Project for Empty Space Reintroduces Itself to New York

The talent incubator has opened the doors to PES Futures, a Chinatown exhibition space inaugurated by ‘Future People… Take Off,’ an intrepid solo show from Derrick Adams.

Credit: Carlos Hernandez

As of late, Derrick Adams and his oeuvre enshrining visual elements of Black culture, particularly at moments of leisure and repose, has seemed omnipresent. His monumental mermaid sculptures preside over Hav & Mar; he’s at the center of The Brooklyn Museum’s “Giants” exhibition of fine art from the Dean Collection, and he participated in Kinfolk’s recent artist-driven AR reimagining of New York monuments. Now, his vision on the topic of Black futures is the subject of the inaugural solo show at Project For Empty Space’s new location in downtown Manhattan.

Adams and Project for Empty Space go way back; he was among the incubator’s inaugural artists in residence back in 2015 and has been a repeat collaborator with founders Rebecca Pauline Jampol and Jasmine Wahi ever since. As his star continues to rise, they selected him to usher in the organization’s next phase: PES Futures. Futures brings Project for Empty Space back to New York, where it was founded in 2010, to support boundary-breaking artists with resources and solo exhibition space with a focus on selected artists’ interpretations of the future, all in the country’s art capital.

Credit: Schaun Champion

“It felt good to place Futures in our original stomping grounds, and in a place that brings folks together from all parts of the world,” the founders told Surface. The organization, which has long been synonymous with its operations in Newark, is also doubling down on its presence there with two new exhibitions slated to open this summer.

They credit Adams, together with fellow alumni Nina Chanel Abney and David Antonio Cruz, with “setting a precedent” for the organization’s directive to collaborate with artists whose work prioritizes social engagement and empowering intersectional communities. Adams, for his part, views the organization’s “artist-first principle” as an essential part of the strides it’s making in the larger art community—and a reason why he’s eager to return to Project for Empty Space as a repeat collaborator.

Jampol and Wahi also speak to his “commitment to making spaces for joy.” This manifests in Adams’ current exhibition as an intrepid, intergalactic exploration of retrofuturistic cultural ephemera. Viewers behold back-issues of Ebony magazine, Sears Roebuck catalogs, Paleolithic-era lantern slides from the University of Chicago, and the record collection of late DJ and producer Frankie Knuckles, who is remembered as the Godfather of House music.

“My exhibition is an offering to those who can imagine a shared world beyond the constraints of surroundings that attempt to oppress us with limited representation of cultures outside of what is considered by some as the dominant power structure,” Adams says. “I see other worlds through education and research. ‘Future People… Take Off’ highlights these findings and presents them as an out-of-the-world experience—which they are.”

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