The Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s dedicated space for small sculpture is normally a pristine jewel box for studious exhibitions, each of its glass vitrines holding a carefully chosen collection of objects from the museum’s collection.
But in a new exhibition featuring work by Rochester-born artist David Adamo, the strange sanctity of this chapel of miniature objects has been shattered.
Glass doors have been left ajar. Strange objects, such as a bright red cardinal perched on the edge of an open door, spill out of the vitrines and into the gallery’s sculpture court. Other cases and spaces contain a range of oddities: a half-eaten ear of corn that’s been bronzed; a light scattering of sea-green foam packing peanuts meticulously sculpted from clay; a collection of what appear to be tiny, jam-filled cookies of the sort you can only buy from Rochester’s Savoia bakery.
These are a few of the many small figments of Adamo’s strange and inscrutable imagination that pepper the exhibition, the Berlin-based artist’s first solo show in an American museum.
Each of the small objects – from deflated balloons to abstract polygons thrown in for good measure – serve as accents to much larger sculptures which Adamo has hewn from towering totems of western red cedar. It all adds up to a wordless conversation between the large sculptures and the smaller ones, which viewers can follow back and forth like breadcrumbs between the oft-overlooked small sculpture gallery and its more heavily trafficked counterpart.
“The objects are choreographed in a way to interact with each other, so I shift scales quite a bit, and switch materials and feelings quite a bit so it can create sort of tension,” Adamo said during a recent break from installing the show. “I do also like to fill things up and then empty them out and then see what’s left over. So there should be some kind of mystery to the whole thing as well.”
Though the narrative thrust of the exhibition is murky, there are some concrete ideas embedded in Adamo’s work. One is his concern with the never-ending process of removing material to reveal some essential form. Another is the importance of viewing everyday objects and items in a new context, divorced from their normal surroundings.
For Albright-Knox curator Cathleen Chaffee, who has followed Adamo’s work for more than a decade, his consistent working methods, sense of playfulness and his interest in the quotidian set him apart.
“There’s this humor that you don’t get very much in artists of his generation,” Chaffee said. “It’s a very light touch, but there is a real appreciation of poetry and the everyday. And that’s related to these small interventions. He’s not someone who feels like he has to make a giant this or a giant that.”
While Adamo is a known quantity in the international art world, the fact that he hadn’t received a solo show at an American museum stood out to Chaffee. It was one of the first projects she suggested when she began her job at the Albright-Knox in 2013.
“Here’s this artist that is actually pretty well-known in certain circles, has never had this kind of institutional validation, and he’s a relatively young artist,” Chaffee said. “This is something that this institution not only can do but we should be doing, and we believe in it.”
What: “David Adamo”
When: Through May 17
Where: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1285 Elmwood Ave.
Admission: $5 to $12