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Derrick Adams

The core of visual artist Derrick Adams' work is Black joy, showcasing vibrant images and installations that represent a life of leisure that our community deserves. This is best displayed in his famous Funtime Unicorn series celebrating Black joy, love and play. Now the work will be blown-up in a larger-than-life display at Chicago's ART on THE MART.

This innovative digital art project utilizes the windy city's modern architecture as an experimental art canvas, and Adams' projection officially kicks off ART on THE MART's 2023 Spring programming. Titled Funtime Unicorn: Ruby Rides Through Four Seasons, Adams’ projection will be on view nightly at 8.30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. from April 14 to July 5, 2023.

“Working with THE MART as a canvas is completely unique and outside of the general gallery or museum context,” Adams shared in a press release. “Through giving viewers a window into my imagination, I hope that they will again feel the magic of their childhood memories.”

The animation, which is in collaboration with graphic designer The Channel, showcases Ruby's thrilling and dreamy adventures throughout the seasons. Viewers will travel along with her, seeing the transition of blooming flowers, falling leaves and snow across THE MART's 2.5 acres. To make it even more playful, the animation features a young girl's narration and background vocals by Cleo Reed, set to an original jazz-trumpet soundscape by Dave Guy from The Roots. Funtime Unicorn first appeared in Adams’ vibrant Floater series from 2020, a "collection of vivid portraits of Black people in various states of rest and play as a life-size inflatable pool float before Adams made Funtime Unicorn into a unique and interactive sculpture."

“ART on THE MART is thrilled to kick off the 2023 season with work by Derrick Adams and CPS seniors," says Cynthia Noble, executive director of ART on THE MART. "We are proud that ART on THE MART can showcase projects by internationally renowned artists together with the talent and promise of our local community."

Funtime Unicorn: Ruby Rides Through Four Seasons coincides with EXPO Chicago’s 10th edition (April 13 to 16, 2023). Four Funtime Unicorn sculptures will also be part of a new public commission on Chicago’s Navy Pier. Adams' works will also be on view at the fair within Rhona Hoffman Gallery’s booth.

Below, Noble gives EDITION more insight into the exciting installation.

What is it about Derrick’s work that personally inspires you?

Adams’ public art has an incredible track record, and he’s never been limited in his range of artmaking approaches, from traditional media, fashion, community engagement, and now digital projection. His work is both ambitious and museum-worthy, and his original depictions of Black joy leave a lasting impression on many communities. It’s a pleasure to offer Adams one of, if not the, largest canvas for his expressions of Black joy to date.

Chicago itself is also an art hub, but what do you think makes this city’s art scene unique compared to other major cities?

Chicago is an indisputable hub for advances in art, design and technology that has embraced public art for its cultural, aesthetic, and economic values. ART on THE MART is the most visible and publicly accessible venue for public art in the city, allowing us to partner with other institutions and bring in leading international artists. Seeing how the community and tourists alike have embraced ART on THE MART, I know we have a thriving arts ecosystem and a thirst for public art that will continue to grow.

This work being featured in Chicago is also significant, as historically the Black community had to be tough and not experience joy. I’d also like your thoughts on that.

What’s so compelling about Funtime Unicorn: Ruby Rides Through Four Seasons is that it provides an alternative narrative to what surrounds Black American folklore and storytelling. Through the four changing seasons depicted in Adams’ ART on THE MART projection, Adams shows us that while trauma is real and must be addressed, joy, imagination and community also can be reflected.

With ART on THE MART being the largest permanent digital art projection in the world, I’d love to know the inspiration behind creating this organization in the first place.

The idea of ART on THE MART emerged from a confluence of developments, including a major renovation of THE MART in 2016, the designation of Chicago’s Year of Public Art in 2017, and the approaching completion of the City’s Riverwalk project. THE MART introduced ART on THE MART to the world in 2018 with a launch event that attracted over 32,000 people to the Riverwalk in downtown Chicago, and we’ve since become part of the fabric of the city’s art scene. Not only do we spotlight local artists and partner with Chicago organizations, but we also bring cutting-edge digital art to the city for the public to enjoy free of charge, seven evenings per week during our season, April through December each year.

Are there upcoming events or announcements that our readers should look forward to?

Soon, we’ll announce the first participant in our newly launched guest digital art curator position. We’ve received some incredible applications from around the world. We look forward to welcoming someone into the 18-month position who will bring fresh perspectives to the platform and continue ART on THE MART’s mission to present cutting-edge digital art.

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