Terry Adkins exhibition shakes up New York

A timely show to honour the late conceptual artist

Terry Adkins’ reputation has soared in recent years after his work featured at the Whitney Biennial and Venice Biennale
Terry Adkins’ reputation has soared in recent years after his work featured at the Whitney Biennial and Venice Biennale | Image: Tom-Snelgrove

When conceptual artist Terry Adkins died unexpectedly in February 2014 at the age of just 60, the art world was left in shock. But a new exhibition in New York, Terry Adkins: The Smooth, The Cut, and The Assembled, sees the Lévy Gorvy gallery and Adkins’ sometime collaborator, Charles Gaines, come together to once again put him front and centre.

Native Son (Circus) highlights the importance of music in Adkins’ work
Native Son (Circus) highlights the importance of music in Adkins’ work

“From Dante to WEB Du Bois, from music to sculpture, Adkins was able to create remarkable connections that expand both our imaginations and our understanding of the real world,” says gallery co-founder Dominique Lévy. “His art challenges our assumptions about what is fleeting, what is permanent, what matters and what defines us.”

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The show is timely. Adkins’ reputation has soared of late: his work was featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial and the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015 while New York’s Museum of Modern Art recently hosted an exhibition honouring his performances with the Lone Wolf Recital Corps. This new exhibition, which extends over two floors of the gallery, is comprised of works from 1986 to 2013. Adkins, an interdisciplinary artist who was heavily influenced by his musical background – he played at various times the guitar, flute, pocket trumpets, bass violin and violin – worked at distilling his art down to the very essence of its material.

Akhenaten, from 2013, is a glass box containing two busts
Akhenaten, from 2013, is a glass box containing two busts

Using the African diaspora as inspiration for forms and figures, Adkins sought access to, as he called it, the “spirit world”. Work included performances, installations, videos and photography as well as physical objects. “My quest has been to find a way to make music as physical as sculpture might be, and sculpture as ethereal as music is,” he once said. His sculptures did, indeed, often reflect an element of a performance event.

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The work on display includes Shenandoah a concrete, steel, rope and silicone structure from 1998 that looks like a figure poised beside a coil of rope. The importance of music in his work is brought graphically to light courtesy of Native Son (Circus), made up of cymbals, armature and additional technical components; the effect is almost that of musical instruments as a marching army. And a late work from 2013 is Akhenaten, made of steel, glass, wood and plaster, comprising a glass box containing two busts. Prices range from $120,000 to $475,000 for large-scale sculptures.

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