2012 Portfolio by Penn’s Terry Adkins Reconsidered Through Exhibition

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Media Contact:Jeanne Leong | jleong@upenn.edu | 215-573-8151June 3, 2014

Following the death in February of the University of Pennsylvania’s Terry Adkins, a fine arts professor in the School of Design, Matt Neff, found a way to pay tribute his former colleague in a special way.
This spring Neff, a lecturer in PennDesign, arranged for some of Adkins’ work to be shown as a concurrent exhibition to his own show at The Print Center in Philadelphia. Adkins’ 2012 portfolio “The Philadelphia Negro Reconsidered” is currently featured on the ground floor of the Center, where Neff’s, “Second Sight,” is on view in the second floor galleries.
“I wanted for Terry to be present in some way in my show,” says Neff.
Fortuitously, The Print Center could accommodate the Adkins exhibit.
“The exhibition planned for our first floor gallery in conjunction with Matt Neff’s solo exhibition was a group exhibition, which could be moved without posing a problem to an exhibiting artist,” says Liz Spungen, executive director of The Print Center.
Neff, the manager of Penn’s Common Press and Print Shop, along with PennDesign’s Marc Blumthal and Ivanco Talevski, worked closely with Adkins on the portfolio, which was inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Philadelphia Negro, the 1899 demographic study of black people living in Philadelphia’s original Seventh Ward. The area covered Spruce to South streets and Seventh Street to the Schuylkill River.
“Terry is not just rethinking Du Bois as an artist and a practitioner, he’s reconsidering the visual work,” says Neff. “He wanted to recast Du Bois as one of the first modernist painters, predating Piet Mondrian paintings of urban landscapes.”
In the original research, conducted for Penn in 1896 and 1897, Du Bois went from house to house interviewing heads of households to gather information such as profession and socio-economic status, as well as whether they were affected by social problems such as poverty and crime.
To create the screen prints, Adkins, who joined the Penn faculty in 2000, used Du Bois’ hand-drawn maps of the neighborhood with its color-coded bar graphs of Du Bois’ findings, and Adkins had Du Bois’ maps layered to produce the prints.
“The maps are layered visually, but the content conceptually are super-layered,” says Neff. “There’s a lot happening behind those images. What contemporary art does is, it shows you something that you can take on the surface as what you’re seeing, but, if you look into it, there’s much more embedded in it.”
Adkins’ 18 prints in the portfolio were created in 2012 to commemorate the appointment of Du Bois as an honorary emeritus professor of sociology and Africana studies at Penn.
Both Neff’s and Adkins’ work is currently on view through June 7 at The Print Center at 1614 Latimer St.