Houston

Dennis Adams

Contemporary Arts Museum Houston

Despite international recognition, Dennis Adams is, curiously, an artist whose work is little known in his own country. This is all the more surprising given that since his first appearance in Europe in the 1987 show in Münster entitled “Skulptur-projekt” (Sculpture-project) he has become an ubiquitous figure there, constantly solicited for public art projects. Adams’ first U.S. museum-scale exhibition (the last of a series of solo shows organized for the museum by curator Peter Doroshenko) brought together in one space more than twenty works created for exhibitions and public art projects in various countries, including installations, models of yet-to-be-realized projects, and documentation for projects that were actually produced. Also included was one of Adams’ bus shelters, originally made for the Münster exhibition (Bus Shelter IV, 1987) and now reinstalled in front of the museum. Far from an ordinary retrospective, this exhibition mapped Adams’ approach and mode of inquiry, and was accompanied by a detailed catalogue that reflected the spirit of the show.

Adams is better known for his public projects, and although this exhibition also includes works conceived for galleries and art institutions, it always stresses that, as Yves Michaud has noted, Adams is investigating the role and the function of social space. The artist creates a specific social and political context that reflects the site of the intervention just as his proposals for structures or urban furniture do. Particularly interested in urban spaces of passage, (pissotières, newsstands, kiosks, bus shelters, ticket booths), Adams deplores the fact that the city has become a transit zone, set up to be crossed as rapidly as possible, a place “pulverized by speed,” in Paul Virilio’s words. He views the city according to the Greek notion of politikos, that is, as a space for social debate, a debate that seems in large part forgotten. Adams’ project always brings these unresolved debates to the fore, which can still be felt. Far from being political or moralistic actions or reactions against the “society of communication,” Adams’ works, which combine text, architecture, and photographs, are fragments that force the spectator to confront the social amnesia that builds up around a place over time. He reminds us that every building, every monument, is a fragment of or a witness to a memory of all the events that have transpired. But the artist never gives the answer to the enigma with which he presents us; he leaves us alone to face ourselves, to confront the ambiguity history has produced, to acknowledge our responsibilities in the face of both history and the present. The title of this exhibition, “Selling History,” neatly captures the bent of Adams’ work.

Jérôme Sans

Translated by Warren Niesluchowski.