Adam Helms (born 1974), is a contemporary artist who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York City. His work encompasses drawing, printmaking, sculpture, assemblage, and archival research, often having to do with the iconography of marginalized social and political groups and the American frontier. Helms’s work has been exhibited at the New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York), MoMA PS1 (New York), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (New York), Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), and Museum of Contemporary Art Denver (Denver).
He is the recipient of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award and the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Visual Art Grant Award, and has been an artist in residence at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas.
Helms’s work focuses on the iconography of marginalized political and social groups, and employs imagery from a range of sources: pixilated JPEGs of Chechen rebels, tintype portraits of Confederate and Union soldiers, photographs of black metal bands. Helms mines online archives and popular print material to trace connections between the uniforms, heraldry, and physical affectations of these groups, which are often the primary means of distinguishing between them. In his work, Helms explores how these persistent, unnervingly homogenous representations of violence and trauma are processed into visual artifacts. Helms’s work has been exhibited widely and internationally, and is featured in Vitamin D2: New Perspectives in Drawing (Phaidon), among other publications.
Helms is interested in visual archetypes that are employed in various historical periods, by diverse populations, in service of seemingly divergent ideological ends. “I think of myself as an ethnographer,” Helms says. “I am interested in the ethos of violence, the romanticization of extremist ideology, and linking issues from our political past with contemporary events.” Helms often depicts masked figures, using double-sided silkscreen portraits on vellum with faces obscured by pools of black ink resembling a balaclava or hood. One persistent touchstone is painter Gerhard Richter’s 48 Portraits (1971–72), which memorializes great writers, poets, and composers using images taken from an encyclopedia. Helms’s Untitled (48 Portraits, 2010) (2010) depicts anonymous militiamen and combatants—the distortion of the original, online source images evident in the works—who exist on the fringes of society and represent the shadow of the rational order on view in Richter’s work.
Helms’s work takes the form of large-scale charcoal drawings depicting mythic landscapes (which evoke foundational and yet generic cultural narratives); screen prints and drawings on paper and other media; various installations; and light-box assemblages consisting of grid-like arrangements of archival images. These “fields of comparison” suggest that “representations of the modern world’s extreme fringes—images that we might imagine to break the mold of normal discourse—actually follow some of the most deeply ingrained conventions,” William S. Smith writes in a recent monograph on the artist’s work. “Helms’s photographic archives reveal how cultures under duress consistently fall back on tropes and archetypes to find meaningful forms.”
Recently Helms has moved away from overtly figurative work and has experimented with mounting various kinds of paper and felt to panels. These works often incorporate visual materials found in print publications and on the Internet, but they take the form of heralds invented by the artist—imagistic memes with a cryptic symbolism and uncanny quality. Helms considers the drawings on felt to be “zombies”: emblems and visual identities that originally appeared in the 1960s–90s in advertisements in publications such as LIFE and Soldier of Fortune, often photojournalistic images of soldiers or portraits of women, and decontextualized and “reanimated” by the artist. Helms’s work is included in the collections of the Walker Art Center, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Caldic Collection, and the Dakis Joannou Collection.
“Campaign,” C24 gallery, New York
“Blind Lion,” Grimm Gallery, Amsterdam (solo exhibition)
“Heel Gezellig,” Grimm Gallery, Amsterdam
“Second Nature: Contemporary Landscapes from the MFAH Collection,” Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
“Without Name,” Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York (solo exhibition)
“A.D.D. Attention Deficit Disorder,” Center of Contemporary Art at Palazzo Lucarini Contemporary, Trevi, Italy
"Natural Renditions," Marlborough Gallery, New York
“Skin Fruit: The Dakis Joannou Collection,” New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York
“Haunted: Contemporary Photography/Video/Performance,” Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
“Under Western Eyes,” Kathryn Brennan Gallery, Los Angeles (solo exhibition)
“Adam Helms,” Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Denver, Colorado (solo exhibition)
“Hinterland,” Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York (solo exhibition)
“Rising Down,” Sister, Los Angeles (solo exhibition)
“Looking Back: The White Columns Annual,” White Columns, New York
“Every Revolution Is a Roll of the Dice,” Ballroom Marfa, Marfa, Texas
“Dream and Trauma: Works from the Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens,” Kunsthalle and Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna
“Just Kick It Till It Breaks,” The Kitchen, New York
- Amir, Yaelle. "Adam Helms". Art in America. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
- "The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation 2005 Biennial Awards". Retrieved 23 February 2013.
- "The Rema Hort Mann Foundation Visual Art Grant Award Announcement". Retrieved 23 February 2013.
- "Chinati Foundation Artists-in-Residence". Retrieved 23 February 2013.
- Nickas, Bob (January 2007). "First Take: Bob Nickas on Adam Helms". Artforum: 210–211.
- Editors of Phaidon (2013). Vitamin D2: New Perspectives in Drawing. Phaidon Press. ISBN 0714865281.
- "Ordinary Culture: Heikes/Helms/McMillian". Walker Art Center. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
- "Adam Helms: Without Name". Marianne Boesky Gallery. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
- Nickas, Bob; William S. Smith (2013). Adam Helms. Snoeck. ISBN 9783864420313.
- "Adam Helms: Zombie (The Great War), 2011". Paddle8. Retrieved 21 June 2013.