Derrick Adams: LIVE and IN COLOR
8 E 76th St
Runs through October 18th
Trips to Upper East Side: obligatory, and usually cheerless. Ride the subway for an hour, buzz up to galleries whose video feature makes you feel like a schlub, and look at paintings which seem premade for the surrounding doorman buildings in galleries which never express particular interest in getting you in their doors; spaces are almost always empty, and the dealer is always on the phone.
So when a friend told us to go see a show up there, I was pleasantly surprised to leave with something to recommend. With bright, patterned collages mimicking early African American television shows, Derrick Adams’s “LIVE and IN COLOR” pumps some uncharacteristic charisma and color into the neighborhood. Quilt-like cutouts of fabrics, corrugated paper, and formica shelf liner evoke flamboyant eighties sitcom characters from BET Kids, What’s Happening, Family Matters, and earlier Afro-centric seventies Black Power themes in funk and soul. Neon patterns and rainbows feel both like an indication of the Aquarian Age Age and a queer lens.
And as the press release spells out, the subjects are also caricatures, posing hips out, wide eyes, with big fros and squiggly hairdos: a combination of that explosive era of over-the-top laughtrack television, and a culture just recently defining its voice. The tension is compellingly summed up in the show’s final work, “Boxhead”: what looks like an uneven dodedecahedron of colors and formica topped with fuzz. How much are cultures shaped by the representations refracted to them by media? In Adams’s vision, such stereotypes start to seem as arbitrary as a roll of the dice. It’s a rare moment of insight in an art desert; the show’s only open for three more days, so don’t miss it.