I Can Show You Better Than I Can Tell You, a solo exhibition by Derrick Adams, comprises a cycle of sixteen large-scale works from Adams’s new series Motion Picture Paintings, 2020-22, which extend the artist’s signature deconstructed, cubist-style portraits in a new cinematic direction. Freeze framed moments—drawn from movies, media, and the artist’s imagination—are emblazoned with a variety of graphic texts reminiscent of film titles. “Black life is a movie,” says Adams, “a psychological thriller, situational comedy, romance, adventure drama, suspense, and horror all rolled into one.” Opening at The Flag Art Foundation in Chelsea on January 13th.
Through composition and imagery, Derrick Adams references various aspects of film production, including movie trailers, billboards, lobby cards, and subtitles, as well as cinematic tropes like the close-up shot and theatrical poses. Ranging in palette and scale, the paintings in I Can Show You Better Than I Can Tell You operate individually, yet remain linked, like panels of a storyboard. Moments of joy, leisure, and fantasy are depicted in scenarios influenced by day-to-day life, family photographs, African sculpture, songs, and movies.
Ready to sing the gospel and/or cheer on a prize fight, If I Wasn’t Saved…, 2022, depicts a church choir dressed in white robes, raising hands encased in red boxing-gloves, over the banner-style text “LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!” Community gatherings at church continue in SWA, 2021, wherein the text “SISTER ACT”—a nod to the 1992 comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg—hovers over a beaming parishioner decked out in her Sunday best. Similarly structured around a female archetype, All With a Soft Touch, 2021, is painted in a pastel palette inspired by Barkley Hendricks and focuses on a flight attendant enjoying the serenity of a plane full of sleeping passengers. “THIS MUST BE HEAVEN,” the title of a 1977 song by American funk and R&B band Brainstorm, floats above their heads in puffy, cloud-style font. In Onward and Upward, 2021, passersby walk past a movie poster from Soul Plane, a 2004 comedy about the maiden flight of a Black-owned airline; the painting’s long, horizontal composition draws inspiration from the film’s promotional poster, Alex Katz’s Ada’s Garden, 2000, and Adams’s observations from his Brooklyn neighborhood. Layered with the text “TOWN & COUNTRY,” The Horse You Rode in On, 2022, depicts an elegant man styled in a feathered fedora, set against the backdrop of the grounds of a lux country estate.
America’s first Black variety show, the long running PBS television series Soul! (1968–1973), and Mr. SOUL!, 2018, the recent documentary film on its host and producer Ellis Haizlip, are referenced in the painting So Much to Celebrate, 2021. Party paraphernalia sets the stage with a “HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR. SOUL!” banner, sculptures in gallery-like vitrines adorned with party hats, floating musical notes, and the lone security guard blowing a pink gum bubble that mirrors the colorful balloons framing the composition. Haizlip’s legacy vis-à-vis Soul! was about shining a bright light on the vibrancy and richness of Black life, artistry, culture, and community. This sentiment is intrinsic to the paintings in FLAG’s exhibition and the whole of Adams’s Motion Picture Paintings series.
The myriad ways in which Black communities are reflected in and refracted by American history, entertainment consumerism, and iconography, and the dynamic relationship between personal identity and cultural environment are ongoing concerns in Adams’s work. The Motion Picture Paintings can be read as an extension of his early exhibition, LIVE and IN COLOR, at Tilton Gallery (2014), in which imagery from sitcoms, game shows, and dramas, were presented in collaged construction resembling vintage tv screens. In this new series, Adams expands his iconography, incorporating an abundance of color and breaking away from pre-determining structures, thereby allowing the compositions to freely evolve and express their own moods and dramas.
Additional projects by Derrick Adams for fall 2022 through spring 2023:
Hav & Mar, a new restaurant in Chelsea by chef Marcus Samuelsson, includes artworks and branding by Adams, a long-time friend (opened November 2022); Sweet Spot, a solo presentation at LGDR in Hong Kong, features seven works from the Motion Picture Paintings series. (November 10-December 15, 2022); Art at Amtrak, a large-scale solo installation by Derrick Adams, commissioned for the concourse space of New York’s Penn Station, titled The City Is My Refuge (January 19-June 2023); The Last Resort, an artist retreat for Black creatives, Baltimore, MD (Spring 2023).
Derrick Adams (b. 1970, Baltimore, MD) is a multi-disciplinary artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Adams earned a BFA from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY, in 1996, and an MFA from Columbia University, New York, NY, in 2003. Recent solo exhibitions include Sweet Spot, LGDR HK, Hong Kong, (2022); LOOKS, Cleveland Art Museum, Cleveland, OH (2021); Derrick Adams and Barbara Earl Thomas: Packaged Black, Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA (2021); Style Variations, Salon 94, New York, NY (2021); Sanctuary, The Momentary, Bentonville, AR (2021); among others. His work has been included in numerous group exhibitions, most recently including The Eyes Have It, Lehman College Art Gallery, Bronx, NY (2021); and I will wear you in my heart of heart, The FLAG Art Foundation, New York, NY (2021); TEXTURES: the history and art of Black hair, Kent State University Museum, Kent, OH (2020); Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA (2020); among others. Adams is an alumnus of the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2002) and Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation’s Studio Program (2003). He is a recipient of a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Residency (2019), a Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship (2018), a Studio Museum Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize (2016), and a Louis Comfort Tiffany Award (2009). Adams’s work resides in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Birmingham Museum of Art.
Derrick Adams: I Can Show You Better Than I Can Tell You will be on view from January 13 to March 11, 2023 at The Flag Foundation, 545 West 25th Street, 9th Floor, NYC.
The FLAG Art Foundation is a nonprofit exhibition space that encourages the appreciation of contemporary art among diverse audiences. Founded in 2008 by art patron and philanthropist Glenn Fuhrman, FLAG presents rotating exhibitions that include artworks borrowed from a variety of sources. FLAG invites a broad range of creative individuals to curate thematic group shows and works in-depth with artists to provide curatorial support and a platform to realize solo exhibitions.
While you’re there, be sure to view Spotlight: Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, on view to February 4, 2023.