Exhibition

January 16, 2020

The National Endowment of the Arts has approved an Art Works grant to support the presentation of "Terry …

Galerie Magazine | 8 Fascinating Finds from the FOG Design+Art Fair in San Francisco

January 15, 2020

An Upper East Side staple, Lévy Gorvy dedicates its entire booth to influential late American artist …

St. Louis Post-Dispatch | Eye-catching 2020 exhibitions show art from French painters to modern sculptors

January 2, 2020

Terry Adkins: Resounding at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation will trace the artist’s development over his …

Artforum | Terry Adkins: Our Sons and Daughters Ever on the Altar

January 2, 2020

This exhibition, which unfolds at two Nashville locations, pays tribute to Terry Adkins’s unique relationship …

Pride Publishing Group | Frist Art Museum announces 2020 schedule of exhibitions

September 6, 2019

In the Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery, the Frist presents ‘Terry Adkins: Our Sons and …

Mutual Art | 5 Artists to Watch in 2019

January 4, 2019

The American sculptor, composer and performance artist passed away in 2014, and has since been growing …

Sculpture Magazine | Terry Adkins

November 1, 2018

The work of Terry Adkins, who died in 2014, is nothing less than visually embodied philosophy.

Miami New Times | ICA Miami Mounts First Posthumous Terry Adkins Show

May 11, 2018

As part of the ICA's inaugural spring programming, the young museum is mounting the first posthumous …

The New York Times | She Married an Artist, and Now Finds Comfort in His Work

February 13, 2018

Today, Ms. Williams-Adkins is committed to preserving her husband’s legacy and last year brought his …

Contemporary Art Daily | Terry Adkins at Lévy Gorvy

February 9, 2018

Following Lévy Gorvy’s recent announcement of its representation of the Estate of Terry Adkins, the …


February 3, 2018

Soon after Lévy Gorvy announced representation of Terry Adkins’ estate, the gallery has opened …

Frieze | Terry Adkins

January 31, 2018

Terry Adkins, who unexpectedly died in 2014, left behind a multidisciplinary body of work that is hard …

Artforum | Critic's Pick: Terry Adkins

January 27, 2018

Consider Terry Adkins a chronicler of alternate pasts. The late artist’s performances and sculptures, …

Artdaily | Lévy Gorvy opens first solo exhibition dedicated to artist and composer Terry Adkins

January 12, 2018

Terry Adkins: The Smooth, The Cut, and The Assembled highlights the physical force through which Adkins …

Observer | Terry Adkins’ Sculptures Sing at New York’s Lévy Gorvy Gallery

January 11, 2018

The show at Lévy Gorvy, which now represents the artist’s estate, is called “Terry Adkins: The Smooth, …

The Financial Times | Terry Adkins exhibition shakes up New York

January 9, 2018

The show is timely. Adkins’ reputation has soared of late: his work was featured in the 2014 Whitney …

Blouin Artinfo | Terry Adkins: “The Smooth, The Cut, and The Assembled” at Lévy Gorvy, New York

January 8, 2018

Terry Adkins’ “The Smooth, The Cut, and The Assembled” is his first solo exhibition at the gallery. It …

Artnet | Editors’ Picks: 12 Things to See in New York This Week

January 8, 2018

This marks the gallery’s first solo show of late artist Terry Adkins, having just announced representation …

Blouin Artinfo | Top Art Shows in New York This Week

January 4, 2018

Blouin ArtInfo hand-picks a list of must-visit shows, including Terry Adkins at Lévy Gorvy. The show …

Culture Type | The 14 Best Black Art Books of 2017

December 18, 2017

When Terry Adkins (1953-2014) died suddenly three years ago, this catalog was in development. Understandably …

Artnet | Price Check! Here’s What Sold—and for How Much—at Art Basel Miami Beach

December 11, 2017

There’s a reason why Art Basel in Miami Beach has been dubbed the art world’s Black Friday. Judging …

Artnet | 10 of the Most Eye-Opening Artworks at Art Basel Miami Beach

December 8, 2017

At the fair, Lévy Gorvy has a 2013 sculpture that illustrates Adkins’s complexity. Sitting on a low …

Artnet | Lévy Gorvy to Represent the Estate of Terry Adkins

November 20, 2017

When art dealer Dominique Lévy first saw the work of American artist Terry Adkins a few years ago at …

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