High Road: Derrick Adams at MAD

Derrick Adams: Sanctuary, through August 12, 2018; at the Museum of Arts and Design, 2 Columbus Circle (59th St.)

Adams’s art practice has been grounded from the start on shifting, interdisciplinary mediums and methods; thus, it makes so much aesthetic sense (first of all) to see his recent collage-type production in the context of an installation at MAD.  The nominally functional associations with this venue are manifest in Adams’s theme and commemoration: safety and comfort on the road for African American travelers in Jim Crow America, as published in The Negro Motorist Greenbook (1936-67).  Adams’s titular terminology–sanctuary–may recall for some the decade-long traveling exhibition documented in the volume, Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America, (Twin Palms Publishers, 2000), to which Adams’s project offers supplement and antidote.

The gallery is bifurcated by a raised, yellow-lined “highway” reminiscent of an enlarged toy car track set, dotted with Dada vehicles comprised of sport caps of the era on wheels.  At several “intersections,” doors open onto a back wall of sharp-edged, cubistic collage-paintings, suggesting various types of establishments and topography through building-valise-parking lot hybrids embellished with key objects.  This group is rhythmically unified by brick patterns that have appeared throughout Adams’s oeuvre and may symbolize security and strength.  Elsewhere, slices of the road continue up pedestals topped with architectural models that repeat the door motif in miniature and are partly cast from milk cartons to evoke self-sufficient “beacons.”  Another wall is papered with blown-up, marked-up pages from The Green Book; which engages viewers in a search for recognized names and locales.  A playroom/craft shop sensibility hovers (also seen in much of Adams’s earlier work), which, leavens the historical phenomenon at hand, while the clean, carefully constructed geometry and clever signifying throughout  betray refined formal and conceptual preoccupation.

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