By his late 50s, conceptual artist Terry Adkins was finally getting the international attention he deserved. He was, in the words of New York Times writer Guy Trebay, "a newly minted breakaway star." Then in February 2014, Adkins, 60, died of heart failure in his Brooklyn home, a month before a new major work was to have its premiere in the Whitney Biennial.
Some of Adkins' works involve modified musical instruments used in recitals paying tribute to black figures in history he felt should have been more widely known - Sojourner Truth and W.E.B. Dubois among them. But Aviarium, completed in 2014 before Adkins' death, was different: It was a sound-based piece that didn't make a peep.
Composed of different-size cymbals stacked at intervals on aluminum rods projecting outward from a wall, the piece represented vectors of birdsong in three dimensions, showing the sonic patterns of different species' songs. It was, in many ways, the perfect embodiment of Adkins' aim for his art, which he stated in an interview on the website danaroc.com in 2006: "My quest has been to find a way to make music as physical as sculpture might be, and sculpture as ethereal as music is."
Now, two years later, Adkins, who was a professor of fine arts at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design and who lived in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, is being remembered for his collaborative leanings in an exhibition at the Arthur Ross Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania.
Organized by Dejáy B. Duckett, an associate director and curator of the gallery, "Darkwater Revival: After Terry Adkins" brings together Adkins' works and those of his former students and members of the Penn community influenced by his artistic practice.
Adkins is represented by a series of pieces from his 2002 solo exhibition at the Arthur Ross Gallery, titled "Darkwater: A Recital in Four Dominions, Terry Adkins After W.E.B. Dubois." It includes his Darkwater Record (2002-08), a porcelain bust of Mao Tse-tung atop a stack of Nakamichi 550 cassette-tape recorders with looped tapes of excerpts from Dubois' speech "Socialism and the American Negro." Also included is Sermonesque, a chairlike sculpture fashioned from found wrought-iron fence, with a snare drum mounted to its side like an extended arm or microphone.
Throughout, Adkins' ingenuity with materials and ability to express the possibility of sound or music through his abstract compositions of found materials emerges. And it is echoed in many of the works here by other artists: in Jessica Slaven's vividly colored, seemingly pulsing pencil drawings and acrylic paintings of geometric patterns; in Sean Riley's strips of vintage denim sewn to paper in wavy grids; in Matt Neff's iteration of a painting from Josef Albers' Homage to the Square series, a black-and-white photograph of such a painting printed on aluminum and set inside a "frame" of dingy cotton batting; and in Jamal Cyrus' subtle, laser-cut-canvas compositions evoking black identity's absorption by mainstream culture.
Adkins' generosity of spirit flows throughout this exhibition. You can almost hear it.
The exhibition also features works by Nsenga Knight, Ernel Martinez and Keir Johnston, Tameka Norris, Demetrius Oliver, Ivanco Talevski, Sarah Tortora, and Wilmer Wilson IV.
"Darkwater Revival: After Terry Adkins." Through Dec. 11 at the Arthur Ross Gallery, University of Pennsylvania, 220 S. 34th St. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Information: 215-898-3617 or www.arthurrossgallery.org.
Up against the wall
Philadelphia artist David Guinn is known for the murals he has painted in this city, but he's gotten around a bit, too. Amman, Jordan; Montreal; New York; Washington; and Chicago all boast Guinn murals. Now, sleepy Glenside is going to get the Guinn touch. This spring, he will begin work on a mural at the Glenside Station with help from Arcadia University students taking a course with him in mural painting (a subject he also teaches at Moore College of Art and Design).
It therefore seemed a perfect time to introduce the public and students to Guinn's work routine through an exhibition of his preparatory sketches, paintings, and designs.
Curated by Matthew Borgen, Arcadia's exhibitions coordinator, "David Guinn: Before the Wall" is the first exhibition of Guinn's preparatory studies for his projects, offering his early painted and drawn imaginings for walls that became such familiar Philadelphia touchstones as Crystal Snowscape (at 629 S. 10th St.); Gimme Shelter (at the Morris Animal Refuge, 1242 Lombard St.); Fairmount (on the exterior of the Bishop's Collar, 2349 Fairmount Ave., in collaboration with Phillip Adams); Electric Street (at Ninth and Wharton Streets); Garden of Delight (behind a community garden at Sartain and Locust Streets); Be Kind to Animals (at 22nd and Dauphin Streets); Autumn Revisited (on the exterior of the Fleisher Art Memorial, at 719 Catharine St.); Growth and Change (at Fourth and Manton Streets); and Wissahickon Station (at 5100 Rochelle Ave.).
For the David Guinn you may not know, check out his installation Night Room at Marginal Utility, inspired by the scene in the film Apocalypse Now in which Martin Sheen confronts Marlon Brando's Col. Kurtz inside a Khmer temple. Lighting designer Drew Billiau and composer/musician Yanni Papadopoulos collaborated with Guinn to create this eerie space.
"David Guinn: Before the Wall." Through Jan. 8 at the Great Room Lobby, Arcadia University. Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Information: 215-517-2629 or www.arcadia.edu/events/2016/10/10/david-guinn-wall.
"David Guinn: Night Room." Through Dec. 11 at Marginal Utility, 319 N. 11th St. Hours: Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. www.marginalutility.org.