Derrick Adams’ transformative art at Luxembourg & Dayan

An exhibition of graphic paintings exploring ideas around identity, the construction of beauty and the empowerment of black women

Style Variation 25, 2019, by Derrick Adams
Style Variation 25, 2019, by Derrick Adams

Derrick Adams’ graphic portraits are well known stateside. The artist’s show in New York last year, for example, was curated by Francesco Bonami – a former curator of the Venice Biennale. His presence in Europe, however, is yet to peak and Luxembourg & Dayan is sensibly bringing his stylish work to its Savile Row space. 

Detail of Style Variation 23, 2019
Detail of Style Variation 23, 2019
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This debut exhibition with the gallery (from 10 February to 4 April) focuses on large-scale paintings from his new Beauty World series.The works reference the display of hairstyle models in wig shops, nail salons and hair boutiques in his Brooklyn neighbourhood (though recognisable around the world). Adams reproduces these characters on canvas, layering their hairstyles and make-up in acrylic on top. The works explore ideas around identity, the construction of beauty and the empowerment of black women.

Style Variation 20, 2019
Style Variation 20, 2019
Style Variation 19, 2019
Style Variation 19, 2019

Adams, who is also showing with Salon 94 at Frieze Los Angeles (from 14 to 16 February), is also known for performance and sound installations and has been included in two past editions of Performa: one work drawing on overlooked histories, the other on Britain’s first black circus owner. The artist trained at Columbia and Pratt, is an alumnus of the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, and is a recipient of a coveted Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Residency. Adams is still based in New York City and his work is held in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Studio Museum and Whitney.

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Alongside the seriousness of his subject matter, what makes Adams’ work so engaging is its aesthetics. His art has a touch of contemporary pop – transforming figures into stylised colour planes that echo the collages of Romare Bearden or Henri Matisse if seen through the medium of TV. The fragmentation of the face is not accidental. Adams’ choice of pattern and plane connects to symbolism, ideology, art history and a questioning of the African-American experience.

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