A newly commissioned large-scale wall mural and sculptural installation will be unveiled October 29 at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Created by Brooklyn-based artist Derrick Adams, Our Time Together will be a 93-foot work that reframes historical Black narratives.
“In Our Time Together, I highlight Milwaukee by representing commercial and social spaces known within the Black community,” said Derrick Adams. “These dwellings, and those who occupy them, are essential to the cultural, political and creative growth of American society, which is then spread out to a global audience. The installation reflects my respect and admiration for the perseverance of Black Americans in their pursuit of happiness and speaks to transformation, belonging and normalcy.”
Inspired by Victor Hugo Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book, a traveler’s guide for Black Americans during the Jim Crow era, Adams celebrates the rituals of everyday Black life and leisure.
The monumental wall mural includes references to important sites of Black culture in Milwaukee including Gee’s Clippers, Coffee Makes You Black and the Wisconsin Black Historical Society, combined with vernacular photographs from the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and dynamic figures that Adams created. By referring to sites of intergenerational congregation, ordinary moments and pop culture, the imagery references a richer and more nuanced understanding of Black life in America, beyond historical trauma.
“Through his monumental wall mural and sculptural installation, Adams underlines the importance of commemorating — and archiving — ordinary daily activities as central to shaping community and collective identity,” said Lisa Sutcliffe, Herzfeld Curator of Photography and Media Arts, Milwaukee Art Museum. “We’re honored to share and support this site-specific commission, which celebrates Black-owned businesses and culture, and asks important questions about the role of media and visual imagery in the construction of identity and cultural value.”
The Green Book was revolutionary in its day as a travel guide that listed Black-owned businesses, restaurants and lodgings that were safe for Black travelers in the 1930s through the 1960s, during the height of the Jim Crow era of racial segregation.
Adams visited Milwaukee in 2018 and 2019 to explore sites of importance in the Black community, including the Wisconsin Black Historical Society. He also met with Black artists and business owners, researched places listed in the Green Book, and viewed an archive of civil rights era photographs from local newspapers.
Adams has stressed the importance of archives to Milwaukee, where none of the historic Green Book sites still exist. For Adams, pointing to the significance of these archives is a vital form of honoring Black innovation, Black stories and resilience in the face of adversity.
On view through 2024, Our Time Together is the first in the Museum’s On Site series to activate the East End. The exhibition series, which began in 2001, invites contemporary artists to make new works that respond to a specific location within the Museum. Artists previously featured in the series include Chakaia Booker, Liam Gillick and Andrea Zittel.
“On Site: Derrick Adams allows the Museum to take a different approach in programming. We have three years to explore the amazing themes of this commission: to gather together, archive Black everyday experiences and histories, and honor Black-owned businesses and service industries,” said Kantara Souffrant, Curator of Community Dialogue, Milwaukee Art Museum. “I want to use this time to co-build with community partners, organizations, and Black artists, to create events and opportunities together that help us strengthen Milwaukee’s arts ecosystem and promote a more unified community.”
Derrick Adams Studio