Native Son (Circus) at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
By: Ashley Holland, Assistant Curator
Being a curator for Art Bridges makes my experience with our collection unique and ever-changing. Art Bridges objects have a life of their own, outside of a single institution or gallery. No two presentations are the same, allowing us to experience familiar works in new and creative ways. Take, for example, Native Son (Circus) by Terry Adkins, currently on display at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.
Native Son (Circus) was originally conceived by interdisciplinary artist Terry Adkins in 2006. Adkins took inspiration from a tortoise shell in his house, as well as the origin story of jazz musician and composer Charlie Parker. The story goes that as a teenager, Charlie Parker played one night with legendary jazz drummer Jo Jones. Unfortunately, Parker performed horribly, and Jones threw a cymbal at him to stop his playing. Parker, humiliated, dedicated himself to intense practice and eventually became a celebrated musician. Adkins took the form of a tortoise shell and the materiality of the cymbals and created a work that is both aesthetically engaging but also lyrical. The cymbals, activated by an electric pulse, are designed to sound softly at varying intervals. Unfortunately, Adkins never saw Native Son (Circus) fabricated because of his untimely death in 2014. Luckily, he left behind drawings and blueprints which allowed his estate to create the work posthumously to his specifications. The resulting sound sculpture is a lasting tribute to not only a tortoise shell and Charlie Parker, but also the artist himself.
Native Son (Circus) has been on display at the Brooks Museum since September 2018 as part of a multi-part exhibition titled Rendition I-III. Paying homage to both the creativity of Adkins and the provisional nature of jazz, the Brooks will install Native Son (Circus) in three different galleries over the course of their loan. The result is a contemporary sculpture that changes and responds to the works around it, creating dialogue between a variety of time periods, media, and artists.
The Brooks installation of Adkins Native Son (Circus) as part of Rendition I-III is a wonderful example of an innovative use of the Art Bridges collection to activate existing collections in new ways. If you are in the area, please visit Rendition I-III at the Brooks Museum, on display until August. You can also visit their Facebook page to see additional photos of the installation.