NASHVILLE, TN – The Frist Art Museum and Fisk University Galleries present “Terry Adkins: Our Sons and Daughters Ever on the Altar,” concurrent presentations of sculptures, prints, installations, and video by the artist and musician, on view Feb. 20-May 31 in the Frist’s Gordon Contemporary Artists Project Gallery and Feb. 20-Sept. 12 at the Carl Van Vechten Gallery at Fisk University.
Presented 45 years after Adkins’s graduation from Fisk, the exhibition pays special attention to the influence that his time in Nashville had on the late internationally acclaimed artist.
Fisk and the Frist will collaborate with the soon-to-open National Museum of African American Music to produce a multidisciplinary performance, featuring local talent inspired by Terry Adkins and his performance collective, the Lone Wolf Recital Corps.
Terry Adkins (1953–2014) was principally interested in the intersection of visual art, music, and African American history. First trained as a musician on guitar, saxophone, and other woodwinds, he approached his visual art practice from the perspective of a composer, often arranging series of works to create what he called “recitals,” many of which feature modified musical instruments or other salvaged materials.
Throughout his career, Adkins also questioned the processes by which historical figures’ pasts become or do not become a part of the historical canon. The works displayed pay tribute to the legacies of Jimi Hendrix, Bessie Smith, Dr. George Washington Carver, and Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois.
The “recital” “Principalities” is dedicated to Jimi Hendrix and his service as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army at nearby Fort Campbell, Kentucky. A centerpiece of the series, “Cloud,” is a work comprising a white parachute hung above a rack of kimonos. Referencing the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, it underscores the tragic history of war. Flumen Orationus, a video pairing Hendrix’s 1970 anti-war protest song “Machine Gun” with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 speech, “Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam,” will also be featured.
Another “recital” on view at the Frist titled “Belted Bronze” will be devoted to legendary blues singer Bessie Smith, who was born in Chattanooga. Though successful during her lifetime, Adkins felt her accomplishments lacked sufficient public acknowledgment after her untimely death at the age of 42. The installation features multiple components meant to channel Smith’s opulence, strength, and majesty. “Columbia,” a large record-shaped sculpture, refers to both the label Smith was signed to in 1923 and the type of record (Columbia 78s) on which her music was recorded and played.
The presentation at the Carl Van Vechten Gallery will relay the significant impact Fisk had on Adkins. His father was a graduate of the university, and his uncle was a former president. Adkins shows bodies of works derived from scientist and inventor George Washington Carver and sociologist, historian, and civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois, in works the Progressive Nature Studies and The Philadelphia Negro Reconsidered, respectively.
Another highlight at Fisk will be “Darkwater Record,” which features a porcelain bust of Mao Zedong sitting on five recorders playing excerpts of W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Socialism and the American Negro” speech. Du Bois is an 1888 graduate of Fisk University and met Chairman Mao in China in 1959.
Adkins continued to be inspired by people and artwork he was exposed to at Fisk throughout his career, including explorer Matthew Henson, whose portrait by Winold Reiss still hangs in the John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library on campus. Also on view at Fisk will be prints of x-rayed memory jugs—African American funerary objects often created by Southern sharecroppers as headstones. They were made of clay and included objects from the person’s life. Adkins collected over 120 of these and worked with colleagues in the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania to make these photographs by x-raying them.