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Gagosian Quarterly

Summer 2021 Issue

Social Works:Sir David Adjaye OBE

David Adjaye speaks with Antwaun Sargent about Asaase, a new sculpture included in the exhibition Social Works.

Sir David Adjaye OBE, preparatory drawing for Asaase (2021), 2020

Sir David Adjaye OBE, preparatory drawing for Asaase (2021), 2020

David Adjaye

Sir David Adjaye OBE is a Ghanaian-British architect who has received international acclaim. In 2000, he founded Adjaye Associates, which today maintains studios in Accra, London, and New York and runs projects spanning the globe. Born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents, Adjaye has established himself as an architect with an artist’s sensibility and vision. He is known for his ingenious use of materials and his sculptural ability and his influences range from contemporary art, music, and science to African art forms and the life of cities. His projects range from private houses, bespoke furniture collections, product design, exhibitions, and temporary pavilions to arts centers, civic buildings, and master plans.

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Antwaun Sargent

Antwaun Sargent is a writer and critic. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books, among other publications, and he has contributed essays to museum and gallery catalogues. Sargent has co-organized exhibitions including The Way We Live Now at the Aperture Foundation in New York in 2018, and his first book, The New Black Vanguard: Photography between Art and Fashion, was released by Aperture in fall 2019. Photo: Darius Garvin

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Antwaun SargentFor the Social Works exhibition at Gagosian, New York, opening this summer, you will be presenting Asaase [2021], a large-scale sculpture that takes its name from the Twi word meaning “earth.” This marks an extension in your practice; you’re not abandoning the language of architecture, but Asaase falls squarely within the realm of sculpture, wouldn’t you say?

David AdjayeYes. This project is special for me, I’ve gone full circle. When I started working as an architect, I wasn’t interested in sculpture because I was terrified of a lack of responsibility that I perceived in the practice. I felt that I couldn’t engage with it; I needed something that gave me a certain weight and responsibility to carry. I hadn’t actually matured in myself to carry the weight of my own questions. In a way, architecture became the perfect vehicle for me to find purpose, and also to pursue a certain idea about the world and forms. Thirty years later [laughs] I get to this moment where I’ve built a significant number of buildings, and to make architecture as a young Black male is no longer in question. I no longer have to justify that I can be an architect to any of my clients, or to anybody in the world. That’s just assumed. I feel like I can finally deal with my own questions.

And my questions have always been associated with fragments and the power of fragments. The history of art, the history of Black art, the history of white art—all of it is always this reconfiguring of the creative practice through fragments. I feel like we’re in a Black renaissance right now, and really the optimal issues for me are, How do we learn from the fragments that aren’t necessarily caryatid columns or fragments of Berninian bronzes, right? Rather, how do we learn from the fragments that are our past? And how do we do so without mimicry, because this is not about trying to create a classical; this is trying to reimagine another world. How do we create form with the freedom of an artistic mind, a human being expressing themselves?

My thinking about the fragment is influenced by my time working on a country home for myself in my father’s village, which is my ancestral home in the mountains of Akwapim, Ghana. It’s this idea of constructing from the earth and constructing nonorthogonally, constructing against the urban—constructing organically, one could argue. I’m not interested in the caricature of the form, I’m interested in the essence of the form. In all my work I’m interested very much in the root essence, in the purity of the form, always trying to search for the DNA of the thing. In a world that’s so complicated with production and capitalism, to be able to have the reduction of things as elemental is something I pursue as an aesthetic pleasure. So in a way what I’m talking about right now is the ability that I now have in myself to be at one with the hamlet, the village, and the city at the same time.

It’s designed to create moments where the audience can just sit in-between earth. This is something people have forgotten how to do. It’s a return to a very primal moment.

Sir David Adjaye OBE

ASI think one thing that arises in this work is the materiality of it—the use of rammed earth is significant.

DAI’ve always questioned the way material has a certain language within the classical canon of a European sensibility. There’s an apartheid in that, or a hierarchy of materiality. I find this sense that, say, marble is noble and some other material is ignoble a really vulgar way of understanding the power of materiality. So I’ve just fully embraced this material that’s seen as the poorest material on the planet: earth. For me it’s actually the most profound material, because it’s the material that has sustained our humanity, literally, since our inception. We’re at this moment now of thinking that we can cut away from earth and live in a kind of artifice. Our biophilic relationship with earth—some now think it can be simply severed. How? So I’m deeply invested in reconfiguring the image of rammed earth as a radical twenty-first-century material. I’ve realized that I don’t even mind where the earth is from, it’s just about the earth. Again, it’s about the idea of what is the fragment that actually connects us back to our humanity, and the fragment in a city like New York is just to see raw earth. That’s actually the most radical thing.

ASFor you, then, is this a living sculpture?

DATotally, yes. It’s a way of preserving a fragment of life.

ASHow should it be experienced? What are the possible ranges of that experience?

DAIt works across many modes of sensory perceptions. It will become an atmospheric absorber of a certain kind of moisture in the gallery and will emit a certain atmospheric quality. It will have a kind of presence quality, an aura of form. I anticipate that when one is just still with it, and in reflection with it, it will hold the most power. It’s designed to create moments where the audience can just sit in-between earth. This is something people have forgotten how to do. It’s a return to a very primal moment.

It’s also a sculpture that utilizes perspective. It’s a kaleidoscope that’s changing, so that it’s never what you think it is from any one view, always shifting. And that’s a playful element, but one that I really value. We are polyphonous in our understanding of how we engage with things made, and I want to engage the whole spectrum of the sentient nature of our presence and our bodies with form. So it’s working without the eyes, with the eyes, with the ears, with the nose, and even with the way in which we breathe through our noses and mouths.

Social Works: Curated by Antwaun Sargent, Gagosian, 555 West 24th Street, New York, June 24–August 13, 2021

The “Social Works” supplement also includes: “Notes on Social Works” by Antwaun Sargent; “Lauren Halsey and Mabel O. Wilson”; “The Archives of Frankie Knuckles: Organized by Theaster Gates”; “Carrie Mae Weems and Maya Phillips”; “Allana Clarke and Zalika Azim”; “Rick Lowe and Walter Hood”; and “Linda Goode Bryant and DeVonn Francis

Screen Time: How Nadya Tolokonnikova and UnicornDAO are Warming the Web3 World

Screen Time: How Nadya Tolokonnikova and UnicornDAO are Warming the Web3 World

Ashley Overbeek profiles Pussy Riot member Nadya Tolokonnikova and the feminist collective UnicornDAO, highlighting their efforts to harness blockchain technology for art and activism.

Rachel Whiteread, Kunisaki House, 2021–22, concrete, 102 ½ × 305 ⅛ × 191 ⅜ inches (260 × 775 × 486 cm)

Rachel Whiteread: Shy Sculpture

On the occasion of the unveiling of her latest Shy Sculpture, in Kunisaki, Japan, Rachel Whiteread joined curator and art historian Fumio Nanjo for a conversation about this ongoing series.They address the origins of these sculptures and the details of each project.

David Teniers the Younger, Archduke Leopold William in his Gallery at Brussels, c. 1650, oil on canvas, 48 ⅜ × 64 inches (123 × 163 cm), Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Screen Time: A Conversation with Andrei Pesic

In conversation with Ashley Overbeek, scholar Andrei Pesic traces the art-historical roots of the NFT market to the Paris Salons. Along the way, they discuss questions of authenticity, value, and ownership.

Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Questionnaire: Anselm Kiefer

Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Questionnaire: Anselm Kiefer

In this ongoing series, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist has devised a set of thirty-seven questions that invite artists, authors, musicians, and other visionaries to address key elements of their lives and creative practices. Respondents make a selection from the larger questionnaire and reply in as many or as few words as they desire. For the fourth installment, we are honored to present the artist Anselm Kiefer.

Leaps of Faith: A Conversation with Jordan Casteel and Calida Rawles

Leaps of Faith: A Conversation with Jordan Casteel and Calida Rawles

For her guest-edited section in the Winter 2022 Gagosian Quarterly, “Black to Black,” Roxane Gay speaks with Jordan Casteel and Calida Rawles about the nature of success, the intricacies of care, and how they each envision their practice.

Damien Hirst and Ashley Bickerton during an installation at Newport Street Gallery, London, c. 2017

Truth Revealed: Damien Hirst and James Fox on Ashley Bickerton

In conversation with James Fox, Damien Hirst reflects on the artwork of his longtime friend.

Urs Fischer: Denominator

Urs Fischer: Denominator

Urs Fischer sits down with his friend the author and artist Eric Sanders to address the perfect viewer, the effects of marketing, and the limits of human understanding.

Black and white image of Walter De Maria, 1961. Photo: George Maciunas

Walter De Maria: The Object, the Action, the Aesthetic Feeling

The definitive monograph on the work of Walter De Maria was published earlier this fall. To celebrate this momentous occasion, Elizabeth Childress and Michael Childress of the Walter De Maria Archive talk to Gagosian senior director Kara Vander Weg about the origins of the publication and the revelations brought to light in its creation.

The Émile Hermès Museum, Paris. Photo: Nathalia Baetens, courtesy Hermès

Fashion and Art: Pierre-Alexis Dumas

Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the artistic director of Hermès, speaks with curator Abby Bangser about the central role of the house’s art collection in its creative process.

Timothy Behrens, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, andMichael Andrews (left to right) at Wheeler's restaurant in Soho,London, 1963. Photo: © John Deakin/John Deakin Archive/BridgemanImages

Frank Auerbach: Artist Friends

In this candid interview with Richard Calvocoressi, the painter Frank Auerbach reminisces on his friendships with Michael Andrews, Francis Bacon, and Lucian Freud. The two spoke during the planning of the exhibition Friends and Relations, a show that examines the interconnected lives and art practices of this group of London painters.

Photograph of the execution of Giuseppe Penone’s frottages in La Tourette, Éveux, France. Giuseppe Penone, Le Bois Sacré (The Sacred Forest), 2022, prepared canvas oil and wax pastel

Giuseppe Penone À La Tourette

Le Couvent Sainte-Marie de La Tourette, in Éveux, France, is both an active Dominican priory and the last building designed by Le Corbusier. As a result, the priory, completed in 1961, is a center both religious and architectural, a site of spiritual significance and a magnetic draw for artists, writers, architects, and others. This fall, at the invitation of Frère Marc Chauveau, Giuseppe Penone will be exhibiting a selection of existing sculptures at La Tourette alongside new work directly inspired by the context and materials of the building. Here, Penone and Frère Chauveau discuss the power and peculiarities of the space, as well as the artwork that will be exhibited there.

Image of Mehdi Ghadyanloo working on Finding Hope (2019), a mural in the lobby of the Congress Centre for the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, 2019

Mehdi Ghadyanloo

Negar Azimi speaks with the artist about his murals in Tehran, his preoccupation with slides, and his inspirations from Giorgio de Chirico to Alfred Hitchcock.