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Derrick Adams at Gagosian

Derrick Adams, Be the Table © Derrick Adams Studio. Photo by Jeff McLane

Gagosian’s new show is Derrick Adams’s debut exhibition with the gallery in Beverly Hills. For Come as You Are, Adams continues to develop pictorial vignettes centering the Black figure, this time in new works born from the artist’s imagined invitation to the real or fictional personalities he paints.

The exhibition’s title offers encouragement to be present without the need to conceal one’s true self, dreams, and aspirations—a prompt to shed the pressures of adaptation and conformity. Adams counters hackneyed narratives by presenting figures in moments of carefree leisure, inspired by his belief in the constructive power of scenes that uplift and support Black culture. Adding elements of fantastical daydreams along with a few icons familiar from previous series, he dramatizes lived experience and self-actualization in compositions that balance vivid and muted tones, flat planes and multidimensional space.

Inspired by a Halloween costume once worn by the artist’s aunt, Be the Table (all works 2023) merges the levity of a masquerade party with themes surrounding equity and access. The intermingling of her features with a table setting complete with cups and slices of cake, means that she no longer needs “a seat at the table.” Lookie Loos represents the window display of a beauty supply store near Adams’s studio in Brooklyn. A tribute to the power of self-adornment, it explores a theme also present in his Style Variation series (2019–21). Creative expression is central to Taking It on the Road, in which a female figure plays a banjo, an instrument with deep roots in the African diaspora and American popular music. Encircled by cars, she is envisioned as at one with the lyrics of her song.

The Believers I and The Believers II present two views of a father holding his child in a swimming pool enmeshed with large self-portraits of the artist with an arcing red-and-white straw, suggesting summertime refreshment. These linked canvases flank A Moment, a work that plays with the depiction of objects at multiple scales, including a “guardian” figure peeking over a fence, comfort food, and a black unicorn inflatable—a motif that has come to define Adams’s Floater paintings (2016–21) as well as recent public installations and editioned artworks.

In some of the works, Adams incorporates textiles, introducing additional patterns to the multifaceted painted compositions. Each developed in a distinct palette that emphasizes its subject’s individuality, these larger-than-life portraits assert strength, creativity, and definitions of self.

This summer, Adams joins five other leading artists to reimagine the role of monuments in civic life through the temporary outdoor exhibition Pulling Together on the National Mall in Washington, DC, from August 18 through September 18. In America’s Playground: DC (2023), Adams offers a prototype monument in the form of a fully operational playground that reflects on legacies of leisure, racial division, and transformation in the nation’s capital and beyond.

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