Derrick Adams: Buoyant

March 7–June 14, 2020

“Sometimes a normal social gathering can represent a radical space. I’m often inspired by the people around me at parties, and how they are making important changes to society. You can go to a social event and still get things accomplished.”
— Derrick Adams

Derrick Adams (American, born 1970) delves deeply and fearlessly into the nooks and crannies of Black life and culture, unveiling a nuanced wholeness of humanity. The artist depicts a world where joy, love, leisure, and even prosaic normalcy play central roles, methodically filling the many voids and omissions in popular visual culture. Buoyant will be the first museum exhibition of Adams’ Floaters series and will debut We Came to Party and Plan, new related works the artist created during his summer 2019 Rauschenberg Residency.

Executed between 2014 and 2019, the Floaters series is a collection of vividly painted portraits depicting Black people in various states of rest and play, buoyantly floating on calm waters. Relaxed bodies, some with a gentle grin, others holding a summertime beverage, melt into rainbow-colored unicorns or candy shaped plastic floaties. This classically American iconography signifies the carefree pleasures of success: the American Dream in physical form. Through Adams’ hand, and his vantage point, these archetypal images feel simultaneously familiar yet unexpected.

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With the Floaters series, Adams recontextualizes this classic visual trope to create a more accurate and fuller representation of the Black lived experience. The immediacy of the imagery in these paintings invites viewers to bring their own notions to the scene and recognize moments that have too often been missing in mainstream American media.

Beyond their superficial form, Adams’ sun-soaked figures also reveal a tangle of multifaceted human complexity. They evoke nostalgic images of summer-time fun, and they may also jar some viewers into reflecting on more traumatic lived or learned histories. From the horrific journey across Atlantic waters of the Middle Passage, to the long history of segregation at America’s swimming pools and beaches, Black people’s relationship with water has not always been one of carefree joy. While Adams does not specifically focus his artistic lens on this fraught history, he fully recognizes and engages with the memories and historical trauma that can be kindled in many viewers.

Much like water, the exhibition will flow to unexpected spaces. In addition to works from the Floaters series, Buoyant will feature an immersive, large-scale installation entitled We Came to Party and Plan, a newly created body of work that invites the viewer into a party atmosphere full of complexity, as well as Tables Turned, an earlier series also related to celebration. In other areas of the Museum, the artist will curate a selection of works from the Hudson River Museum’s collection, casting a fresh perspective on historical and twentieth-century works related to the subjects of water and leisure. In the HRM’s historic home Glenview, visitors will discover artistic interruptions on bookshelves, mantles, and subtle spaces within the Gilded Age period rooms.

Derrick Adams: Buoyant is organized by the Hudson River Museum, and co-curated by James E. Bartlett, founder of Open Art, and Laura Vookles, Chair of the HRM’s Curatorial Department. The Museum’s unique perch along the banks of the Hudson River in Yonkers provides a particularly compelling setting to consider these images and themes. The fully illustrated catalog will feature 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. A rich array of interdisciplinary programs, including artist and author tours, public discussions, music, spoken word performances, film, and studio workshops will accompany the exhibition.

About Derrick Adams

Derrick Adams is a multidisciplinary artist working for more than twenty years in painting, collage, prints, sculpture, installation art, performance, video, and sound. Recently hailed as “trailblazing” by Departures Magazine, his practice focuses on the fragmentation and manipulation of structure and surface, exploring self image and forward projection. In 2019, Derrick Adams unveiled a permanent public art installation at the Nostrand LIRR station of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, featuring over thirty colorful glass panels depicting Adams’ rendition of the Crown Heights, Brooklyn, community, where he lives and works. In 2018, Adams collaborated with Pyer Moss to challenge social narratives and evoke dialogue through fashion.

A recipient of the 2018 American Family Fellowship from the Gordon Parks Foundation, a 2009 Louis Comfort Tiffany Award, and 2014 S.J. Weiler Award, Adams received his MFA from Columbia University, BFA from Pratt Institute, and is a Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and Marie Walsh Sharpe alumnus. His art is in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Studio Museum in Harlem, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Hudson River Museum, and the Whitney Museum of Art.


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 Luxembourg & Dayan, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, and Salon 94.

The production of the custom wallpaper for We Came To Party and Plan has been generously donated by twenty2 wallpaper.

Derrick Adams: Buoyant will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, which is supporting the development of the show. The exhibition will be on view July 10 to October 18, 2020; it will be the artist’s first solo museum exhibition in the Southeast.

Derrick Adams (American, born 1970). Floater 59, 2017. Acrylic paint, pencil, and fabric on paper. Private collection.

Selected Press

Derrick Adams: Be Who You Want To Be Juxtapoz Magazine (August 2019) ↗