Toronto

Kim Adams, Love Birds (detail), 1998–2010, Ford Econoline cargo vans, car parts, grain-silo caps, perforated water barrels, lighting and trailer systems, 11' 4“ x 8' x 8' and 11' 2” x 11' x 11'.

Kim Adams, Love Birds (detail), 1998–2010, Ford Econoline cargo vans, car parts, grain-silo caps, perforated water barrels, lighting and trailer systems, 11' 4“ x 8' x 8' and 11' 2” x 11' x 11'.

Kim Adams

Diaz Contemporary

Kim Adams, Love Birds (detail), 1998–2010, Ford Econoline cargo vans, car parts, grain-silo caps, perforated water barrels, lighting and trailer systems, 11' 4“ x 8' x 8' and 11' 2” x 11' x 11'.

Since the late 1970s, Edmonton, Canada–born artist Kim Adams has been repurposing salvaged auto parts, hobby kits, and hardware varia to create hybrid vehicularesque sculptures. While many works are life-scale, appearing quasi-habitable—like Andrea Zittel’s Travel Trailers—just as many are toy-size, installed on shelves as though goods in a shop. At Diaz Contemporary, Adams showed a mix of ten works produced over the last decade, including large-scale structures based on two small-scale models that he made in the 1980s. While the artist has received a good deal of exposure over the past three decades, particularly in Canada, it was interesting to envision this show as taking stock of how, as we sober up from our participatory binge of the aughts, Adams’s work reads now, particularly as an exemplary form of process-based practice.

Perhaps the obvious point of entry would be Love Birds (begun in 1998 and completed last year), a pair of eleven-foot-tall sculptures—made from heavy-duty water barrels, grain-silo caps, and the remains of two Ford Econoline vans. Of the two structures, the one bearing more flamboyant plumage takes as its unlikely base sheet-metal panels from commercial vehicles. Employing the Pop language of John Chamberlain, Adams modified these constructions with narrative (if absurd) add-ons: car doors and truck hoods mounted like awnings or avian wings, truncated and reassembled, along with the panels, to form an object on wheels that conjures a smart-car prototype of a mobile home; meanwhile, inside, a raised platform lined in aluminum checker-plate backs a multihued array of raveworthy lighting, which is refracted in turn by its glass and metal surrounds. This fun-house aesthetic is augmented by the structure’s individual parts, each coated in a different hue—pink, green, gray, black—to simultaneously suggest chop-shop workmanship and Ellsworth Kelly’s monochromatic shaped canvases. Cylindrical and, comparatively speaking, contained, the second “bird” was installed just a few feet away. Yet its evocation of spectacle—created by sprays of circular holes cut by Adams into the industrial-strength plastic water barrel to reveal a vibrant spectrum of fluorescent lights held within—dovetails with that of the first. What can be made of these carnivalesque delights? Are they simply beautiful fantasy objects (the vagabond revenants of ’60s VW acid culture)? Instruments of social interaction, in that their crowd-pleasing, semiarchitectural design encourages the sharing of reactions? Or do these sculptures, whatever else they do, demonstrate the artist’s political leanings—these stilled vehicles, tricked out to hold the viewer’s attention in the present moment, at the present site, precluding need for further capital-building production or more smog-emitting transportation?

With Adams—as an intended result of his working in two scales—we are often placed in a situation and then given a God’s-eye view of it being presented with a model-size analogue. For example, a counterpart to Love Birds was the diminutive Beetle, 2002. Taking a model of Volkswagen’s classic bug, Adams applied a clear-coat finish and a glistening metallic shade of purple, punching a highly intricate paisley pattern into its body. In so doing, he wonderfully enacted a dance between private play with toys and the public context of actual vehicles—an effect that was underscored when one stepped back out onto the street to view Autolamp, 2008, an actual Dodge Ram perforated by Adams to reveal its psychedelic interior illumination. Adams’s project avoids clichéd notions of participatory art in favor of aesthetic experiences that are heartfelt in their accessibility and playfulness, but serious in their commitment to labor.

Dan Adler