• 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.

In May of 2018, the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami opened a major thematic survey of Adkins' work, with Terry Adkins: Infinity Is Always Less Than One which ran through September 23. Lévy Gorvy held its first solo exhibition with Adkins' estate, Terry Adkins: The Smooth, The Cut, and The Assembled, which ran from January 10 to February 17 of 2018. 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 through October of 2017, while in 2016, an exhibition was held at the University Galleries of Illinois State University, 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.


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.



Terry Adkins | Musical Performance with Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber and Greg Tate

March 9, 2018


Other Exhibitions

Selected Press

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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