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Art

Derrick Adams’ “Becoming One With Your Environment” in Paris

By Erik Martiny

May 10, 2013

Previously known for his confrontational performances inspired by the Black Panther movement and neo-Dadaism, Derrick Adams’ current exhibition at Galerie Anne de Villepoix in Paris – on view through May 25, 2013 – is a gentler, more ecumenical affair. Earlier works include Feed Them With A Long Spoon, which offered a humorously literal visualization of the expression. It stood for distance and wariness and enmity, but also paradoxically included an element of trust since the actress in the role of the enemy agreed to be fed by the artist at the opposite end of a spear-length spoon. Other “guerilla performances” included spitting wine at viewers in an exhibition to convey the idea of privilege. Those who stayed in the gallery were rewarded with the surprise of wine spurting out of the wall.

The Paris show seems unequivocally utopian by comparison. Sculptures made of faux brick, glitter, paint, and fabric convey a child-like vision of a housing estate in which the houses look like Christmas decorations at first glance. Roofs have hair or sport multi-colored woolen hats. There is some vestigial distancing in titles such as Left at Arm’s Length, a work which features a road whose markings extend into a tracksuit arm, but there is no obvious residue of bitterness in these works. The reiterated image of the wall, which inevitably retains its inherent symbolic charge of exclusion, oppression, and confinement, is entirely attenuated by the paint, glitter, and other humanizing attributes. The fusion of the anatomical and the architectural has none of Greek artist Giorgio de Chirico’s sinister undercurrents and as the title of one sculpture called New Developments implies the outlook is hopeful to the point of celebrating Christmas communion in Spring.

Ideally, the mixed media sculpture Timbuktutu (whose image is available on Adams’ site) should have been included in the exhibition for the sake of visual and thematic variety, but the show is still well balanced and complex, as it includes a fine selection of his recent graphic work as well. Human Structure Taking in Nature comes across as a resonant homage to first-generation surrealists like René Magritte with an Afro-American touch. Human Structures Conducting is so compelling it has the potential to become one of the memorable works of the twenty-first century. Like the most inspiring and personal works in the history of collage art, it intersperses paper marquetry with drawing. The fusion of human figures and architecture is particularly subtle here, making the hieratic couple depicted look as if they are clothed in stained-glass paper. The dynamic geometrical lines of hairstyles bring out a neo-art deco flavor that is tastefully sublimated in the sky-flavored ice cream held by an enthroned male figure on the left. Adams’ expert use of silhouette black paper deepens the exceptional mysteriousness of a work, which even Richard Lindner might have envied.

Derrick AdamsGalerie Anne de Villepoix

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