I’ve been fortunate enough to write about Derrick Adams’ artwork multiple times. I spoke to him in the summer of 2020 when he had a show up at the Hudson River Museum. He paints Black people at leisure. Doing so is radical as similar images are almost non-existent in mass media and art history. He further explores Black leisure in, Derrick Adams Sanctuary, at the Momentary in Bentonville, AR through June 6, 2021.
Taking inspiration from The Negro Motorist Green Book, known today as The Green Book, Adams reimagines safe destinations for the Black American traveler in an exhibition featuring mixed-media collage and sculpture.
What was The Green Book?
From 1936 to 1967, during the Jim Crow era in the United States, The Green Book was an annually published guidebook for Black road-trippers that identified businesses, hotels, restaurants, and tourist homes that were nondiscriminatory and welcoming. It was created and published by Harlem-based postal worker Victor Hugo Green and his wife Alma D. Green.
Though officially editor for only a few years, Alma played a significant role in the creation and evolution of The Green Book, an important part of American history that has only recently begun to be explored.
The wallpaper seen in the exhibition is made with pages from various editions of The Green Book.
Derrick Adams Sanctuary
Sanctuary consists of collage pieces made of fabric, acrylic paint, wood, metal, paper, and plastic on wood paneling; miniature houses, known as Beacons, made of concrete, wood, paper, and light fixtures, and inspired by childhood school projects of making houses out of milk cartons; and works made of fabric, thread, leather, wood, and metal hardware that resemble car doors.
The work titled Keep Your Head Down and Your Eyes Open (2018) resembles a highway and is populated with driving caps on wheels to represent travelers in cars. In creating this work, Adams recalled childhood memories of relatives and friends who visited his family in Baltimore and the clothing and accessories they donned for the journey.
The depiction of Black America at leisure is a theme of continued interest to Adams, who explores how leisure, relaxation, and reflection can be a political act when embraced by members of Black or working-class communities.
In addition to the exhibition, the Breakroom area (located off Gallery 1) will serve as an interpretation space to continue exploring the themes found in Sanctuary. The space will offer recommendations for books, films, and podcasts to learn more about Black American travel. It also offers a “Plan Your Road Trip” activity, where visitors can plan an American road trip using locations approved in The Green Book. The activity examines how the size of the world can change depending on the color of your skin.
About Derrick Adams
Derrick Adams (b. 1970) is a Baltimore-born, Brooklyn-based artist whose critically acclaimed work spans painting, collage, sculpture, performance, video, and sound installations. Adams received his MFA from Columbia University, BFA from Pratt Institute, and is an alumnus of the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.
Adams has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions at The Gallery in Baltimore City Hall, Museum of Arts and Design, Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, and Hudson River Museum.
His work is in numerous public collections such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Arts and Design, and The Studio Museum in Harlem.