By Lena Bilik —
Entering Terry Adkins’ world in “Recital” is an experience akin to entering into airwaves. As an artist and musician, Adkins finds sounds crucial to his life and work. The very title of this exhibit speaks to this, as does the fact that Adkins calls his different bodies
of works “recitals,” blurring the lines between visual art and music. Additionally, his concern with exploring the legacies of famous musicians and historical figures and their representations in history pushes this theme further. Hearsay, how we tell stories, how we listen to music, and how we compose music are all enacted in the medium of visual art in this multi-faceted exhibit with sculptures
that seem to vibrate off of each other.
What is mesmerizing about “Recital” is its music-like visual rhythm. The colors of all the pieces belong to the same family; we see nothing but glossy blacks, velvety reds, glowing whites, and shiny silvers in every piece. The edges of the different sculptures work with each other to create a pulsing beat. Upon entering, you are met with “Plinth,” a group of towering planks−almost like tapestries−arranged in a cramped circle and draped in velvet sashes. Its thick, lush, curtain-like shapes and textures evoke rich, deep sound. This was taken from “Black Beethoven,” a show that addresses the deafness as well as the possibly Moorish heritage of Ludwig Van Beethoven. “Plinth” is said to evoke the 9 symphonies, and the minute this connection was made I felt the surging notes pushing towards the sky of the symphonies reflected in the upward pushing panels of the piece. This is what I found most impressive about “Recital”; Adkin’s ability to make his viewer hear as well as see his work.
Beyond figuratively making sound, there is one piece that physically does make noise, and that is “Off Minor”, from the same Beethoven exhibit. “Off Minor” is said to address Beethoven’s loss of hearing and the irony of this affliction in one of the most talented composers of all time. The piece makes a jarring, violent sound, as metal grinds against metal springs and a wheel turns. The violence is the loss of hearing; the irony is the beautiful sounds that resulted from what should have been jarring and distorted. The irony is in what we don’t hear in the piece, but we know came from Beethoven’s mind. This beauty is echoed as a ghost of what we actually hear in “Off Minor.”
The other most impressive pieces of the exhibit were the ones dealing with blues music and musicians. “Still” was one of these; a glass globe filled with whisky sitting precariously near an assortment of communion cups represents the tenuous lines between the religious and the sacred and the profane and the hedonistic in blues. “Single Bound,” perhaps the most memorable piece of the whole exhibit, deals with the history and sudden flowering of the blues movement. A stretch of empty chicken wire suddenly erupts into an elegant wing of glossy black feathers, as the theatricality, confidence, and utter swagger (like that of a rooster, Adkins says) of blues musicians came out of suffering and silence. This juxtaposition of destruction and glamour is seen in many of the other pieces as well, as metal sits beside wings and feathers.
The way the pieces interact with each other is the strongest part of the show. The metal shines off of the nearby glossy black paint, the red velvet in one piece works in a familial way with the black feathers on another, the sharp corners of one piece leads the viewer’s eye to the protrusion of another. The space has a rhythm, a beat. This is not just a series of images, this exhibit vibrates and fills the space the way music does. It is, in fact, a “Recital” for the eyes.