Soon after Lévy Gorvy announced representation of Terry Adkins’ estate, the gallery has opened its first solo exhibition, The Smooth, The Cut, and The Assembled, dedicated to the late artist’s multimedia work spanning various decades. With his unexpected passing in early 2014, Adkins left behind an expansive body of work, focused primarily around sculpture, while meditating on the medium’s relation to ephemerality and sound. Known for his interest in musical scores and physicality, the artist captured immateriality on three dimensional levels, with mundane objects placed in often unfamiliar forms. This focused selection of works, organized by Adkins’ long-term collaborator Charles Gaines, assembles works from different eras to demonstrate the artist’s commitment to narratives that ran throughout his practice, including socio-political topics in addition to artistic methods. Doing justice to its title, the exhibition manifests tactility, rupture and composure, encapsulating both Adkins’ interest in manual production and utilization of surfaces for poetic language.
Switching to an artistic path after pursuing an interest in music until his mid-twenties, Adkins sought and demonstrated alternative ways to merge objects with sound. The artist’s dedication to making sculptures as ethereal as sound itself, while creating music as physical as his objects. This premise is proven in works that engage with the exhibition space through sound or physical intervention around the gallery’s first and second floors. Placed at the very entrance is Native Son (Circus), an installation of densely piled cymbals that begin to chime for a few minutes in approximate intervals. When it’s silent, the installation offers a calm, but engaging presence, stemming from the cymbals’ minimalist form and glaring surfaces. Adkins’ attribution of both undisturbed potential and tranquility through sound is best captured in this work. At the same time, the exhibition’s other pieces equally reflect his talent in blending ephemerality with materiality.
2003’s Matchbox Blue, for example, is a clutter of decomposing metal hangers forming a ghostly body that could just as easily be posed as a musical instrument. Darkwater Record, by contrast is perhaps the exhibition’s most direct reference to sound in a political context. A porcelain bust of Mao Tse-tung sits atop pile of five cassette players running W.E.B. Du Bois’ 1960 speech “Socialism and the American Negro,” (although the tapes are silent) while using silence as a political tool and artistic “medium.” Visually demure, yet physically striking works such as Call, Shenandoah, and Reply emphasize Adkins’ interest in incorporating found materials to reflect objects’ status as witnesses of things and carriers of fleeting moments.
Terry Adkins: The Smooth, The Cut, and The Assembled is on view at Lévy Gorvy through February 17, 2018.
— O.C. Yerebakan
Lévy Gorvy [Exhibition Page]