Multidisciplinary artist Derrick Adams has been exploring the intersection of urban American culture with the mainstream in some of the world’s most venerable art institutions for over 16 years.

Presenting a solo show for Miami Art Week and as part of multiple group presentations at Art Basel this weekend, Adams took a few minutes to talk about sneakers, culture, and his show ‘Black, White + Brown’ at Primary Gallery.

‘Black, White + Brown’ will be on view until January 27, 2018. Images by Misha Mehrel.

What does sneaker culture mean today?

I think one of the main reasons young people collect sneakers is as one of the first introductions to acquiring taste, similar to the way people collect art with an expanded budget.

For a teenager, saving up money to buy sneakers also represents a certain sense of aesthetic and style. For people that buy art, art represents a sense of aesthetic and style. I think young consumers also set trends for people with larger incomes to follow suit, keeping them financially lucrative as well as culturally relevant.

What was the genesis of your show at Basel this year?

I’m really interested in performance. This exhibition connects a lot of things I’m interested in – from formalism to the basic practice of artmaking, and social commentary that I think reflects contemporary culture and black culture.

These particular works in the show examine my relationship to urban culture and the relationship of hip hop culture to mainstream culture. All through the show are certain aspects of influences through fashion, visual arts, sound and a broad arrangement of contexts that aren’t necessarily new or groundbreaking but are not looked at in an aestheticized fashion and art space.

These are things that I see in the neighborhood all the time that influence me and also inspire me to think about art in a really simplistic way. It is also about how much urban culture influences the mainstream culture without necessarily deliberately trying to do so.

What impact has Jordan had on culture?

Jordan as an athlete and as a brand was very inspiring and has set the tone for a lot of entrepreneurial spirit in urban culture. People saw the accessibility that Jordan brought to transforming not only sports apparel but every day apparel, bleeding further into mainstream culture and fashion. I think he was a breakthrough in terms of the possibilities of innovation.

Jordan has also been transformative in a number of ways and acknowledged the aspiration of the sneaker itself and how people wanted to feel wearing the sneakers. I think a lot of people saw the hopefulness and possibility of developing cultural innovation through products.

Are brands the new patrons of art?

I think brands have always been somehow involved in spreading the word of creatives. Brands are a really good mediator between the artist, whose practice is very insular and isolated, and the public, because brands are about reaching the masses.

But it’s imperative for brands to allow the artist to express themselves in their own unique voice and to kind of foster that as a power system with the brand, allowing the brand to elevate its audience through unique partnerships with the artist without compromising the integrity of the artist’s practice.

If you could describe your ideal approach to a sneaker collaboration what would it be?

I would be inclined to think about the material and the relationship of contemporary culture today and thinking about recycling and sustainable living. Maybe the sole could be replaced without compromising the structure of the shoe. I’d think about things that would ensure that my approach would be sustainable object as a piece of art.

Derrick Adams’ work appeared as part of several shows for Art Basel + Miami Art Week:

Art Basel Miami Beach Art Fair

Tilton Gallery

Rhona Hoffman Gallery 

Untitled Art Fair

Vigo Gallery 

Prizm Art Fair 

Adams’ Solo exhibition at Primary Projects is on view until 1/27/18