Derrick Adams is the longtime curator of Russell and Danny Simmons' Rush Foundation, a native of Baltimore, a Columbia MFA and now, as he approaches 40, with an astounding show of power and poignance at the Collette Blanchard Gallery, Derrick is an artist to be reckoned with.
Bulding up from the weakest piece in the show (a little too close to the practice of Adams' mentor David Hammons), a mirror bedecked in the King Kong plushies which Derrick collects, Adams nevertheless throws down a gauntlet of taboo, which he maximizes with two esthetic building blocks: a wall of bricks and the torso of Mike Tyson.
Tyson was never more fearsome or vulnerable, as in various works Adams bedecks images of Tyson’s body, his head and the back of his neck with a frieze of bricks, which always seem on the verge of crumbling. In the back of the gallery, Derrick wryly places a row of decaying cement busts of a Tyson "clone," Darth Vader (which quickly sold out, by the way), and it is off to the races, as the rest of Adams' sculptures dance in place to a monotune of dignity and despair.
Derrick covers stacks of bricks in ghetto hoodies, leather jackets and an academic's robe and other accoutrements of the blood. But, just as the bricks are only constructed from sheetrock, so the duds are created from empty souls. The artist's argument is that expectations of strength are merely spent muscles, worn down by pity and poverty. Adams thus styles himself as a witness and a minor savior of what is best about the street, a grim beauty of person and place.
In this purpose, he replaces the randomness of Hammons with a deliberate minimalis, which, whenever it verges on cliché, re-establishes itself as the true love and compassion of the best art. The show has been briefly extended through the first days of March and is well worth a visit.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).