Hudson River Museum is delighted to announce that the groundbreaking exhibition, Derrick Adams: Buoyant will be extended through August 23, 2020. This is the first museum exhibition of Adams’ Floatersseries, a collection of vividly painted portraits depicting Black people in various states of rest and play, buoyantly floating on calm waters. Adam’s site-specific installation We Came to Party and Plan—a newly created body of work that invites the viewer into a party atmosphere full of complexity—has been extended through October 18, 2020.
Artist Derrick Adams (American, born 1970) delves deeply and fearlessly into the nooks and crannies of Black life and culture, unveiling a nuanced wholeness of humanity. The New York City-based, multidisciplinary artist depicts a world where joy, love, leisure, and even prosaic normalcy play central roles, methodically filling the many voids and omissions in popular visual culture. “I want these works to connect with people on an emotional level and tap into their lived experiences,” says Derrick Adams. “Sometimes a normal social gathering can represent a radical space. I’m often inspired by the people around me at parties, and how they are making important changes to society. You can go to a social event and still get things accomplished.”
Adams’ work is especially relevant during this time of civil unrest and renewed attention to systemic racial injustice. Director and CEO Masha Turchinsky states, “The HRM is strongly committed to the ways in which we can elevate and amplify individual and collective voices and confront, examine, and dismantle the structures that perpetuate racism. Derrick Adams’ work is radical in its unapologetic celebration of Black joy. His figures may be casually relaxing in a pool or socializing at a party, but these depictions inspired by real life powerfully reshape social structures, challenging the status quo in the art world and in society.”
The exhibition is organized by the Hudson River Museum, and co-curated by James E. Bartlett, founder of Open Art, and Laura Vookles, Chair of the Hudson River Museum’s Curatorial Department. “Derrick Adams is truly a seminal artist of our time,” states James E. Bartlett. “Drawing equally from historical references, personal history, and the communal lived experience, he has created a decades-long body of work that is both materially and aesthetically diverse yet narratively intertwined. His Floaters series, as well as the newly created We Came to Party and Plan, are consummate examples of his depth and breadth as an artist.”
Derrick Adams’ Floaters series, produced between 2016 and 2019, is a collection of vividly painted portraits of Black people in various states of rest and play, buoyantly floating on calm waters. This classically American iconography signifies the carefree pleasures of success: the American Dream in physical form. The Museum’s setting, a unique urban perch along the water, offers a compelling backdrop against which to reflect on Adams’ buoyant images and themes.
When Derrick Adams wanted to make paintings of pool recreation, he was surprised to find no related images online of people who looked like him. Delving deeper into his research, he discovered images of Martin Luther King Jr. relaxing on vacation with his wife, Coretta, and wondered why this side of the Civil Rights leader’s life is so little known to the general public. “Regardless of all the things that are happening to Black people around the world,” Adams says, “we still find time to connect with each other. If we were constantly in this place of battle, we really couldn’t exist. We need time to replenish our love and faith and joy.”
Beyond their superficial form, Adams’ sun-soaked figures also reveal a tangle of multifaceted human complexity. They evoke nostalgic images of summertime fun, and they may also jar some viewers into reflecting on more traumatic lived or learned histories. From the horrific journey across Atlantic waters of the Middle Passage, to the long history of segregation at America’s swimming pools and beaches, Black people’s relationship with water has not always been one of carefree joy. Adams does not specifically focus his artistic lens on this fraught history, yet he fully recognizes and engages with the memories and historical trauma that can be kindled in many viewers.
Through Adams’ hand, and his vantage point, these archetypal images feel simultaneously familiar yet unexpected. Adams recontextualizes this classic visual trope to create a more accurate and fuller representation of the Black lived experience. The immediacy of the imagery in these paintings invites viewers to bring their own notions to the scene and recognize moments that have too often been missing in mainstream American media. Adams has stated, “It’s going to be a beacon. It’s going to be something echoing out and bringing people in.”
We Came to Party and Plan
We Came to Party and Plan is an immersive, large-scale installation that brings to life the complex exchanges that take place in spaces of celebration. Within the immersive installation, more than fifty intimate portraits convey a multifaceted agenda. This series was conceived during Adams’ summer 2019 residency at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.
Referencing the history of African Americans, Adams notes that Black people couldn’t always assemble freely. Worship and other formal occasions such as weddings and holidays were the only times Black people were allowed to congregate. Building from this historical context, Adams explains, “When we get together, it isn’t just to have a party. We might be planning a revolution at the same time.” Here, Adams surrounds us with unique individuals who may be discussing the events of the previous week, pitching a business idea, or debating politics. Dreams, plans, frustrations—the content is limited only by our imaginations.
Also in this gallery, four party settings from Adams’ Tables Turned series express a more straightforward note of festivity. The artist created these collages out of utensils and decorations he knew would elicit memories and emotions in viewers. We become the figures at these empty tables; they are literally tipped in our direction, inviting us to join the fun. Adams and his art testify to the necessity of leisure.
Collection Spotlight: Derrick Adams Selects
In a related exhibition, Collection Spotlight: Derrick Adams Selects, which has also been extended through October 18, 2020, the artist curated a selection of works from the Hudson River Museum’s collection, casting a fresh perspective on historical and twentieth-century works related to the subjects of water and leisure. Adams’ choices cover a wide range of styles, from representational to abstract, and span the 1870s to the 2010s. Included are prints by Winslow Homer, Paul Cadmus, Eric Fischl, and Robert Motherwell; photographs by Mary Frey and Kathy Gardner; and an artwork by Winfred Rembert, recently donated to the HRM’s collection.
Photographs that were acquired as part of the Museum’s 2019 community-led collection and exhibition project Through Our Eyes: Milestones and Memories of African Americans in Yonkers—including an exuberant summertime image of a young boy leaping into the swimming pool at Tibbetts Brook Park, a digital gift of the Westchester County Historical Society, and images of sailors on the deck of the USS Worcester, courtesy of Luther V. Garrison, III—bring a proud local presence to the installation.
In addition, Adams’ selection features a recently acquired original copy of the Ebony issue that featured a photo essay about Martin Luther King Jr.’s trip to Jamaica. “This is radical imagery. This photoshoot is one of the primary inspirations for my body of work, Culture Club, and its Floaters series,” says Adams.
The fully illustrated catalog, Derrick Adams: Buoyant (Hudson River Museum, 2020) features essays by James Bartlett and art critic and writer Antwaun Sargent, an interview between Adams and artist Mickalene Thomas, and a section dedicated to Adams’ selection of works from the Museum’s collection. The catalog can be purchased online through HRM’s Museum Shop; $24.99, plus shipping and handling.
Derrick Adams: Buoyant was only open to the public for four days when the Museum closed its doors due to the pandemic. We are actively working on plans to reopen this summer in compliance with CDC and New York State phased guidelines. We look forward to welcoming visitors back to the Museum as soon as it’s safe to do so.
Updates will be posted on our website at hrm.org/visit and on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
The HRM will continue to host virtual workshops and discussions during the public closure and anticipates in-person events when we reopen. Advance registration required. Register at hrm.org/calendar.
Thursday July 9, 5pm
LIVE from Tandem Press: The Making of Derrick Adams’ Self Portrait on Float
Derrick Adams’ monumental acrylic on paper, Floater 80 (Self-Portrait), 2018, is one of the signature works in the HRM’s current exhibition Derrick Adams: Buoyant. Last year, the Museum acquired the 2019 print Self Portrait on Float, which is based on the painting. To create this artwork, Adams collaborated with master printers Jason Ruhl and Joe Freye and other artisans from Tandem Press, who together carved nearly 100 individual blocks of wood for thirty different colors and collaged gold leaf and paper fingernails onto each impression.
Join Jason and Joe live from the Tandem Press studio at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as they discuss and demonstrate the process of making the print—from the breakdown of the image, to the creation of the puzzle-cut blocks, to the inking and printing of a run.
Saturday, July 18, 11:30am–1:30pm
Collaging Our Everyday: LIVE Art Workshop with Tijay Mohammed
Create a mixed-media collage about your daily experiences—such as shopping, sports, parties, and other social occasions—while discussing the ways in which institutional racism affects how diverse groups experience these life events. While recognizing the existence of historical barriers to full and carefree participation in everyday activities, 2020 Teaching Artist-in-Residence Tijay Mohammed will encourage us to enter into a celebratory atmosphere with Derrick Adams’ series We Came to Party and Plan and works from Self in the City: Highlights from the Collections of the HRM and Art Bridges, such as Archibald Motley’s Bronzeville at Night, 1949.
Sunday, July 19, 2pm
Author Talk: Gretchen Sorin on Sojourns in the American City
Gretchen Sorin, Ph.D., Director and Distinguished Service Professor, Cooperstown Graduate Program, talks about her recently released book, Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights, and how the automobile fundamentally changed African American life.
Her perspective brings into focus the true history beyond the Hollywood movie, Green Book, showing travel as a political act. Today, the annual guidebook, The Negro Motorist Green Book, published from 1936-1966, and popularly know simply as The Green Book, serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of equality during a time in which the ubiquity of racial inequity continues to negatively shape the lives and experiences of many Black Americans. In 2018, Derrick Adams’ installation Sanctuary at the Museum of Arts and Design treated the same subject through mixed media collage, assemblage, and sculpture. Following the presentation, join us for Q&A with Dr. Sorin.
Wednesday, July 22, 11:30am
Art Project LIVE: Past Worlds / Future People
Explore how contemporary artist Derrick Adams rearranges old archival documents to tell new stories for the future, and experiment in making your own mixed-media futurescape. Workshop materials: Paper and pencil; mixed media like cardboard, magazines/newspapers, and photographs; glue or tape; optional: colored pencils, markers, or crayons.
Sunday, July 26, 1:30–2:30pm
Curator Tour from Home: Derrick Adams Selects
When Derrick Adams sought to paint scenes of Black people engaged in pool-side recreation, he was surprised to find that there weren’t any such images online. Delving deeper into his research, he discovered images of Martin Luther King Jr. relaxing on vacation with his wife, Coretta, and wondered why this side of the Civil Rights leader’s life is so little known to the general public.
Join Laura Vookles, Chair of the HRM Curatorial Department, on a virtual tour of Collection Spotlight: Derrick Adams Selects, with works selected by Adams from the collection to complement his exhibition Buoyant. The works in Derrick Adams Selects highlight our interactions with water: visual, physical, and emotional, and exude the themes of leisure and celebration present in Adams’ work.