New York–based multidisciplinary artist Derrick Adams works creatively across many mediums to examine how television and mass media shape contemporary culture. Derrick Adams: Network, the artist’s first major museum exhibition in Southern California, features large-scale, brightly colored mixed-media collages, video of a performance, and installations in which visitors can record themselves. Images abound of classic African American television shows such as Sanford and Son and luminaries including Oprah Winfrey, Diahann Carroll, and O.J. Simpson, along with representations of television monitors with SMPTE (Society for Motion Picture and Television Engineers) color bars. Adams riffs on late 20th-century African American television iconography while at the same time critiquing consumerism and capitalism, raising questions about race, class, and gender as expressed in popular culture at large, and television entertainment in particular. These ideas take on a certain significance in Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world.
Adams’s work has long been filled with black characters that play on the types found in popular culture—particularly those drawn from advertisements and 1980s and 1990s American television shows. Stills from those shows have formed the basis of many of his mixed-media collages, depicting figures pieced together from fragments of vibrantly patterned fabrics, including those cut from West African dashikis, and framed by the outline of a vintage TV. In Adams’s assemblage series Boxhead (2014), multifaceted geometric heads inhabit boxy structures that recall televisions. The artist distorts their faces to suggest the effects of viewing through a screen; by extension, he points to the effect that television has on people’s perception of reality. Adams simultaneously produced Live and in Color (2014), which marks Adams’s transition from three-dimensional sculptures to two-dimensional wall collages whose cartoon-like figures, affixed to a TV screen, come from early sitcoms and speak to the larger-than-life personalities of people of color on national television.
With the series Color Bar Constellation (2016), Adams returned to the use of the television monitor, this time freeing the SMPTE color bars, which change directions and even project outside the boundaries of their TV shell. The figures from Adams’s earlier collages are replaced by covers from TV programming guides from the 1980s and 1990s. For Fabrication Station (2016), the artist focused solely on the SMPTE bars in wall pieces that function both as self-standing sculptures and performance backgrounds. While Network’s main space is contemplative and actively experiential, two quieter, self-reflective rooms provide the opportunity to escape the fuzz of Adams’s fictional television sets and find a more centered personal experience. The first room features On, a video in which performers promote imaginary products with clichéd tag lines. The second room presents Network Guru, a meditative sound mantra and participatory space where visitors can experience emotions typically associated with television viewing.
Throughout Network, Adams challenges the popular, omnipresent TV media machine, transforming its banality into something imposing and complex—in many ways engaging, intense, and playful, just like television itself.
This exhibition was curated by Mar Hollingsworth, Visual Arts Curator and Program Manager.