• Photography by Tom Snelgrove

Terry Adkins

Terry Adkins

Terry Adkins (1953–2014) was born in Washington, DC. Inspired by his musical household and Jimi Hendrix, he took up guitar, eventually working his way through the flute, pocket trumpets, the bass violin, and the violin. He mused a professional music career, performing in his youth and early adulthood with Sun Ra and various jazz ensembles, but was seduced by the visual arts early on. His affinity for drawing was nourished at Fisk University in Nashville, where he studied under artists Martin Puryear, Carlton Moss, Earl Hooks, Stephanie Pogue, and regularly encountered Aaron Douglas, a commanding presence during the Harlem Renaissance. Although formalists including Constantin Brancusi and Yves Klein influenced his thought process, his musical tastes bent toward the “free music” emerging from the sixties and the experimental compositions of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Cecil Taylor, and Archie Shepp, to name a few. Adkins completed his B.S. in printmaking in 1975, and continued on to Illinois State University for an M.S. in printmaking, then an M.F.A from the University of Kentucky in sculpture.

Not long after graduation, Adkins moved to New York to accept residency invitations at the Studio Museum in Harlem and, subsequently, MoMA PS1. These studios served as incubators for his performative practice, and springboards for his earliest investigations of sculpture and installation. Even at this early stage, Adkins started with a theme or idea, illuminated by sculptural components that often housed a performative element. The performative and sculptural aspects of his practice evolved in tandem, and utilized materials that had likely served another purpose, be they instruments, materials from his printmaking experiences, or locally sourced items. He regularly repurposed materials and sculptures in hopes of more effervescent incarnations, he found to have a more luminous power and attachment to an idea or essence. In 1986, Adkins founded the Lone Wolf Recital Corps as a collective to collaborate on musical performances and art installations with a regularly rotating ensemble of artists, musicians, and friends. This interest in multiplicity and hybridity provided a mode through which Adkins could approach the possibility of rendering immaterial qualities of energy and frequencies present in the matter around him. Such a mission was in-line with his affinities as a composer, wherein a musical structure came to life by way of its improvisational shifts and fluctuations.

Adkins’ attachment to the emancipatory potential of music, grounded and extended by way of its entrenchment in his memory and embrace of community engagement, served as a reinforcement for his artistic practice. His performances were deemed “recitals”—opportunities to reconsider the legacies of overlooked individuals or to dissect biographical details of more famous figures. Growing up during segregation, Adkins remembered certain histories that were well-known in his community but failed to find their way to the mainstream historical narrative of American culture. In the 1990s, he shifted his focus to reinvigorating the lesser-known mythologies of figures including abolitionist John Brown, botanist and inventor George Washington Carver, and W.E.B Du Bois, among others. These works maintained a contemporary relevance in their ability to persevere beyond conventional interpretation of the past, as well as engage the immediate community for partially site-specific research, accrual of materials, and installation.

An exhibition commemorating Adkins’ performances with the Lone Wolf Recital Corps, entitled Projects 107: Lone Wolf Recital Corps, was on view at MoMA, New York, from August 19 through October 9, 2017. His most recent solo exhibition was held at the University Galleries of Illinois State University in 2016, and in 2012 the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY, presented Terry Adkins Recital, an exhibition that spanned three decades of his career. Adkins’s work and musical performances have been embraced since the 1980s by institutions including the New Museum, New York; Kulturzentrum Rote Fabrik, Zurich; Institute of Contemporary Art, London; Renaissance Society, Chicago; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; MoMA PS 1, New York; Fondazione Prada, Venice; Walker Art Museum, Minneapolis; Accademia di Romania in Roma, Rome; New World Symphony of Miami, Florida; and Brooklyn Museum, New York, among many others. He was featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial as well as the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015.

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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 …

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