Adams' public art projects are richly layered. Designed in relation to architecture,
they are developed with a seminal connection to the site. Her forms, though related
to minimalist sculpture, earthworks, or even architecture itself, are rarely without
function and reference to a communitycontent and meaning are, in large part,
drawn from the site and shaped by the people who will use it. This exhibition,
focusing on Adams' major installations as well as projects in which she worked
as a design team member, sheds light on her work in the field of public art. It
includes the rarely seen preliminaries to the finished projectsmodels, sketches,
notes, maquettes, full-scale mock-ups, material samplesand contextual photographs
of the completed work.
graduated from Columbia University with a degree in painting and soon after went
to Aubusson, France (L'Ecole Nationale d'Art Decoratif with a Fulbright Travel
Grant and a French Government Fellowship), to study tapestry. She returned to
New York and began exhibiting in the late 50s. Adams' early tapestries drew on
her work as a painter and there was a strong interest in abstract, organic forms,
and exploring the bounds of the media. Her weavings broke from the traditional
rectilinear warp and weft structure.
on the surface displayed a process usually concealed on the back of the tapestry.
In a work from the early 1960s, Tapestry with Mop, Adams inserted a dust
mop into the warp, revealing a sense of humor, a Dadaist irreverence, and a desire
to subvert expectations. During this period her work appeared on the cover of
Craft Horizons magazine and was included in exhibitions at the Museum of
Contemporary Craft, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Bertha Schaefer Gallery.
the mid-sixties Adams' weavings were created off the loom. These organic constructions
made from materials found on the street or at the hardware storerope, steel
cables, chain-link fencingbecame independent of a wall support and were
exhibited as discrete three-dimensional objects. In 1966 Adams' sculptural forms
were shown in "Eccentric Abstraction" an exhibition curated by Lucy
Lippard at the Fischbach Gallery which included Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, Keith
Sonnier, Frank Viner, Gary Kuehn, and Bruce Nauman.
as a reference in Adams' work has been a long term interest. In 1967 using two-by-fours,
wood lath, and plaster Adams began to create objects in which "walls"
were the subject. A year later she cast wall surfaces in her studio in latex and
attached these "fabrics" to stud-wall frameworks. Building construction
provided a model for the use of materials and a source for methodology and scale.
These works had a freshness and seemed to capture something in mid-process. Later
sculpture incorporated arches, vaults, and columns.
the late 70s the work had become more finished and in a sense, more permanent,
with shaped and sanded surfaces and laminated woods. Adams' work from this period
was included in surveys of contemporary sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art
and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
1977 Adams' House, a temporary work constructed on the grounds of the Nassau
County Museum, provided the logical progression. Joining the architectural elements
of earlier worktwo-by-four framing with detailed doors and windowsAdams'
"wall" and "column" references became "house" references.
More connected to the logic of memory than that of a blueprint, the structure
was based on the childhood home her father had built. It was Adams' first outdoor,
site-specific work and the project embodied many of the characteristics that would
become part of her later public commissions. It drew on the familiar to create
a space which would resonate for viewers on many levelssomething that was
not an abstraction but was as basic as a childhood home.
Zimmer commenting on Adams' work in a 1981 exhibition at the Hal Bromm Gallery
observed, "Doorways hint at the wider world and personal memories grow into
collective memories about built places."1
In Adams' later public projects the subliminal references work in much the same
way. The history and culture of the site or the interests of the people who will
use it, provide a subject matter that becomes embedded in the work. The work,
in many ways, becomes a metaphor for the community's sense of who they are or
what they want to remember.
1977 through 1985 Adams created large-scale, site-specific works out of doors.
In several projects around the time she was constructing Adams' House Leveling
at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (1977), Three Structures on
a Slope: Porch, Etage, Escalier at Queensboro Community College
in New York City (1978), and Mound for Viewing Slope and Sky at Princeton
University, in New Jersey (1980)Adams further defined issues that would
continue in her public work. All three installations contained abstracted architectural
forms but once again expand the vocabulary. There was a response to the topography
and terrain of the site, using the structure of the work to position the viewer.
Still considering formal issues such as form, balance, space, and mass, Adams
began to create installations which were developed in reaction to the site and
were interactive. The viewer was a participantwalking around or climbing
onand allowed to "be in" rather than just "look at"
the work. Scale too was architecturalthe Princeton work, an earth and sod
mound, was 12 feet by 90 feet by 40 feet. Like later projects there was also the
use of sensual materials, often in a natural setting, and an attention to detail.
Leveling, a work in which the shapes were derived from the conceptual measuring
of the slope of the site, was built by carpenters from white oak using mortise
and tenon joinery.
In 1978 Adams
constructed Shorings, another large-scale, temporary installation for Artpark
in Lewiston, New York. Part earthwork, part architecture, the work again alluded
to the notion of a house. Excavated and built into a sloping hillside, the buttressed
structure was then refilled with the dirt which had been removed. Precariously
placed and tenuously holding its own against the weight of the dirt, the piece
was dedicated to fellow tenants reluctantly involved in a rent strike. The work's
tensions and pressures physically suggest a power struggle. In a 1979 article
Lucy Lippard describes being attracted to Adams work for its "... uneasy
combination of or combat between-mortality and technology."2
permanent public projects began in 1984 with Small Park with Arches at Toledo
Botanical Garden. The structure, made from wood and stone, is a memorial to Toledo
architect J. Noble Richards. This project was the first of many commissions and
was followed in 1985 by Adams' work as a member of a design team on the Downtown
Seattle Transit Project, a project that lasted for five years. It was Adams' first
major "percent for art"3 project and provided a major transition
to working in the public domain.
Adams' career, the exploration of new materials has been an important stimulus
to the design process and it continued to be so in her public projects. The transition
from weaving to sculpture had been marked by an exploration of industrial materials.
The progression to architecturally-based installation coincided with the exploration
of building materials. Public projects require permanence and this transition
is also marked by the use of new materials.
the Seattle project five artists worked with architects to influence the overall
character of the stations which were part of a new transit system. Adams worked
specifically on the design for two stations. For the Convention Place station
Adams designed a plaza with glass block which is lighted from below and two large
exuberant sculptural forms in steel and neon, one in reds and oranges, the other
in blues and greens. Playing off the marquee of the Paramount Theater, an early
movie palace and neighborhood landmark, (and inspired by a Cindy Lauper performance
Adams had seen there) she developed a project which conveys the excitement and
magic of city night life. Adams soon after took on another transit system design
project, the St. Louis Metrolink (1985-90). As one of six artists working with
architects and engineers, Adams dealt with design problems for the system ranging
from the shape of station platforms, canopies, and electrical cabinets to signage.
included in the exhibition are the completed design materials developed in 1985
for Worker's Place, a project which was never built. Adams was one of two
artists working in collaboration with landscape architects to design a park and
promenade in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a mill city known for the "Bread and
Roses" strike of 1912. Immigration and labor history provided themes for
the project. Two-foot square etched copper passport seals would have provided
a frieze to a pavilion, suggesting the country of origin for the population of
this diverse community.
her studio in the Bronx Adams completed Glider Park (1990) in the Bathgate
Industrial Park. Its two steel pavilions in a plaza partitioned from the street
provide a place to sit or wait. The seating is based on an old-fashioned porch
glider, a furniture design more often associated with the home than an industrial
park. Once again its imagery resonates from childhoodfamiliar from New York
and to the Caribbean. Designs in the screening overhead which also appear as cast
shadows, were developed in response to the shapes of the Tim Rollins + KOS mural
opposite the site.
In 1992 Adams
completed her most comprehensive commission up to that point, The Roundabout,
at the Bluemle Life Sciences Building at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
The complex project is richly referenced in visual metaphors connecting the structures
to the city of Philadelphia and to Thomas Jefferson's Virginia home Monticellowhere
the paths and roads are referred to as "roundabouts." The project includes
falls, cascading water, and pool suggesting the Schuylkill River in rich green
granite with bluestone wall caps. The project also includes an earth mound. Reminiscent
of the earlier Princeton work, this time it is a reminder of Jefferson's Monticello
"little mountain" and like the earlier version, also provides a site
for "viewing slope and sky." Seating, paths, lighting, and landscaping
are also a part of Adams' design on this plaza nearly an acre in size. Adams mediated
the city environment with formal gardens, an area of layered plantings known as
the "thicket," and flowering trees. Twenty-five etched bronze plates
depicting medicinal plants (such as belladonna, vinca, witch hazel, digitalis,
and bloodroot) imbedded in the paving and pool, allude to the cancer research
taking place at this medical school as well as Jefferson's study of plants. Some
of the actual plants are also included in the landscaping. A podium and paving
area in the shape of the "Great Lawn" of Monticello provides a gathering
area. Another structure, based on the front steps of Philadelphia rowhouses, provides
additional seatingits arch and door shapes repeat those seen earlier in
works like Adams' House. Like many of Adams' projects lighting is a significant
part of the work and the site takes on a wholly different character at night.
1993 Adams began another major project. Adams designed Beaded Circle Crossing,
an expansive light sculpture based on Native American imagery, as part of the
Denver International Airport Art Program, the country's largest percent project
to date. Argon glass tubing in patterns suggesting Native American beadwork is
carried over the concourse of the terminal on a large canopy of aluminum. Adams
researched Cheyenne and Arapaho writing and imagery for the project. Aspects of
the canopy itself suggest teepee (another house structure) and buffalo hide shapes.
Jeff Huebner writing in The New Art Examiner has described the airport
collection, which involved thirty-seven artists, as "an awesome combination
of form, function, and fun."4
worked on numerous smaller projects throughout this period. The River,
a project in the common room of the Riverview Hospital for Children and Youth
in Middletown, Connecticut, was completed in 1992. The work draws on the landscape
outside the hospital to connect the elements of the installation. These components
include a bench shaped like a boat frame, a stepped dock-like platform and an
inverted birch bark canoe, mysteriously suspended overhead. The deck, which has
a silhouette of a boat bow pieced into the wood, provides a spot for standing
or sitting and defines a separate area within the room. In some ways it distantly
echoes the platforms and railings of some of Adams' temporary pieces. Once again
Adams has chosen rich materialsluan mahogany and bright finished maple and
cherry. Working with boatbuilders, Adams created an installation which humanizes
the stark, clinical environment for visitors and the children confined there.
project for the African Garden (1993) at P.S. 12 in Brooklyn (1993) again
provided the opportunity to explore new materials and new sculptural forms. Adams'
fabricated seating drew from traditional African stool and bench forms. Her design,
which required a change in the original architectural plan for the site, also
included plantings for this small organically-shaped garden area linking two playgrounds.
Planting (1995) at the Long Island Railroad's Ronkonkoma Station also incorporates
landscaping as an element. The design, an homage to the local tree farm industry,
includes a curvilinear planting area with grids of trees across the site. Adams
also designed planters which are shaped like root balls of trees in a nursery.
Spring (1997) at the University of Texas, San Antonio, a large water sculpture
(eleven feet in diameter) in the rotunda of the Life Sciences building, is an
allusion to local lorethe spring of a Mexican-American folk healer. Granite
and limestone slabs refer to the aquifer which provides the water for this semi-desert
Adams is currently working
on the design for two new projects and these models and drawings are also included
in the exhibition. Scroll Circle at the University of Delaware in Newark,
Delaware include semi-circular fountains, seating and plantings for a thoroughfare
and gathering place for events and outdoor classes. Like many of Adams' projects,
the fiber optics in the waterwall and site lighting will make the project dramatic
at night. Glass and Stone Garden for the North Terminal at Hollywood Airport,
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, will feature an abstracted boat frame sculpture and
platforms with indigenous limestone with traces of fossilized sealife. The limestone,
covered with slabs of three-quarter inch glass, will appear to be underwater.
College Art Gallery is pleased to present the work of an artist with such a varied
and distinguished background. Adams has proved a bold experimenter throughout
her career and as a public artist she continues to explore the possibilites of
sculpture in an architectural context. Alice Adams: Public Projects is offered
as part of the gallery's Bronx Celebrates, a series featuring the work of Bronx
artists. Adams moved her home and studio to the Bronx in 1985 where she continues
to develop public art projects.
exhibition has been made possible in part by a grant from the Richard Florsheim
Art Fund and the Bronx Council on the Arts. Exhibitions and education programs
at the Lehman College Art Gallery are presented with support from Institute of
Museum and Library Services, a federal agency; National Endowment for the Humanities;
The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs-Bronx Borough President Fernando
Ferrer and the Bronx City Council Delegation; The New York City Department of
Cultural Affairs Cultural Challenge Program; NYC Partnerships for Arts and Education
through the Annenberg Challenge for Arts Education; New York State Council on
the Arts; the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, Inc.; J.P. Morgan & Co.; The Chase
Manhattan Bank; The Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation; Greentree Foundation;
Heathcote Arts Foundation; Robert Lehman Foundation, Inc. and Friends of the Lehman
College Art Gallery.
Zimmer, "Adams' Eaves," Soho News, April 15, 1981. 2 Lucy Lippard, "The
Abstract Realism of Alice Adams," Art in America, September 1979, p.76 3
The first "percent for art" laws, setting aside a portion of capital
funds for art, began to take shape in the late 1950s and by the early 1980s created
new opportunities for many artists through national as well as state and local
programs. (Philadelphia established the earliest municipal "percent for art"
ordinance in 1959. Federal sponsorship General Services Administration's Art in
Architecture program, 1963, and the National Endowment for the Arts' Works of
Art in Public Places (later Art in Public Places), 1967, and New York City began
its policy in the same era though it did not become an ordinance until 1982. )
The early commissions tended to be large-scale sculptures by major artists which
were placed in plazas and lobbies. As "percent for art" projects became
more wide spread, site-specific work, developed for a particular location and
community, became a basic premise of the commissioning process. 4 Jeff Huebner,
"Holding Pattern," The New Art Examiner, Vo. 22, Issue 10, Summer 1995,