The Hudson River Museum presents the first museum exhibition of Adams' "Floaters" series (on view March 7–August 23, 2020) and the debut of the related installation "We Came to Party and Plan" (on view March 7–October 18, 2020).
Floater 80 (Courtesy of the artist) (2018) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum
Derrick Adams: Buoyant features works from three series that explore the universal experiences of leisure and celebration: the Floaters, We Came to Party and Plan, and Tables Turned.
Through an intimate exploration of “Black normalcy,” Adams (American, born 1970), seen here in a self-portrait from the exhibition, captures an often overlooked aspect of Black lives—the everyday. Often finding that the historical record omits crucial elements of that experience, the artist, raised in Baltimore and now based in Brooklyn, has consciously chosen to fill those gaps with imagery of his own, rooted in his personal reality.
Across multiple series, Derrick Adams has attempted to reconcile the nature of his own lived experiences with that of the popular imagery of Black people in media and art. Produced between 2016 and 2019, his "Floaters" series is a collection of vividly painted portraits of Black people in various states of rest and play, buoyantly floating on calm waters.
Floater 28 (Private collection) (2016) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum
We have all seen images of contented figures lounging on floaties, buoyantly drifting in swimming pools. This classically American iconography has been employed time and again in literature, film, and even commercial art, often signifying the carefree pleasures of life. The American Dream in physical form. But, when recontextualized through a more diverse lens, these sun-soaked figures can reveal a tangle of multifaceted human complexity.
Quilt: 'Oak Leaf' (1860/1880) by UnknownHudson River Museum
When Derrick Adams wanted to make paintings of pool recreation, he was surprised to find no related images online of people who looked like him. Delving deeper into his research, he discovered images of Martin Luther King Jr. relaxing on vacation with his wife Coretta and wondered why this side of the Civil Rights leader’s life is so little known to the general public.
Floater 3 (Private collection) (2016) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum
In an attempt to more accurately depict the wholeness of his life experience and of those around him, Adams began painting the Floaters during his 2016 residency at Project for Empty Space in Newark, New Jersey.
Through the artist’s hand and his vantage point, these bold, colorful portraits feel familiar yet unexpected, archetypal yet new.
Floater 74 (The Dean Collection) (2018) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum
“Regardless of all the things that are happening to Black people around the world,” Adams says, “we still find time to connect with each other. If we were constantly in this place of battle, we really couldn’t exist. We need time to replenish our love and faith and joy.”
Floater 2 (Collection of Victoria Rogers, NYC) (2016) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum
As he worked on these paintings, his style progressed from painterly (seen here) to more geometric (seen in the next slide).
Floater 36 (Collection of Audrey & Jeffrey Spiegel) (2017) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum
Floater 36, seen here, shows Derrick Adams’ characteristic bright color block composition and fabric collage elements.
This detail of Floater 36 gives a good idea of how Adams uses fabric to add pattern and texture to his figures’ clothing.
Hudson River Museum Courtyard (2018) by Yuliya LevitHudson River Museum
The Museum’s setting, a unique urban perch along the water, offers a compelling backdrop against which to reflect on Adams’ buoyant images and themes.
We Came to Party and Plan
Conceived during Adams’ summer 2019 residency at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, "We Came to Party and Plan" brings to life the complex exchanges that take place in spaces of celebration. Within the immersive installation, intimate portraits convey a multifaceted agenda.
We Came to Party and Plan (Installation View 4) (2020) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum
The paintings hanging on the wallpaper are courtesy of the artist and Luxembourg & Dayan, New York/London, and Salon 94, New York, as well as lent by Michael Hoeh and other private collectors.
The production of the custom wallpaper for We Came to Party and Plan has been generously donated by twenty2 wallpaper.
We Came to Party and Plan (Installation View 2) (2020) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum
Referencing the history of African Americans, Adams notes that Black people couldn’t always assemble freely. Worship and other formal occasions such as weddings and holidays were the only times Black people were allowed to congregate. Building from this historical context, he explains, “When we get together, it isn’t just to have a party. We might be planning a revolution at the same time.”
Here, Adams surrounds us with unique individuals who may be discussing the events of the previous week, pitching a business idea, or debating politics. Dreams, plans, frustrations—the content is limited only by our imaginations.
We Came to Party and Plan 11 (2019) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum
“There are many components that make up a complex human being,” Adams explains. “I want these works to connect with people on an emotional level and tap into their lived experiences. Sometimes a normal social gathering can represent a radical space.”
We Came to Party and Plan (Installation View 3) (2020) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum
Also in this gallery, four party settings from the Tables Turned series (courtesy of the artist) express a more straightforward note of festivity.
Tables Turned 1 (courtesy of the artist) (2016) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum
In 2016, these wall sculptures were displayed in Adams’ Culture Club exhibition at Project for Empty Space in Newark, New Jersey, alongside the first Floaters. The artist created these collages out of decorations and utensils he knew would elicit memories and emotions in viewers.
Tables Turned 4 (courtesy of the artist) (2016) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum
We become the figures at these empty tables; they are literally tipped in our direction, inviting us to join the fun.
We Came to Party and Plan 38 (2020) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum
This visionary artist is passionate about the power of leisure, in art and in life. The need to rest, relax, and enjoy ourselves after working hard is deeply human. Adams’ paintings challenge traditional notions of privilege by questioning long-held narratives of leisure, and by projecting a world where all people are deserving of seeing themselves reflected on the walls of museums.
We Came to Party and Plan 1 & 2 (2019) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum
Adams and his art testify to the necessity of leisure:
"We work hard. And when I looked around and saw people at a party, laughing and talking, I said, 'We should make art about this. The world needs to see that we’re in this party.'”
Derrick Adams: Buoyant (Installation View 1) (2020) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum
The Hudson River Museum is proud to present the work of this preeminent artist, so aligned with our mission to capture the richness of our communities in the galleries. As you peruse this exhibition, we invite you to contemplate the memorable experiences of your own life that are worthy of representation in art and media.
Floater 74 (The Dean Collection) (Installation View) by Derrick AdamsHudson River Museum
After "Derrick Adams: Buoyant" closes at the Hudson River Museum on August 23, 2020, the exhibition will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, which is supporting the development of the project. "We Came to Party and Plan" is extended at the Hudson River Museum through October 18, 2020.
Major sponsorship of the exhibition is made possible by a generous grant from The Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts.
This exhibition is also supported in part by the City of Yonkers, Mayor Mike Spano; Luxembourg & Dayan; Rhona Hoffman Gallery; and Salon 94.
Derrick Adams: Buoyant is organized by the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, New York, and co-curated by James E. Bartlett, founder of OpenArt, and Laura Vookles, Chair of the HRM’s Curatorial Department.
Derrick Adams: Buoyant is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog featuring essays by Bartlett and art critic and writer Antwaun Sargent, an interview between Adams and artist Mickalene Thomas, and a section dedicated to Adams’ curation of the Museum’s collections. The catalog is available for purchase here.
This virtual exhibition was produced by the Hudson River Museum in 2020.