in situ

Adam Parker Smith’s Upcoming Show Puts the Fun in Funeral

Last summer, at the height of COVID, Adam Parker Smith hopped into his Mazda hatchback with his partner and two children, and left Brooklyn for a hideout in Swan Lake, New York. There, the 42-year-old artist has spent the past year preparing his upcoming show of new works at the downtown New York gallery The Hole. The pieces—five 650-pound resin-and-steel sculptures, each one an upright sarcophagus enveloped inside a hiker’s sleeping bag—aren’t yet painted, but Smith is planning to deck them out in neon purples and pinks, bright yellows, oranges, and reds. While this new series is as playful as much of his earlier output—the inflatable pool dolphins made out of pink resin, for example, jumping through towers of concrete cinder blocks; or the giant two-by-four beam pinning a deflated cartoon cactus against a gallery wall—there seems to be something far graver and more austere beneath their bright, beachy surface.

Smith admits that there are many ways to interpret his work—the overt pop-cultural references, the earnestness that stems from all of our programmed childhoods, or the sheer material ingenuity of inventing new tools and methods for each wacky, gravity-defying piece. But there seems to be something more personal at play, a grief real or imagined, rooted perhaps in family or self. As someone who has lost both of his parents and several friends in the last few years, I can’t help seeing the playfulness of his art laced with some sweet menace lingering at its edges. Smith hedges around this questioning when I bring it up, and I don’t follow up. I realize I have to be left alone with the silence that these curious sculptures engender. Whose empty tombs are these? What memorial is made with these colorful, fated plinths? The works are not without their jokiness, sure, but there are also undercurrents of unabashed resistance.