Wednesday, February 25, 2015

IN MEMORY OF TERRY ADKINS 1953-2014: Innovative and Dynamic Conceptual Artist, Sculptor, Musician, Critic, Public Intellectual, and Teacher

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

IN MEMORY OF TERRY ADKINS 1953-2014:  Innovative and Dynamic Conceptual Artist, Sculptor, Musician, Critic, Public Intellectual, and Teacher

                   (b. May 9, 1953--d. February 8, 2014)


(Originally posted on February 24, 2014):
Monday, February 24, 2014

Terry Adkins, 1953-2014: Innovative and Dynamic Artist, Sculptor, Musician, Critic, and Teacher


The death of the extraordinary, innovative, and eclectic installation and multimedia artist, sculptor, musician, teacher, writer, and cultural critic, Terry Adkins is not only shocking but at the early age of 60 is a tragic loss for American/global art in general and the black artistic community in particular. It is impossible to overestimate what the brilliant and endlessly creative Adkins was consistently able to contribute to the contemporary art world and modern cultural discourse in the genres of music, visual art, design, multimedia, and critical theory. He was beloved not only as a dynamic and very important artist but as a revered teacher and mentor to many students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels as a Professor of Fine Art at the University of Pennsylvania. He and his work will be sorely missed by many not only in this country but throughout the world...


Terry Adkins interview

Terry Adkins, Composer of Art, Sculptor of Music, Dies at 60
FEB. 22, 2014
New York Times

Terry Adkins in the Arctic preparing a piece on Matthew Henson, a black explorer who accompanied Peary there in 1909. Credit: Tom Snelgrove

Terry Adkins, a conceptual artist whose work married the quicksilver evanescence of music to the solid permanence of sculpture, died on Feb. 8 at his home in Brooklyn. He was 60.

The cause was heart failure, his dealer Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn said.

A sculptor and saxophonist, Mr. Adkins was at his death a professor of fine arts at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design. His genre-blurring pieces, which might combine visual art, spoken-word performance, video and live music in a single installation, had lately made him “a newly minted breakaway star” on the international art scene, as The New York Times described him in December.

Mr. Adkins’s work — cerebral yet viscerally evocative, unabashedly Modernist yet demonstrably rooted in African traditions — has been exhibited at museums and galleries worldwide, including the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

His art is in the collections of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington; the Studio Museum in Harlem; the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York; and the Tate Modern in London.

His work will be shown this year as part of the Whitney Biennial, which runs from March 7 to May 25 at the museum.

“Terry always saw object and sound and movement and words and images all as the material for his art,” Thelma Golden, the director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, said in an interview on Friday. “He was so deeply inspired by aesthetics, philosophy, spirituality, music, history and culture, and he had such a fertile and generative mind, that he was always able to move between many different ideas and create a lot of space and meaning in a work.”

To his sculpture, Mr. Adkins sought to bring the fleeting impermanence of music, creating haunting assemblages of found objects — wood, cloth, coat hangers, spare parts from junkyards — that evoked vanished histories.

To his improvisational, jazz-inflected music, he brought the muscular physicality of sculpture, forging immense, curious instruments from  assorted materials. Many were playable, including a set of 18-foot-long horns he called arkaphones.
The sculpture and the music were meant to be experienced in tandem, and with his band, the Lone Wolf Recital Corps, Mr. Adkins staged multimedia performance pieces that fused the visual and the aural. Many were homages to pathbreaking figures in African-American history, among them the abolitionist John Brown, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the musicians Bessie Smith, John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix.

“Meteor Stream: Recital in Four Dominions,” for instance, was one of a cycle of works in which Mr. Adkins honored Brown. In that piece, performed in 2009 at the American Academy in Rome, he explored Brown’s storied past through an amalgam of music, sculpture, video, drawing and readings from Brown’s own writings.

Mr. Adkins’s installation “Nenuphar,” which he showed at Salon 94 Bowery in 2013. Credit Salon 94

Mr. Adkins performing in New York in November; with him are giant arkaphones he invented.  Credit: Salon 94

In an installation devoted to Hendrix, Mr. Adkins homed in on lesser-known aspects of his subject’s personal history, including his service in the early 1960s as a paratrooper in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division.

To research a piece on the life of the African-American explorer Matthew Henson, who accompanied Robert Peary on several expeditions, including the one Peary said reached the North Pole in 1909, Mr. Adkins traveled to the Arctic to experience Henson’s milieu firsthand.

At its core, all of Mr. Adkins’s work was about how the past suffuses the present and vice versa.

Terry Roger Adkins was born in Washington on May 9, 1953, into a musical household. His father, Robert, a teacher, sang and played the organ; his mother, Doris Jackson, a nurse, was an amateur clarinetist and pianist.

As a young man, Mr. Adkins planned to be a musician, but in college he found himself drawn increasingly to visual art. He earned a B.S. in printmaking from Fisk University in Nashville, followed by an M.S. in the field from Illinois State University and an M.F.A. in sculpture from the University of Kentucky.

Mr. Adkins, who also maintained a home in Philadelphia, is survived by his wife, Merele Williams-Adkins, whom he married in 1992; a son, Titus Hamilton Adkins; a daughter, Turiya Hamlet Adkins; his mother; two brothers, Bruce and Jon; and two sisters, Karen Randolph and Debbie Vereen.

His work was the subject of a major retrospective in 2012 at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. It has also been featured at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center (now MoMA PS1) in Queens, the LedisFlam Gallery in Brooklyn and elsewhere. In an interview with the website, Mr. Adkins spoke of his desire to reconcile the temporal imperatives of music with the spatial ones of art.

“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 said. “It’s kind of challenging to make both of those pursuits do what they are normally not able to do.”

Terry Adkins, 1953-2014

Title Magazine mourns the loss of an utterly unique teacher and artist. Terry died at the height of his powers, his work included in the Whitney Biennial just weeks away. As a teacher, he helped to nurture a new generation of exceptionally talented artists including Jamal Cyrus, Jayson Musson, Demetrius Oliver, and Jacolby Satterwhite. We invite former students and colleagues to submit their remembrances to be published here for all to share. If you would like to contribute your stories and thoughts, please email, with the subject Terry Adkins.

Simon Slater

I moved into my studio number m-16 on the second floor of UPenn’s Morgan building around 4pm. I envisioned the next two years as a graduate student as time of serious (read analytical and humorless) study. I wanted to get started right away. I sat at my desk and started to draw and rationalize the stunning significance to humanity that each of my ideas had. After all, I was a serious professional, seriously. The seal on my temple o’ self-indulgence was broken around two or three in the morning by stomping footsteps and the tearing open of the grey curtain that stood in for a door to my studio. There was Terry. Terry and I stared at each other for about five seconds. Then he slammed the curtain shut as fast as he had opened it. A moment later he ripped the curtain open again, pointed at me and started belly laughing, shut the curtain and left.

Later that year I took Terry’s Sculpture Seminar. For an assignment he instructed us to come up with a project that we would want to do if we had an unlimited budget. I did the assignment half an hour before class. That day he had us post our assignments up on the walls of the white room. He walked around and discussed each assignment with the student who made it. When he got to mine, a quickly drawn image of the moon with a flat, one-sided Dr. Seusse-esque billboard advertising a smiling Don Rickles, he stared and nodded. He did not acknowledge what a waste of everyone’s time it was. Instead, he turned around and asked me if the billboard had two sides.

By my second and final year, I had come to really value Terry’s studio visits and enjoyed how much fun those half hour meetings were. However, I was not looking forward to my last visit with him as a Penn student. In order to maximize time in my studio, I took the class Jewish Humor and Terry’s class, Sonic Measures at the same time. For the last several weeks, I had been skipping Sonic Measures in order to finish up Jewish Humor. The morning of that last visit Terry strode into the middle of my studio, looked at me, and looked at my work. Then in a stern voice he said, “Mr. Slater you are making me look bad in front of the undergrads. You better have a great final project prepared, or I am going to fail you.” We then completed the visit out on the balcony of the Morgan building enjoying the beautiful spring day, laughing, and talking about art.

Terry is not someone I can sum up in one moment or in a single beautifully packaged lesson that he imparted to me. Instead, the lessons I value, and there are many, came in the form of a series of complicated, insightful, fun, and warm moments. He was just a terrific man, a  wonderful teacher, and one of those rare gregarious and magnetic people who highlight the great pleasure it is to be a free thinker. Terry died too soon and this is a tragedy. He had a lot more to contribute as a teacher, and as an artist. I will miss Terry, and feel very lucky that I had the opportunity to know him, learn from him, laugh with him, and eat Tastykakes with him at 2am.

Kelsey Halliday Johnson

I remember standing in the Tang Teaching Museum in front of an old vintage trunk neatly filled with dozens of copies of the 1972 album Infinity attributed to John Coltrane. It was Terry Adkins’s 2012 exhibition Recital, and I found myself surrounded by a monumental vertical stack of bass drums, what appeared to be the guts of an oversized music box, large-scale x-rays, and other curiosities. But this specific work nagged at me, as the album had been controversial: Alice Coltrane had overdubbed and rearranged previously unreleased recordings from 1965-66, after John Coltrane had passed away.

Terry Adkins Recital
from The Tang Museum


"Recital" comprises a selection of work spanning the last three decades by artist/musician Terry Adkins. Born in 1953 in Washington, DC, Adkins grew up deeply invested in visual art, music, and language. His approach to art making is similar to that of a composer, and the exhibition is conceived as a theatrical score that punctuates and demarcates space, creating interplay among pieces in different media and from diverse bodies of work. Together they act as facets of a crystalline whole, reflecting and illuminating each other in ways that amplify their intensity.

Alice took great liberties with the album, adding (perhaps blasphemous) orchestral string backings, re-imagining the rhythm sections, and  inserting her own solos within the compositions. Panned by aficionados and critics alike, the album seemed like the kind of thing a nuanced and judgmental fan like Terry would have snubbed. The devotional, if not obsessive, collection of such a biased artifact seemed at odds with Terry’s work, which typically highlighted and honored overlooked facets of historic figures. As part of his practice, Terry was known to boldly ignore, if not rewrite, popularized posthumous narratives.
But Terry’s Infinity was not about John Coltrane. Terry would have been 19 when the vinyl album first hit record stores, and I learned that this work was in fact autobiographical. A young Terry Adkins had shoplifted a copy of the vinyl album. But later, after discovering an appreciation for recording artists and living with his guilt, he resolved to purchase the album every time he came across it. The Cherokee trunk on display housed over four decades of Terry’s life, filled with record store trips, late night eBay sessions, and many anecdote-worthy finds along the way.

Terry demanded honesty in art making from his students, and it was the courage and idealistic allegiance of Infinity that taught me the full content of his character. Surely, we have all done things blindly out of infatuation, lived with childish regrets, and looked back on our early influences as naïve forms of admiration. But Terry harnessed the energy of these feelings and the root of their social context as a launching point for new cultural narratives. It saddens me deeply to consider that the Infinity collection is no longer ongoing; this personal ritual must now be seen as a completed object with its final count of records.

Central to Terry’s life and artistic practice was his avid collecting of records, stories, photographs, history, artifacts, and art. The day (or should I say weeks) that he moved from one faculty studio at Penn to another became a sort of clown-car circus spectacle. The impossible quantity of knick-knacks and artifacts pouring out from one room confounded all of us, as we watched the common areas of our graduate studio building fill to the brim with taxidermied birds, drawings, and vintage metal apparatuses. Terry’s hobbies, collections, and artistic practice could be impossible to pin down from the looks of those weeks, but his deliberate and intuitive approach to finding objects that he claimed had “a spirit in them” proved all the more rewarding that summer day I stood surrounded by his austere and humbling work at the Tang.

He was a man of strong convictions and contradictions, which was what made him so lovable, challenging, and fascinating. I remember showing a body of work exploring vintage hand painted postcards (an early still-frame kitsch Technicolor that fascinated me immensely), when Terry cried out in the middle of a graduate school critique “Why are you collecting this nostalgic crap?” I was taken aback by his flippant accusation – the postcard collection had come to me quite recently from my late grandmother, a former stewardess, genealogist, and epistolary packrat. Yet some months later, we found ourselves immersed in conversation about the first African American Arctic explorer Matthew Henson, and the work Terry was planning as part of a residency in the Arctic. The names and history lesson felt oddly familiar and I quickly ran up to my studio and produced a postcard of a Robert Peary Arctic expedition that Henson accompanied from early 1900s. We were both baffled and amazed at the serendipity of the find. He looked at me with a mischievous grin, filled the room with his booming laugh, and said, “Well, I guess its not all crap.”
Terry was proud, but did not lack humility or humanity. His fascination with people was far reaching, but he valued his beautiful family above all else. He rooted for historical underdogs in his personal work and for his students in his academic work – providing as much contextualizing support and as many opportunities as he could muster. And for all of that, Terry will be tremendously missed and monumentally remembered.

Listening tonight to Infinity, I am struck by its genius. As many others have conceded, John Coltrane would never have released these tracks with string accompaniment, so the arrangement is certainly speculative. Yet with fresh eyes and loving hands, these recordings were recontextualized and sonically reconsidered in a way truly fitting for a living memorial. Infinity will never exist simply as a historic recording, but lives on as a dynamic interpretation of John Coltrane’s legacy. In many ways, it seems fated that Terry Adkins found himself ethically bound to this record as an artistic touchstone.

Sometimes, a straight historical recording cannot tell us the full story. Or as we continue to learn, those histories can be flawed, biased, or incomplete. We desperately need fresh perspectives to excavate the details and draw critical attention to people and places that have been missed. This reanimation of history and overdubbing of its story is at the audacious heart of everything that Terry accomplished. To have witnessed his bravery firsthand is a privilege for which I will forever be grateful.

Kathy Goodell

Terry seized the moment! He was larger than life! He was a subversive classicist, a scholar, and impudent observer; he was whatever he wanted to be in the moment. He knew exactly what he believed, where he stood, and he never wavered. Never afraid of the limits of language, whether visual or literary, he was a master at juxtaposition and paradox. He understood and realized the eccentric possibilities of sculpture, performance and music (jazz) and with bravura created a body of work out of great strength and independence. An activist and magician merged into one.

Personally what bonded me to both the artist and the friend, Terry Adkins, was his infinite complexity – the fact that he understood that opposites are connected and embedded within each other, they create and transform, complement each other and create a greater whole. Terry possessed a nobility of purpose: to elevate matter to reveal the infinite essence of energy, with ‘Adkinsian’ style.
Couple this with his comedic warmth, an elegant and beautiful presence possessing intelligence honed both by the street and a classical education, he was impossible to resist. At once theatrical and improvisational, he merged opposites seamlessly with the grace of a poet.

Art by Terry Adkins:
Infinity. Cherokee trunk, John Coltrane Infinity albums
20 × 26.5 × 13.5 inches. Image courtesy of Salon 94 Meteor Stream

Terry Adkins, Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania, is the current Jesse Howard, Jr./Jacob H. Lazarus-Metropolitan Museum of Art Rome Prize Fellow in Visual Arts at the American Academy in Rome. On Friday 16 October 2009 his show Meteor Stream: Recital in Four Dominions opened in the Gallery of the American Academy, to a large and responsive audience from the AAR and the Roman public. Read a synopsis and interview with Adkins (in Italian, by Giovanna Sarno) here.

Meteor Stream is the latest incarnation of Terry Adkins’ ongoing cycle of site-inspired recitals on the abolitionist John Brown that began in 1999 at the John Brown House and sheep farm in Akron, Ohio. Commemorating the 150th anniversary of his Harper’s Ferry, Virginia campaign, the opening of Meteor Stream coincided with the inception of Brown’s 16 October 1859 raid on a U.S. armory to his execution by hanging on that December 2nd at Charles Town (West Virginia).

In Meteor Stream Adkins dutifully explores biblical aspects of John Brown as a shepherd, soldier, martyr, and prophet through a muscular communion of sound, text, video, sculpture, drawing, and ritual actions. He has also responded to new research for Meteor Stream that reveals incredibly far-reaching ties, binding the legend of this enigmatic American figure to parallel histories of Rome, the Janiculum Hill and the American Academy in Rome. The 16 October opening featured performances on reed instruments by Adkins, sometimes accompanying readings from various Brown-related texts by current AAR Fellow and poet Peter Campion. Chief coordinator of the show is Lexi Eberspacher of the AAR Programs Department.

Terry Adkins is an artist, musician, and activist who upholds the legacies of transformative figures from the past by reinserting them to their rightful place in the contemporary landscape of world history. His recitals are multimedia events that rely on the collision of imaginative intuition with the potential disclosure of unfolding biography and reclaimed materials.

Adkins has exhibited and performed widely since 1982, and his work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, among others.

Terry Adkins, Aviarium, 2014. Steel, brass, aluminum, and silver, dimensions variable (installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York). Estate of Terry Adkins; courtesy Salon 94, New York. Photograph by Bill Orcutt

Born 1953 in Washington, DC
Died 2014 in Brooklyn, NY


Interdisciplinary artist and musician Terry Adkins approached his artmaking practice from the point of view of a composer. He arranged his works in sculpture, performance, video, and photography—many of which feature modified musical instruments or other salvaged materials—into “recitals” presented to audiences. For Aviarium, on view in the 2014 Biennial, Adkins devised a sound-based installation that is entirely silent. Using aluminum rods and multiple sizes of stacked cymbals, Adkins rendered wave vectors of birdsong in three dimensions, making visible the diverse sonic patterns inherent to the songs of each (unidentified) species. The sculpted songs hover in place and answer the artist’s call to “find a way to make music as physical as sculpture might be, and sculpture as ethereal as music is.”

On View

Second Floor
Terry Adkins’s work is on view in the Museum’s second floor galleries.

Works by Terry Adkins

Terry Adkins, Aviarium, 2014. Steel, brass, aluminum, and silver, dimensions variable (installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York). Estate of Terry Adkins; courtesy Salon 94, New York. Photograph by Bill Orcutt

Terry Adkins, Blanche Bruce and the Lone Wolf Recital Corps perform The Last Trumpet as part of the Performa Biennial 2013. Courtesy of the Estate of Terry Adkins and Salon 94, New York

Terry Adkins, Harvest, 2013. Blown glass, steel, fiberglass and aluminum, dimensions variable, Courtesy of the Estate of Terry Adkins and Salon 94, New York

Terry Adkins, Installation View, Nenuphar, Salon 94 Bowery, 2013. Courtesy of the Estate of Terry Adkins and Salon 94, New York.


Terry Adkins, Upperville, 2009. Concrete and quills, 36 × 20 × 12 in. (91.4 × 50.8 × 30.5 cm), Courtesy of the Estate of Terry Adkins and Salon 94, New York

Terry Adkins

Terry Adkins is an installation artist, musician, activist, and cultural practitioner who for 20 years has pursued an ongoing quest to reinsert historically transformative figures to their rightful place in the landscape of regional and world history. Although his "recitals" combine sculpturally based installations with music, video, literature, and ritual actions that intend to uphold and preserve the legacies of his chosen subjects, Adkins's work is always abstract and lyrical. An inspiration to younger artists for his uncompromising stance, he is also a dedicated teacher as Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania.
Originally posted February, 2006 Terry Adkins is a REVOLUTIONARY.

In a time and a place where courage seems to be waiting in the wings, Terry Adkins is front and center about what he thinks. About who he is and what he stands for -

Terry Adkins offers no apologies.

DR: Tell me. Terry, whatever it is that you want me to know about your life.

TA: O.K. Gee.

I grew up kind of gifted, with the ability to be able to render things like a photograph. So I was moderately inspired or encouraged by my parents in funny ways. For instance, for Christmas, my younger brother might get a Tonka truck, but I would get Leonardo DaVinci's Last Supper to paint by number. I can remember my mother saying "Don't mess it up! This cost me a lot of money!"

I never really considered a career as an artist. Often times when you are gifted with something you tend to be the first one to take it for granted because you don't think there is any thing wondrous about it. All of your friends, who are gifted with other things, might be able to recognize your gift easier than you can. I never really took it seriously until I went to college. I went to Fisk University and saw an exhibition there by John Scott who is an artist that is still active in New Orleans, and it turned me around. From then on I decided to be a  visual artist. I had always been a musician before that.

My quest has been to find a way to make music as physical as sculpture might be, and sculpture as ethereal as music is. It's kind of challenging to make both of those pursuits do what they are normally not able to do. That has been my challenge.

Another aspect of how I work is that I use figures in history whose contributions to society are either under known, under appreciated or just not given the stature that I believe they should have in society. In the past I'd do these events called recitals where I would do a body of abstract works that relate to the topic at hand. In the past they have been Sojourner Truth, John Brown, Zora Neale Hurston, John Coltrane, Ralph Ellison and W.E.B. Dubois, and others whose world view I find similar to my own.

My quest is to use abstract means, to educate the public about these figures through ways that are not image based or narrative based but to challenge them to think abstractly in relating to the stories of the lives of the people concerned.


Terry Adkins Recital from The Tang Museum on Vimeo.

Recital brings together a selection of work from the past 30 years by artist and musician Terry Adkins. Combining sculpture and live performance, Adkins has described his approach to art-making as being similar to that of a composer. His sculptures re-purpose and combine a range of materials, such as fiberglass propellers, wooden coat hangers, parachute fabric, and a variety of musical instruments in a process that the artist calls "potential disclosure," which aims to  reveal the dormant life in inanimate objects.

During performances with members of his Lone Wolf Recital Corps, Adkins activates these objects through improvisational playing and singing, spoken word, costumes, and recorded sound. These events intend to uphold the legacies of immortal and enigmatic figures such as Bessie Smith, John Brown, Sam Lightnin' Hopkins, Matthew Henson, and John Coltrane, among others. Adkins not only resuscitates individuals from historical erasure, but also sheds light on willfully neglected or ignored aspects in the lives of well-known figures, such as Ludwig van Beethoven's possible Moorish ancestry or Jimi Hendrix's military service as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne.

Terry Adkins Recital is curated by Ian Berry, Dayton Director of The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art  Gallery at Skidmore College, in collaboration with the artist.

DR: Terry is there something, when you think about your work or your life for that matter, is there something that
stands out that you are really proud of?

TA: Well, I am most proud of my...what I have partnered be my greatest creation, my son, OUR son, Titus and OUR daughter Turyia. They stand out because...

Well, in the instant a child is born you adapt a vision beyond your own lifetime and it brings things really into focus in your life. I find that, in the United States, there is very little vision beyond ones own lifetime. If there were then teachers would be the highest paid workers in society, as they are the caretakers of the future of the country. As it is in Korea and in other places where teachers are the highest paid. But in the United States, there is so much preoccupation with wealth being equated to success, and the billionaire is the hero of modern life and it is all backward to me. 

What I try to do is instill in my kids, so that they'll carry on the baton to make the world a better place -- that theses materialistic things really don't matter. It's what you carry within your soul that matters.

DR: How do measure success then, Terry - personally.

TA: Personally I measure success by being able to express myself freely, being able to exercise my creative imagination freely and if I am able to do that without any kind of hindrance and to, every once in a while, make
some money from it, although that's not really ideal, I measure that as a form as success. Also because I am a college professor at U Penn, I measure success by how well my students are then equipped with what I give them; how they then surpass me in their careers - which a couple of them already have.

DR: When people look at you, what do you hope that they see?

TA: Well, first of all, I know this is idealistic, but I would hope that the first thing...that they would not, at first, "race my face"; that they would be able to look past that to see a little deeper and to uh...

DR: Did you say "race my face"?

TA: Yeah. "Race my face". In other words Ornette Coleman has a saying in one of his songs that says "don't race my face to class my ways". Living in America...that would be a great achievement - to have that occur. Although I feel that particularly in New York City, or in many other urban centers, that it rarely does because of the negative images projected of Black men and the fear generated in cities by the images they see in the media.

If a person would be able to look at me to see past that, then we could then begin to relate to each other as human beings. The big question to day is "What does it mean to be human" and "How does that play out in relationship to what W.E.B. Dubois said" which is "The problem of the 20th Century is the problem of the color line.", which is so prophetic a statement as evidenced today in just about -

Smoke Stack 2003 Smoke Stack 2003
copper, aluminum, tar, 16.5 x 30 x 30 inches
DR: So if people were to look past your race, if they didn't "race your face", as you say, what would they see Terry?

TA: I have no idea. It's in the eye of the beholder and I think that they would see what they bring to it. I, however, am steadfastly -

I guess for any number of individuals, they would see any number of different things. What -- I would not begin to try and suggest. If they could get past the "face racing", that would be an achievement in and of itself.

DR: What do you think is most inspiring about you?

TA: I was born into a segregated America so, as a torch bearer of the way things were during that period, I guess, I would hope that people find it inspiring that there is a sense of self achieved from witnessing segregation wherein there were all sorts of Black businesses and entrepreneurship all around.

Having been educated at an all White, all boys, Catholic school called Ascension Academy, where I went on an on an academic scholarship from the 5th grade to the twelfth allowed me to acquire a sense of myself that didn't even deal with the idea of being inferior, but also didn't deal with the idea of being superior either. It made me, very early on, able to see that it was. Dr. King would say in "the content of one's character" that one should be judged - well not judged because you could say "Judge not, lest thou be judged", but the "content of ones character" is what matters most.

I got to see that the richest kids were also the dumbest. I got to see the social strata that exists in society, disappear because in the classroom everyone was equal. It really mattered how smart you were, more than anything else.

Very early on, I didn't really have any sense of any inferiority complex or anything like that. I think the sense of self and security in knowing oneself, I would think would be the most inspiring thing about me.

DR: What do you think that you have contributed to the world so far?

TA: I have tried to contribute to the creative area of Black art in America in a way that does not cow tow to a certain kind of "minstralry" - that's what I call it.

I think that the majority of Black art that you see in America is image oriented for a very particular reason. It relates back to this idea of "Brand Black" entertainment. America has never had a problem being entertained by Blacks in this country but always a problem being challenged by us. One of the troches of bringing back entertainment are - there are two of them. One is that it must first be posited in an a cartoon. And the second is that it try to explain the "being in the world of Blackness" to a White Art audience - through image. To me, it creates a situation wherein the Black art that you see today, 98% of it, which is image oriented, is not too far removed from the images that you see on Uncle Ben's converted rice and Aunt Jemima's pancakes that you now see in the grocery store. It is entertainment oriented toward an audience. I call it a very conciliatory Louis Armstrong-how-are-you-ism, that attempts to explain the "being in the world of Blackness" to a White audience. I am from the school of the Miles Davis-how-dare-you-ism, that deals with the principles of what

Afro-Atlantic culture is, not through the appearance of it in images, but through the principles that guide it that are very high order abstract thinking. This is evidenced by anybody that takes a look at African sculpture and the societal norms that created a society in which abstraction was primarily their means of expression.

If you look today you will see mostly image oriented stuff which I think is a crisis.

So, my contribution to the world, finally getting back to your question, is that I have maintained this connection, to genu gap a generation of African American artists who work entirely abstractly and, I keep that flame burning.

DR: I am inspired by that and I have never really thought about, or stopped to consider what you just shared, as it pertains to art.
Smoke Stack 2003 Particular Zither 19907 x 108 

TA: Well it's true of art. I think it's true of the athletic arena. I think it's true of song and dance. I think it's true, to a certain extent, to the movie industry. I mean Big Momma 2 is coming out. I mean c'mon! You know what I mean! Those kind of images, which I think Spike Lee really addressed in his Bamboozled film, are the result of a long history of Black entertainment in America, which has never ever been a problem. That's why Ben Vareen could do an Al Jolson thing at Nixon's inauguration.

Never a problem with entertainment -- Always a problem with being challenged.

And for the challenging side, you can see how people like Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Dubois were treated in this country.

The intellectual vanguard of Black America has always had a rough time because they didn't succumb to the entertainment value and the image thereof. The intelligencia has always, to a certain degree, been persecuted, particularly those who show a vision beyond; a world vision, that is beyond the fifty states of America.

DR: I think that these are not only interesting points that you bring up, but I think particularly relevant on a day like today when people are thinking about race on the heels of the death of Coretta Scott King and the contribution that she made. Those kinds of things have people contemplating the issue of race. What you are talking about is a layer that rarely gets addressed.

TA: Well, I think that you are right about the death of Coretta Scott King, rest in peace. The recent death of Rosa Parks, too, also focused it. The re-opening of the case of Emmit Till, his body being exhumed - all of these things have brought back the ghost of the Old South, right back into contemporary society.

DR: What I want to know Terry is, when you think about disappointment, is there something that disappoints you about yourself and how do you reconcile it, or live with it?

TA: Oh I often find disappointments. Sometimes I think I'm not being the best husband or father in the world, particularly when...

You know as well as I do that there is no text book on parenthood. There is no right way to do it. Every child that you come across will make you change the notes that you have already taken.

I have disappointments when I feel that in some way I have made improper judgments as far as they are concerned and may have wounded them in ways that I may never know. That's what I get disappointed by.

Sometimes you get disappointed - if I feel that I begin to get down on myself about sticking to my guns and how that might have compromised my career -- in sticking to my guns about this abstract thing.

So, sometimes I get a little disappointed maybe thinking that maybe, had I thrown in the towel and succumbed to it, I could have been more economically successful. But in the end I guess it's really not a disappointment because I feel more noble not taking part in it.

DR: And so is that part of how you reconcile it for yourself?
TA: Yes. That indeed is the reconciliation.

I think about the commercial aspect of it only in terms of how it might have benefited my family. So I get disappointed sometimes when I can't sell work and can't contribute financially through my creative efforts. But teaching takes a lot of the edge off that.

DR: Tell me -

A hundred years from now, what do you want to be remembered for?

TA: I want to be remembered as a creative individual, who in spite of the tide of the horizontal breadth of image ridden work by Black American artists, stood for something else; stood for something different.

I hope that a hundred years from now some little boy or girl somewhere, will see something that I have done, and pick up the baton and go on to continue the tradition.

Thanks Terry!


Terry Adkins, Artist, Musician and Educator, Dies at 60
By Andrew Russeth | 02/09/14
The Observer

  Terry Adkins. (Photo by LaMont Hamilton Photography)

Artist and teacher Terry Adkins, whose work in a variety of media earned him widespread and growing acclaim, died on Friday in New York at the age of 60. His New York dealer, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, who runs Salon 94, said the cause was heart failure.

“Terry was an intrepid and accomplished artist, performer, musician, and educator who approached his life and work with enormous spirit, audacity, humor, and indefatigable intellect,” Ms. Rohatyn said in a statement she released via e-mail. “He was a beloved professor of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania, whose influence will be felt by younger artists for years to come.”

Mr. Adkins grew up in a musical household—his mother was an amateur clarinetist and pianist, and his father played organ and sang in the  church choir—and music played a vital role in his practice. “I try to make sculpture and other works of art that have a feeling of being as ethereal and transient as music,” he told an interviewer last year. When it came to music, he added, “I’m a torch bearer of the avant-garde from the ‘60s, so that has a very visceral, kind of physical quality to it.” That description could equally well fit his meaty, elegantly  muscular sculptures, assemblages that often include wood, metal, textiles and found objects, like musical instruments (drums, horns) or stereo equipment, and that have the look of ritual or devotional pieces.

'Norfolk' (2012) by Adkins. (Courtesy the artist and Salon 94)
‘Norfolk’ (2012) by Adkins. 
(Courtesy the artist and Salon 94)

Picking objects to include in his assemblages, he said that he was interested in a process he termed “potential disclosure,” which he described as “an animistic approach to materials where you feel that they have more than just physical mass. There’s a spirit in them.” Sifting through junkyards early in his career, he would look for “materials that sing out to you, or identify themselves as being, of having the potential to do something else, besides just being in this junk pile,” he said.

His sculptures were often inspired by, and dedicated to, historical figures, from musical heroes like blues singer Bessie Smith, guitarist Jimi Hendrix (whose music he credited with saving his life, drawing him away from friends who were negative influences) and composer Ludwig van Beethoven to the writer and activist W. E. B. Du Bois and the abolitionist John Brown. What united them? “Super-human feats of singular vision, overcoming adversity and being able to affect large bodies of people by these actions,” he said.

Mr. Adkins was born in 1953, and was adept at drawing at an early age. “I didn’t consider it to be anything special because I was good at it,” he said, and instead focused more of his energies on music early in his life. He completed his undergraduate studies in 1975 at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., and earned an M.S. at Illinois State University in Normal, Ill., in 1977 and an M.F.A. at the University of Kentucky in Lexington in 1979.

He performed music throughout his career, forming the Lone Wolf Recital Corps in 1986, with which he performed widely, frequently as a component of art installations he produced. The Studio Museum in Harlem has a video of his recent performance with the Corps, as part of its “Radical Presence” exhibition (in conjunction with New York University’s Grey Art Gallery), available here.

A professor at the University of Pennsylvania, he was quick to say that he tried to keep his art-making and educating separate, but conceded on one occasion that, in his art, “I guess you could say that I am [teaching] in that I’m trying to educate the viewing audience to things that I feel would otherwise be forgotten.”

Terry Adkins, Blanche Bruce and the Lone Wolf Recital Corps performing 'The Last Trumpet' in the Performa 13 biennial. (Courtesy Performa/Salon 94)

Terry Adkins, Blanche Bruce and the Lone Wolf Recital Corps performing 'The Last Trumpet' in the Performa 13 biennial. (Courtesy Performa/Salon 94) Terry Adkins, Blanche Bruce and the Lone Wolf Recital Corps performing ‘The Last Trumpet’ in the Performa 13 biennial. (Courtesy Performa/Salon 94)

His work is held in numerous public collections, including those of Tate Modern, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Mr. Adkins had recent solo shows at the Tang Museum at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill., and has been tapped to appear in this year’s Whitney Biennial.

He is survived by his wife, Merele Williams-Adkins, and two children, Titus Hamilton Adkins and Turiya Hamlet Adkins.

Addressing his influences in a 2012 interview, Mr. Adkins mentioned the importance attending Catholic Church as a child had on his eventual art career. “This early exposure to…an architectural space that was meant for ceremony as well as contemplation had a profound effect on me,” he said.

“I don’t know whether faith is the right word,” he added later. “I think it has to do with my belief that art can be a force for change.”


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6 Exhibitions for PennDesign’s Terry Adkins

Media Contact: Jeanne Leong | 215-573-8151
April 26, 2012


As a teenager growing up in the 1960s, Terry Adkins, a fine arts professor in the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, was influenced by the major cultural, political and social events of the era -- and the music of Jimmy Hendrix. Adkins’ recital, “The Principalities,” which opened April 26 at Galerie Zidoun in Luxembourg, features that era and the singer, songwriter and guitarist, who died in 1970 at age 27.
Adkins’ work examines Hendrix from the perspective of his short stint in 1961 as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky. Adkins casts Hendrix as an angel descending to earth described by Dionysius the Areopagite in his De Coelesti Hierarchia (Celestial Hierarchy) as being from the sacred order of the Principalities, who are princely angelic soldiers who govern the earthly realm of generative ideas.

Adkins presents his mixed-media work using architecture, sculpture, photography, video, drawings and sound.

Hendrix’s “creative imagination, charismatic persona and avant-garde fashion sense all changed my life,” Adkins says. “His progressive politics and otherworldly musings ushered in my manhood and expanded my consciousness.”

Hendrix’s profound effect on Adkins is reflected in the installation.

“I developed a heightened awareness of Eastern poetics by becoming a student of his compelling lyricism and a full-fledged pacifist upon hearing his Machine Gun,” Adkins says.

Six versions of Hendrix’s song opposing the Vietnam war are incorporated into “The Principalities” installation along with Martin Luther King’s “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam” speech.

It’s been a busy time for Adkins, with exhibitions in 5 other galleries and museums worldwide.

Currently, he has a suite of prints, “The Philadelphia Negro Reconsidered,” exhibited on campus at the Amistad Gallery in DuBois College House.

His work is included in “The Bearden Project” at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and in “Intense Proximity” at the La Triennale in Paris.

Adkins’ work is also part of a group exhibition, “True North,” which opens in May at the Anchorage Museum of Art.

And, in July, Adkins’ work will be the subject of a 30-year retrospective, “Recital,” at Skidmore College’s Tang Museum.

Terry Adkins: "Darkwater" at Gallery 51
Presented with MCLA's celebration of W.E. B. DuBois
By Jane Hudson - 09/04/2006
Terry Adkins: "Darkwater" at Gallery 51 - Berkshire Fine Arts

An installation of sculpture/performative objects/sites as a tribute to the memory and works of W.E.B. DuBois at 51 Main St., North Adams, MA

"I am a sculptor, musician and latter-day practitioner of the long-standing African-American tradition of ennobling worthless things. My work is primarily forged out of the accretion of found materials in a process called "potential disclosure" (as opposed to found object). Therein I attempt to clothe the potentialities that the articles themselves suggest, stripping away the unnecessary to get at the essence of things. My approach to the creative experience is intuitive, driven by impulse and faith rather than by reason or dialectic critique." (from Terry Adkins artist statement)

Born into an era of rising African-American consciousness within the urban foment of Washington, D.C., Terry Adkins has been schooled in the language of contemporary art, poetic metaphor and the politics of race in America. These various syntaxes combine in his sculptural installations to speak eloquently of historical truths, emotionally evocative sites, and the wisdom of jazz.

In 'Darkwater' Adkins celebrates the soul-consciousness of W.E.B. DuBois who, more than any other figure in the struggle of African-Americans to attain full selfhood, combined oratorical power with a political philosophy that inspired generations. In 'Postlude', the central piece in the exhibition, Adkins constructs a trough-like container filled with water upon which float a grid of black spheres. At either end of the tank stand two transparent towers containing bubbling water which sparkles with internal light.. We are reminded of the bier of a dead prophet and the brilliance of his ideas that continue to fulminate.

Beside the main stands a large iron cage. It has the decorative quality of a pulpit perhaps, but also the dangerous affect of a prison cell. This is a cage! The artist uses iron quite liberally in many of his pieces, and it has the effect of reminding the viewer of manacles and other such devices used to constrain bodies.

This piece is one of the objects of 'potential disclosure' which the artist sets in motion with the suggestion of an action.

Pictured here wearing his saxophone, Adkins celerates Jazz as the redemptive force of his culture. Funerary drums hang with black crepe  from which are suspended ink spools suggesting the powerful message hidden in the music of DuBois words. The drum, its roots in African  life, is transformed in American culture to communicate the passion and brilliance of the disenfranchised. We are instructed about lynching with maps of the behavior, but we are moved to its reality by the harness and bells that hang from the ceiling. Music and violence have been welded together in the caldron of the struggle.

There is no question that this work is an indictment, but spoken with compassionate tenderness and devotion to the essential humanity it seeks to celebrate. If you can make it to the performance on Saturday, Sept. 9, it should be wonderful.
Terry Adkins, jazz man

Terry Adkins
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Terry Roger Adkins (May 9, 1953 – February 8, 2014) was an American artist.[1][2] He was Professor of Fine Arts in the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania.[3] He was born in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Fisk University with a B.S., from Illinois State University with a M.S., and from the University of Kentucky with an M.F.A. He leads the Lone Wolf Recital Corps that has premiered works at ICA London, Rote Fabrik, Zurich, New World Symphony, Miami, P.S.1 MOMA, and ICA Philadelphia.[4]
Adkins died of heart failure at Brooklyn, New York in February of 2014; he was 60 years old.[5]


1 Awards
2 Exhibitions
3 References
4 External links


2009 Rome Prize [6][7]
2008 USA Fellows [8]


2012 The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York[9]
2009 Gallery of the American Academy, American Academy in Rome, Italy[10]
2006 Gallery 51 [11]
1999 Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania [12][13]
1997 International Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
1995 Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris, New York
1987 Salama-Caro Gallery, London
1986 Project Binz 39, Zurich


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^ "Salon 94 profile".
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^ "Artist's Biographies". Retrieved 2012-07-09.
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^ "PennDesign | Terry Adkins". Retrieved 2012-07-09.
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^ "Charles Gaines/Terry Adkins Collaborative". 2009-08-06. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
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^ [1][dead link]
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^ "Penn School of Design Professor Terry Adkins Wins Rome Prize in Visual Arts | Penn News". 2009-04-20. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
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^ Moyemont, Terry. "Terry Adkins - Profile - Visual Arts - USA Projects - Artist Fundraising & Advocacy". Retrieved 2012-07-09.
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^ Terry Adkins RecitalJuly 14 - December 2, 2012 (2010-05-15). "Tang Museum | Exhibitions | Terry Adkins - Recital". Retrieved 2012-07-09.
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^ "Terry Adkins - Meteor Stream". Retrieved 2012-07-09.
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^ Hudson, Jane. "Terry Adkins: "Darkwater" at Gallery 51". Berkshire Fine Arts. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
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^ "Past Exhibitions > Terry Adkins: Relay Hymn - ICA - Institute of Contemporary Art - Philadelphia, PA". 1999-11-07. Retrieved 2012-07-09.
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^ "Terry Adkins: Relay Hymn". Retrieved 2012-07-09.
External links[edit]
"Terry Adkins", Dana Roc
"Terry Adkins", Artnet

"At the AAR Gallery, Meteor Stream: Recital in Four Dominions", by Terry Adkins After John Brown

Public artwork at the Harlem - 125 Street train station, commissioned by MTA Arts for Transit