Collection Spotlight: Derrick Adams Selects

By Hudson River Museum

In keeping with the themes of leisure and celebration present in his work, artist Derrick Adams curated a selection of artworks from the Museum’s permanent collection that highlight our interactions with water: visual, physical, and emotional.

Self-Portrait on Float (2019) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum

Water is a classic element of landscape painting found in many artworks in the Hudson River Museum’s collection. Flowing rivers, placid lakes, and turbulent seas are often used to characterize a locale, anchor a composition, or demonstrate painting prowess. In conjunction with the Museum’s exhibition Derrick Adams: Buoyant, the artist chose the following works, which cover a wide range of styles, from representational to abstract, and span the 1870s to the 2010s. This print, a self-portrait by Adams, is a recent addition to the collection.

Quilt: 'Pieced Flowers' (1890) by Catherine McCarthyHudson River Museum

Derrick Adams was thrilled to include this new acquisition: an original copy of the Ebony magazine that featured a story on Martin Luther King Jr.’s trip to Jamaica in 1967 and originally motivated Adams’ exploration of Black leisure and his concept for the Floaters series. The accompanying images show Dr. King relaxing with his wife Coretta and in the pool, but moments like these were respite from hard work on his book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? The Kings stayed at a home owned by Dr. Percy Jayse, an English plastic surgeon, whose retreat overlooked Ocho Rios Bay.

Quilt: 'Log Cabin - Barn Raising' Pattern by UnknownHudson River Museum

This is radical imagery. This photoshoot is one of the primary inspirations for my body of work, Culture Club, and its Floaters series. That during the time of unrest and struggle, Martin Luther King Jr. was able to rest and recharge with his family on vacation, showing his love of family and his humanity. That these images don’t come up as much in a Google search was the motivating factor in my creating work of Black bodies at leisure.
—Derrick Adams

The Curvey II (2014) by Winfred RembertHudson River Museum

This work exemplifies the motivation in my work and has similar sentiment.
—Derrick Adams

Recently donated to the Museum, this artwork by Winfred Rembert radiates the same expression of Black joy that pervades the Derrick Adams: Buoyant exhibition.

Rembert grew up in the 1950s in the segregated South, where he labored in the cotton and peanut fields with his family. He is one of the few people known to have survived an attempted lynching and has not shied away from depicting harsh realities throughout his career. But the artist also finds power in celebrating play. As a child, he and his friends sometimes skipped school to meet in the woods and swim under the railroad trestle they called the “curvey.”

Man’s Swimsuit (1920)Hudson River Museum

The early twentieth century was a transformative period for swimwear. Largely inspired by a need for functionality and safety in the water, garments transitioned from baggy clothing that covered arms and legs to fitted knitwear. Topless swim trunks for men would not gain acceptance until the 1930s. Today, it is hard to believe that men and women entered the water wearing what were essentially wool sweaters. But wool, with its residual lanolin, or natural wax, was more impervious to water damage than cotton.

Woman’s Swimsuit (1925–30)Hudson River Museum

The change to form-fitting, limb-revealing clothing for beaches and pools was also reflected in a new name, swimsuits, which made clear the athletic pursuit of swimming, which the garments facilitated. The older term, “bathing suits,” suggested a less strenuous activity of wading in the water.

At first, the new styles resulted in scandals and even arrests, especially for women. But by 1930, fashion designers took notice, and decorative details began to appear, such as these contrasting pockets and shoulder straps, which cross the back to tie as a belt.

Untitled (From Four Etchings) (1989–90) by Eric FischlHudson River Museum

Eric Fischl is a key figure in the generation of artists who embraced representational subject matter after the reign of abstraction in the 1950s and 1960s. Known for depicting figures in private, unguarded moments, he has returned to the subject of people on beaches again and again, in painting and etching. The contrast between these unselfconsciously naked people and the Victorian bathers in Winslow Homer’s print (seen next) is a reminder of how much American moral codes about the body have changed.

I love the sense of freedom, discovery, and exploration in this work.
—Derrick Adams

The Bathers (1873-08-02) by Winslow HomerHudson River Museum

Winslow Homer began his career as an illustrator for newspapers and rose to fame with coverage of the Civil War. In the 1870s, he turned away from scenes of conflict and duty to depict people at leisure, including beach scenes in New Jersey. The writer of the text that accompanied Homer's print had mixed feelings: There is nothing particularly attractive in a crowd of heads bobbing up and down in the water, though there may be a great deal of enjoyment in the sport itself, when the temperature of the water is at just the right degree, and the surf lively enough to give exhilaration without the sense of danger. (“Sea-Bathers,” Harper’s Weekly, August 2, 1873).

It looks like one bather is using the horizon to hold them up. The other bather’s arm is also oddly positioned. Are they trying to reorient themselves on dry land? Their faces look both spent and refreshed by their time in the water.
—Derrick Adams

Summertime in Italy (with Line) (1966) by Robert MotherwellHudson River Museum

Seaside landscapes were an essential part of Abstract Expressionist Robert Motherwell’s visual wheelhouse, as he grew up on the Pacific coast and later painted in East Hampton and Provincetown. Here, he reduces a beach landscape—white sand by blue water—to essential forms, rendered with great energy. Summertime in Italy (with Lines) is part of a series of artworks inspired by his time spent in 1960 at the Italian beach resort town of Alassio, with his then wife, the abstract painter Helen Frankenthaler.

I appreciate the abstractness of space in this work and how it minimally portrays the plan view of nature.
—Derrick Adams

Sailors on the Deck of the USS Worcester (ca. 1948) by UnknownHudson River Museum

Luther V. Garrison Jr. (standing, right) is a Yonkers native who served in the Navy leading up to and during the Korean War. As seen here, there were moments to relax with friends while in training and working on the ship.

I love the sense of brotherly love combined with a sense of not knowing what lies ahead for them. Will they look back on this moment?
—Derrick Adams

Sailor on the Deck of the USS Worcester (ca. 1948) by UnknownHudson River Museum

Leisure where you can get it. The precariousness of the chair is a metaphor. Gently rocking one moment, crashing to the deck, another. But in this moment it looks to be only about joy.
—Derrick Adams

This and the previous photograph were acquired as part of a collecting initiative to recognize and celebrate important and diverse stories and everyday moments in the lives of African Americans from Yonkers. The images now form part of a digital archive about the history of the city and its communities.

Ludlow Boys on the Hudson River (ca. 1938) by George DaniellHudson River Museum

George Daniell, a celebrated mid-twentieth-century photographer for Time and Life magazines, was born in Yonkers not far from where the Hudson River Museum stands today. Many residents, from children to young adults, swam in the river currents, surrounded by railroad, shipping traffic, and the noise of nearby factories. After getting a degree in painting and photography from Yale University, Daniell returned to Yonkers and documented the urban riverbank he knew so well.

More contrasts. Soft bodies being in the moment, against jagged rocks, river currents, and unstoppable trains.
—Derrick Adams

Palisades on the Hudson, New York Central Lines (ca. 1935) by Leslie RaganHudson River Museum

In the early twentieth century, the rise of poster art—due to innovations in color printing—inspired railroad companies to use this new advertising format to promote travel.

Here, Leslie Ragan placed a figure on the Yonkers hillside enjoying the view of the Palisades, which Metro-North passengers—and visitors to the Museum—still enjoy today. The devoted depiction of natural scenery, with sublime cliffs towering over one small human, recalls paintings of the Hudson River School, at the same time the sunny day, still river, and relaxed pose suggest something of the carefree ease of Derrick Adams’ Floaters series.

Two Boys on a Beach, No. 1 from "Twelve Etchings" (1938) by Paul CadmusHudson River Museum

Paul Cadmus found personal and artistic fulfillment in time spent by the water, particularly staying at Fire Island with painter Jared French and his wife Margaret. Jared was Cadmus’ muse, friend, and lover. In paintings and prints, Cadmus’ curvaceous style of depicting men’s bodies shocked many people. He was fearless in the direction of his male gaze at a time when gay lifestyles could lead to discrimination, arrest, and much worse.

This work is provocative, considering its date, but I suspect given his time on Fire Island, Cadmus may have been painting what was familiar or desirable. To some, at any point on the spectrum, it could appear perfectly innocent: two guys at the beach, in various states of undress, appreciating a moment of leisure; one figure on the sand, bare, reading the paper, eating fruit, while the other, t-shirt in tatters, stretches intensely, as if he were about to lay down, or get up. A transient moment. A calm, before or after the storm.
—Derrick Adams

Duke Kahanamoku with His Redwood Surfboard (ca. 1925) by Unknown PhotographerHudson River Museum

Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku (1890–1968), or “The Big Kahuna,” was known as the “father of modern surfing” from Hawaii to California to Australia. He first gained international fame when he won a gold medal at the 1912 Olympics.

Aileen Allen (Left) and Another Woman with Surfboards (ca. 1925) by Photographer unknownHudson River Museum

Aileen Allen (1888–1950) was a diver in the 1920 Olympics, where Duke Kahanamoku also competed in swimming. This and the previous photograph of Kahanamoku were probably taken at a beach in Los Angeles, where they were both swimming coaches at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

Girls Sunbathing from the Domestic Rituals series (1979–83) by Mary FreyHudson River Museum

Mary Frey arranges models to create scenes of everyday activities, from household chores to recreation, as part of her quest to understand the role fiction plays in visualizing real life. The horizontal lines in this photograph underscore the relaxed bliss of the young women sunbathing, while the diagonals formed by bent limbs and towel stripes lend dynamism to the geometry of the composition.

The photo is from Frey’s series Domestic Rituals, which she says was inspired by a “fascination with the snapshot as a vessel for, and shaper of memory, and my abiding interest in the straight photograph as a seemingly truthful and precise record of an event.”

I like the sense of “just being” in this photograph. Interesting to learn that it was staged.
—Derrick Adams

Untitled (The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center) (1981) by Jennifer BartlettHudson River Museum

Jennifer Bartlett grew up near the ocean in Long Beach, California, and a fascination with water is evident in many of her works, from seascapes to poolside scenes. This print is part of an ongoing program at Lincoln Center in which artists are commissioned to create posters.

Bartlett’s poster was part of her In the Garden series, which includes more than 200 drawings, paintings, and prints of the landscape and pool behind a villa in Nice, France, where she stayed in the winter of 1979. She often juxtaposes variations on a scene in the same artwork. Here, she contrasts a detailed delineation in black and white with a more abstract interpretation using brilliant primary colors for expressive effect.

Swimming Pool at Tibbetts Brook Park [Yonkers] (1991-09-02) by Kathy GardnerHudson River Museum

This image perfectly captures the sheer glee to be found at a public pool. During the 1920s, the Westchester County Park Commission made the development of public parks a priority. This young boy is all about action compared to the serenely relaxing people in Derrick Adams’ Floaters.

This reminds me of my friend’s son Jasper, who thoroughly enjoys the water. I can hear the shrieks and splashes and lifeguard whistles.
—Derrick Adams

Self-Portrait on Float (2019) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum

Looking at these works through the eyes of Derrick Adams has enhanced our understanding of the collection, and will impact future thinking each time we ask ourselves questions about people’s complex relationship with water. What form should those queries take? What sort of art and historical objects will we find? What sort of conversations can we have with our audience? An ocean of possibilities, the gift from an artist.

Credits: Story

Collection Spotlight: Derrick Adams Selects is organized by the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, New York, and co-curated by Derrick Adams and Laura Vookles, Chair of the HRM’s Curatorial Department. The exhibition runs from March 7–October 18, 2020.

This virtual exhibition was produced by the Hudson River Museum in 2020.

Image Credits


LIFE Photo Collection


Paul Cadmus. Two Boys on a Beach, No. 1. From Twelve Etchings, 1938. Published by The Print Cabinet, Connecticut, 1979. Etching. Gift of the artist, 1982. © 2020 Estate of Paul Cadmus / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY


Eric Fischl. Untitled Etching, ed. 46/100 From Four Etchings
1989–90. Gift of Mrs. June Sidmon, 1997. © 2020 Eric Fischl / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY


Robert Motherwell. Summertime in Italy (with Lines.) 1966. Lithograph. Gift of Arthur Zankel, 1991. © 2020 Dedalus Foundation, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY


Winfred Rembert. The Curvey II. 2014. Dye on carved and tooled leather. Gift of Jan and Warren Adelson. 2020© Winfred Rembert


Derrick Adams.Self-Portrait on Float. 2019. Woodblock, gold leaf, and collage; edition 10/50. Collection of the Hudson River Museum. Museum Purchase, 2019. © Derrick Adams


George Daniell. Ludlow Boys on the Hudson River. ca. 1938. Black-and-white photograph. Gift of Roy Oxley, 2008. © George Daniell


Mary Frey. Girls Sunbathing. From the Domestic Rituals series. 1979–83. Gelatin silver print. Gift of the artist, 1984. © Mary Frey


Jennifer Bartlett. Untitled (The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center). 1981. Screenprint. Anonymous gift, 1991. © Jennifer Bartlett. Courtesy of Locks Gallery

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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