ARG exhibition honors Terry Adkins’ legacy at Penn

The late Terry Adkins, who passed away in 2014, is remembered for his unique ability to blend sculpture, print, music, and documents. For years as a professor in Penn’s School of Design, he shared his meticulous way of thinking and doing with students, who today still flourish from that experience.

He was a huge influence on both the way I approach my work and my methods,” says Matt Neff, a former Penn student of Adkins. Now director of the Undergraduate Fine Arts program and letterpress printing studio Common Press, Neff says Adkins, his mentor as a teacher and later as a colleague, was instrumental in helping him to “make poetry out of disparate materials.”

In 2002, the Arthur Ross Gallery (ARG) presented Adkins’ work in “Darkwater: A Recital in Four Dominions, Terry Adkins after W.E.B. Du Bois.” The exhibition was the interdisciplinary artist’s homage to Du Bois, 100 years after the release of “The Philadelphia Negro,” a book by Du Bois that was published in 1899 by the University of Pennsylvania Press. The exhibit featured sculptural elements combined with archival documents, artifacts, prints, and performance—in which Adkins was the composer, conductor, and performer.

In late August, the ARG launched the exhibition, “Darkwater Revival: After Terry Adkins,” which piggybacks off the 2002 recital by using some identical pieces, while incorporating new work that is reminiscent of the distinguished artist, musician, and professor.

ARG Associate Director and Associate Curator Dejáy Duckett, who curated the 2002 show with Adkins and New York City-based artist Demetrius Oliver, a PennDesign alumnus, says she wanted to do this exhibition to “really speak specifically about Adkins’ legacy as a Penn professor and as a colleague.

“I wanted to look at his practice and process, and see how all of that came together to affect his work, and to affect the work of those he taught,” she says.

The exhibition, on view at the ARG through Sunday, Dec. 11, features the work of 10 artists, including Neff, who were impacted by Adkins. Some of the former Penn students and collaborators include Jamal Cyrus, Nsenga Knight, and Ivanco Talevski, now a senior lecturer of drawing and painting at PennDesign.

On Thursday, Sept. 8, the ARG will host an opening reception from 5:30 to 8 p.m., with a performance dubbed “Harmonic Spheres” that was conceived by Adkins with Oliver and will be performed by saxophonist Matthew Clayton.

Other performances throughout the exhibition’s tenure include “Insoluble” by Sean Riley on Thursday, Sept. 29, and “Martyrs’ Day” by Ernel Martinez and Keir Johnston on Friday, Dec. 2.

The ARG, located at 220 S. 34th St., is free and open to the public Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.

Terry Adkins