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 the principal and founder of Adjaye Associates. Born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents, he has established himself as an architect with an artist’s sensibility and vision through his broadly ranging influences, ingenious use of materials, and sculptural ability. In 2017 Adjaye was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and was recognized as one of the 100 most influential people of the year by Time magazine.

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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

Rick Lowe painting in his studio.

Behind the Art
Rick Lowe: In the Studio

Join Rick Lowe in his Houston studio as he speaks about his recent paintings, describing their connections to his long engagement with the activity of dominoes and to his community-based projects created in the tradition of social sculpture.

Kahlil Robert Irving, Downtown Norfolk, Nebraska (1998), 2017, unglazed and glazed ceramic, enamel, luster, and image transfers.

Social Works II: Kahlil Robert Irving

Antwaun Sargent speaks with Kahlil Robert Irving in advance of the opening of Social Works II and presents a portfolio of Irving’s sculptures.

Rachelle Mozman Solano, Las Damas, 2010, chromogenic print,

The Destination Is Latinx

Susan Breyer surveys the dynamic state of contemporary Latinx art in the United States. Highlighting seven artists who are rewriting cultural narratives, Breyer calls for sustained attention to this growing group beyond National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Still from "In Conversation: David Adjaye, Rick Lowe, and Thelma Golden"

In Conversation
David Adjaye, Rick Lowe, and Thelma Golden

Rick Lowe and Sir David Adjaye join Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, for a conversation on the occasion of the exhibition Social Works at Gagosian, New York. The trio explore Adjaye and Lowe’s shared interests in architecture, community building, and the relationship between space and the Black body.

Sergio Zambon black-and-white portrait

Fashion and Art: Sergio Zambon

Designer Sergio Zambon, head of menswear at Moncler, speaks to Wyatt Allgeier about his inspirations and visions for this season’s 2 Moncler 1952 M collection, a project under the Moncler Genius initiative, and his collaboration with artists Andrea Anastasio, Prem Sahib, and Erwin Wurm on a special exhibition of unique artworks—being sold for a good cause—presented in Milan on September 25, 2021, in conjunction with the live digital show “MONDOGENIUS.”

Kon Trubkovich in his studio, Brooklyn, New York, 2021.

Kon Trubkovich

Historian Victoria Phillips speaks with the artist about his new paintings, memory and its relationship to media, and the continuing impact of the Cold War.

Installation view of Urs Fischer’s Untitled (2011) in the exhibition Ouverture, Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection, Paris, 2021. Artwork © Urs Fischer, courtesy Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich; Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection © Tadao Ando Architect & Associates, Niney et Marca Architectes, Agence Pierre-Antoine Gatier. Photo: Stefan Altenburger

Bourse de Commerce

William Middleton traces the development of the new institution, examining the collaboration between the collector François Pinault and the architect Tadao Ando in revitalizing the historic space. Middleton also speaks with artists Tatiana Trouvé and Albert Oehlen about Pinault’s passion as a collector, and with the Bouroullec brothers, who created design features for the interiors and exteriors of the museum.

Anna Halprin in The Prophetess, 1955.

Game Changer
Anna Halprin

Jacquelynn Baas celebrates the choreographer, dancer, and teacher, tracing the profound influence she had on the worlds of dance and art.

Markuskyrkan (St. Mark’s Church), Björkhagen, Sweden, 1956–60.

Sigurd Lewerentz

On the occasion of the exhibition Sigurd Lewerentz: Architect of Death and Life at ArkDes, Stockholm, Mark Francis speaks with Kieran Long, Adam Caruso, and Anna Nittve about the enduring legacy of Lewerentz and the singular qualities of the revered architect and his work.

Galerie Patrick Seguin, Paris

Patrick Seguin

Andisheh Avini speaks with the Paris gallerist and publisher about his passion for architecture, design, and art.

Jean Pigozzi:  An interview with Rachel Feinstein

Jean Pigozzi: An interview with Rachel Feinstein

Famed photographer of the famous, Jean Pigozzi speaks with artist Rachel Feinstein about the publication of his new book, The 213 Most Important Men in My Life, and provides a sneak peek at what’s coming up next. 

John Currin, Memorial, 2020 (detail), oil on canvas, 62 × 40 inches (157.5 × 101.6 cm)

John Currin: Monuments to Lust

Natasha Stagg reports on a trip to John Currin’s New York studio.