A Derrick Adams Double Portrait Brings Out the Interior Lives of His Subjects

Adams has skyrocketed to art superstardom with his exuberant depictions of Black life. Here's what makes his work important to our times.

In recent years, multidisciplinary artist Derrick Adams has blown way past “emerging” to become “a huge star,” in the words of Michael Steinberg, the gallerist and curator who heads Michael Steinberg Fine Art, in Manhattan. “His paintings sell out whenever they’re available. At this point, I consider him a seriously established figure.”

Many of Adams’s exuberant artworks — his oeuvre includes sculpture, video and performance, as well as painting, printmaking and collage — depict Black life lived unabashedly well. One well-known series, “Floaters,” portrays carefree African Americans lounging in swimming pools, adrift on candy-colored inflatables. “A lot of Derrick’s work is joyous and celebratory,” says Steinberg, noting this is a radical act “when we’re used to seeing images of anguish and despair.”

For the 2019 exhibition “Interior Life,” at the Luxembourg & Dayan gallery (now Luxembourg + Co.), in New York, Adams created room-size wallpaper installations of imagined domestic interiors, with collaged portraits hung throughout. He chose a striking pair of those portraits — a male and a female in profile, their deconstructed faces rendered in collaged paper and fabric on a painted ground — for Steinberg’s Eminence Grise publishing arm to produce as limited-edition 18-by-24-inch prints, now available on 1stDibs.

“They can be displayed facing each other or facing away from each other,” Steinberg says. “The emotional impact is very different.”

Master printer Andre Ribuoli used the latest pigment-based archival inks to digitally produce the series. “He perfectly captured the collage effect,” Steinberg says. “Seen under glass, people don’t realize they’re two-dimensional, that there’s nothing they could pull away. Earlier, color could fade and be fugitive, but these inks are absolutely stable.”

Adams’s art continues to evolve — an installation of whimsical spring-based riding toys for children, Funtime Unicorn, is at Rockefeller Center through September 9 — but the “Interior Life” portraits were, as Steinberg puts it, “essential to his work for many years.”

A Brooklyn-based Baltimore native, the 52-year-old Adams has had one-man shows at the Museum of Art and Design, the Studio Museum of Harlem and elsewhere and is represented in the collections of the Met and the Whitney. His paintings are now routinely breaking six figures on the secondary market.

Says Steinberg: “For those who want to acquire an artist’s work, but for whom paintings may be beyond reach, limited-edition prints are a great entry point.”

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