Terry Adkins

May 16 - July 6, 2024
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It is with great honour that Galerie Greta Meert presents the first solo exhibition by Terry Adkins in Brussels, Zürich.

Terry Adkins (1953-2014) was a visionary American artist whose career spanned four decades and within it developed a multifaceted practice integrating sculpture, live music, spoken word and video. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Adkins’ evolution as an artist was marked by a relentless pursuit of innovation in all fields, had a deep commitment to history and culture, and a dedication to challenging the boundaries of artistic expression.

The artist’s career began with a foundation in music. He studied classical music and performed as a saxophonist, experiences that would profoundly influence his later practice. After earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts (printmaking) from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, Adkins studied art at Illinois State University and the University of Kentucky, where he honed his skills as a sculptor and conceptual artist.

The title of this exhibition puts the focus on his stay in Zurich, Switzerland in the latter part of the 1980s. The ensemble presents itself as a blueprint of how this period witness his work’s development in terms of technique and scale, but also, as a person and an artist with an African-American identity, how he saw his own position within the artistic landscape. As a matter of principle, he stayed wary of facile and lazy expectations and assumptions others might have of him, both towards his own artistic position and within a broader historical and societal framework, such as for example the African diaspora. In doing so, he fuelled his radical avoidance of banalities in any form.

The bulk of the works included in this exhibition were previously shown in this period. Using a residency at Project Binz39 (1986) as a base, he showed a radically new form of small-scale sculpture, followed by nowlegendary junctures at Galerie Emmerich-Baumann (1987) and Galerie Andy Jllien (1989), all in Zurich.

The works from the 1980s show the genesis of his artistic maturity. These works betray his preoccupation with materiality, reflected in the use of old pieces of wood, copper and metal sheets mixed with iridescent paints or technical stains that had no classical, painterly function.

He continued to push the boundaries of materiality, experimenting with unconventional materials and techniques to create sculptural installations that engaged the viewer both visually and tactually.

The vast mental spectrum with which Adkins attacked sculpture, installation or sheet of paper coincided perfectly with his critique of how the masses behold ‘genius’. He maintained an interest in the other and the unexpected, for example mostly unknown aspects of historical figures such as Beethoven, Jimmy Hendrix, Bessie Smith or the militant abolitionist activist John Brown. Building this approach into his visual work disturbed the awkward boundaries between abstraction and figuration, a distinction he disliked because, in his view, it interfered with the symbiosis of mind and matter.

A favourite notion of the artist was potential disclosure. The works in this exhibition are already advanced nuclei of the development of this way of thinking, a gaze fixed beyond merely physical form and towards the spiritual. Materials that one would only see as waste, or as lost or discarded objects, are the building blocks of his practice. His work confidently affirms the used object does not simply manifest itself physically, but is charged, magical, bestowed with a sense of the lost presence of its previous context. Sculpture from used objects evoking and memorialising history.

Adkins aimed to extract potential from material, unraveling and probing all its possibilities, his studio a site of this alchemy. Here, new interactions could emerge, a convergence, echo and pre-echo of meanings and significances existing outside of the now.


Apart from private collections worldwide, Terry Adkins’ work is also in various institutional collections such as MoMA (New York, USA), Whitney Museum of American Art (NY, USA), Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY, USA), The Smithsonian Institute (Washington D.C., USA), SF MoMA (San Francisco,USA), MoCA (Los Angeles, USA), Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (USA), Tate Modern (London, UK),…

A selection of recent solo exhibitions include: Recital, Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY (USA, 2012); Soldier, Shepherd, Prophet, Martyr: Videos from 1998-2013, University Galleries, Illinois State University (USA, 2017); Projects 107: Lone Wolf Recital Corps, Museum of Modern Art, New York (USA, 2017); Terry Adkins: Renditions I – III, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, TN (USA, 2018); Terry Adkins: Infinity Is Always Less Than One, Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, FL (USA, 2018); Terry Adkins: Our Sons and Daughters Ever on the Altar, The Frist Art Museum, Nashville, TN (USA, 2020); Terry Adkins: Resounding, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, St. Louis, MS (USA, 2020); Terry Adkins, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, NY (USA, 2022); Terry Adkins: Flumen Orationis (from The Principalities), Charlotte & Philip Hanes Art Gallery, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC (USA, 2023).