“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.”
-From the Penn News site.
The Philadelphia Negro was one of my press’s first publications. I’m proud to work at Penn today.
Terry Adkins (1953–2014) created the portfolio The Philadelphia Negro Reconsidered in collaboration with The Common Press at the University of Pennsylvania, which is directed by Matt Neff. The portfolio was inspired by The Philadelphia Negro - W.E.B. Du Bois’ pioneering demographic study of Philadelphia’s original 7th Ward, the neighborhood in which The Print Center is located. The exhibition is supported by the Department of Fine Arts, School of Design, University of Pennsylvania.
The Common Press is the letterpress printing studio at the University of Pennsylvania. The press is a collaboration of interests at Penn, including writing (Kelly Writers House), print culture (the Rare Book & Manuscript Library) and visual arts and design (the School of Design). The facility provides a mixed media environment where students can move between digital and manual image making, collaborating with writers, printmakers and others in the book arts. The Common Press exists to assist in teaching design and to facilitate collaborative projects across the university. It was founded on January 17, 2006, the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth.
-From the The Print Center.