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JIM ADAMS: ETERNAL WITNESS

COSMIC LABORATORIES
Jim Adams and the Mythic Sketches


Essay by Rhys Edwards

Is there any symbol more potent than the pyramid?

Jim Adams
Cydonian Pyramid, 1999
Acrylic on canvas
10.5 x 12.5 x 2.5 in framed

Is there any symbol more potent than the pyramid?

The cross, perhaps. But the cross lacks the flexibility of the pyramid, which benefits from the loss of its cultural context. Untethered from place or purpose, it is a blank trapezoid onto which any and all ideas can be projected, unrestrained by geography or time. If pyramids hadn't been constructed by all manner of ancient civilizations (astral or otherwise), most certainly a savvy marketing executive of our own time would have invented them.

Eternal Symbol Painting

Jim Adams
Eternal Symbol, 1996
Acrylic on canvas
37.75 x 49.5 x 1.75 in framed

"However, as Adams reminds us, it is also an “eternal symbol;” it is always more than what it seems. Its cache extends beyond its own history. Likewise, Adams' myths always extend beyond their own precepts; they are never fixed, never singular, never the monoliths they may appear to be."

It is the paradox of the pyramid which underlies the art of Jim Adams.

Jim Adams
Nubian Express (Night Express Train), 2019
Acrylic on canvas
10 x 12 x 1.5 in framed

It is the paradox of the pyramid which underlies the art of Jim Adams. Although a historically specific construct, it attains strength in the light of the current moment: as, variously, a monument to cultural memory; the landing site or temple of extra-terrestrial beings; a symbol both of patriotism and efforts to curtail it; and, perhaps more saliently, the embodiment of Afro-Futurist ideals.

However, as Adams reminds us, it is also an “eternal symbol;” it is always more than what it seems. Its cache extends beyond its own history. Likewise, Adams' myths always extend beyond their own precepts; they are never fixed, never singular, never the monoliths they may appear to be. Nor does Adams himself cling to the identities of a specific moment or place. He is akin more to an oral storyteller—his words seeming to communicate eternal truths, and yet embellishing them with his own, deeply idiosyncratic flourishes.

"The protagonists of Jim Adams' paintings are apparently the mythopoeic heroes of all time, inhabiting the mortal vessels of every era in a perpetual revitalization of spirit."

Little Zoose

Jim Adams
Little Zoose, 2008
Acrylic on canvas
49 x 37 x 2.25 in. framed

In the postmodern era, such narratives have lost their currency. From a contemporary anthropological perspective, they make totalizing assumptions about the equivalence of cultures

Jim Adams
Young Haephestus (Vulcan), 2018
Acrylic on canvas
10.5 x 10.5 x 1.75 in. framed

In the postmodern era, such narratives have lost their currency. From a contemporary anthropological perspective, they make totalizing assumptions about the equivalence of cultures; from a post-colonial perspective, they are a form of the hegemony imposed upon those same cultures. Yet, they also provide the grist for other, latter-day forms of social expression, such as the New Age movement (enthusiastically rekindled by an anxious Millennial generation), or, by contrast, Afro-Futurism. In a sense, the latter embraces the universalizing logic of Hegel et. al by arguing for an imaginative, magical unification of subjects beyond borders, space, and time—though, of course, it undoes this logic through a racialized, diasporic lens.

In Adams' work, there lie the seeds of perennial stories—the universal histories of spirit popularized by thinkers such as Hegel, Jung, Campbell and Frazer.

Jim Adams
Autumn Ritual, 2013
Acrylic on canvas
11.5 x 13.75 in. framed

In Adams' work, there lie the seeds of perennial stories—the universal histories of spirit popularized by thinkers such as Hegel, Jung, Campbell and Frazer. These voices are unified by a belief in a singular reality, its traces found in every realm of human cultural expression. This reality is particularly pronounced in religion and myth across time and place, while conforming to an internal logic that may be gleaned through the comparative study of culture. It asserts the continuity between ancient civilization and the present day, made visible in the stories we tell each other. The protagonists of Jim Adams' paintings are apparently the mythopoeic heroes of all time, inhabiting the mortal vessels of every era in a perpetual revitalization of spirit.

"It is tempting to read Adams' art as a robust expression of Afro-Futurism, given both his own race and his frequent references to Nubia, space, flight, and ancient Egyptian mythology. ...But such a reading does not do justice to the extraordinary breadth of Adams' practice, which evades easy categorization."

Lost trophy

Jim Adams
Lost Trophy (Apollo), 2012
Acrylic on canvas
28.75 x 36.75 x 2.5 in. framed

It is tempting to read Adams' art as a robust expression of Afro-Futurism, given both his own race and his frequent references to Nubia, space, flight, and ancient Egyptian mythology. The repeated casting of young Black men and women in the role of classical heroes and deities supports this argument and could be interpreted as a response to the domination of Western classicism in both the art world and throughout history generally. This reading could be extended more broadly to the counter-canonical efforts of those artists who inflect hegemonic culture with Black experience; such efforts have been massively popularized in recent years by artists like Kehinde Wiley, Yinka Shonibare, and Karen Walker, among others. But such a reading does not do justice to the extraordinary breadth of Adams' practice, which evades easy categorization. 

Adams is certainly not politically naive

Jim Adams
Hades Sketch, 2016
Acrylic on canvas
13.25 x 11.25 x 2.25 in. framed

Adams is certainly not politically naive, or apathetic. References to current affairs have appeared in his practice from its earliest years in the 1960s, when he produced a book work about the Arab-Israeli conflict, right up to the present day, with recent paintings referencing White Supremacy, Trump, the suppression of Women’s rights, and drug legislation, among other topics. Nor does Adams avoid broader conversations about art practice—he has held a lifelong commitment to arts advocacy, taught fine arts for more than four decades (in Philadelphia, Southern California, and British Columbia), and hosted public access television shows featuring exhibitions and interviews with contemporary artists. 

Royal Flypast

Jim Adams
Royal Flypast (Horus flies over the artist's studio with Seth explodes in rage), 2019
Acrylic on canvas
21x 25 x 2 in. framed

But it is important to see these aspects of Adams' life within the broader context of his practice. For as many paintings as there are of specific people, places, and times, there are an equal number of ahistorical, dreamlike worlds. Just as much as Adams draws upon current events and geopolitics, so too does he capture the seemingly apolitical: enormous cloud formations, planetary eclipses, astral constellations, and, perhaps most idiosyncratically, aeroplanes—the latter of which Adams renders with loving precision, awarding them as much attention and detail as his portraits of friends and family (Adams himself holds a pilot's license).

The works on display at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles primarily draw from Adams' Mythic Sketches

Jim Adams
Alien Landscape, 2018
Acrylic on canvas
17.75 x 14.75 x 1.75 in. framed

The works on display at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles primarily draw from Adams' Mythic Sketches, a body of work Adams has pursued consistently over the past three decades. They manifest mostly as studies of pyramids, or the previously mentioned portraits of deities. In a prior statement on the series, Adams notes that he portrays these figures in the garb of contemporary fashion in much the same way that historical painters portrayed mythical figures in the fashion of their own time  (it is telling that, while observers of Adams' work are often quick to assume this decision has symbolic meaning, the same cannot be said for portrayals of Christ or the Roman pantheon within the Western canon).

Adams also states that these sketches function in much the same way they have always done in the history of figurative painting: as a preliminary means of rendering visual ideas, to be refined into a more finished work at a later date. In both their function and in their casting of the subject within the contemporary moment, the Sketches are comparable to the studies of any number of historical artists.

Anubis

Jim Adams
Harry and Anubis, 2018
Acrylic on canvas
40.5 x 32.5 x 2 in. framed

But it is worth noting that proportionally few of Adams' larger canvases (some of which are also included within the exhibition) appear to relate to the sketches. These works vary wildly in terms of colour palette, subject matter, and composition; by contrast, the mythic sketches largely draw upon the same set of visual schema and have done so throughout Adam's life. Yet Adams insists that the pyramids which appear throughout the series are still the basis upon which he constructs almost all of his more refined works.
 

Little pharoah

Jim Adams
Nubian Express (Little Pharaoh), 2020
Acrylic on canvas
31.5 x 41.5 x 2 in. framed

"They reflect Adams' fascination with the eternal recurrence of conflict and the perennial truths of myth, a la Campbell; but the paradox of this position is that it is itself deeply personal, arguably to the point that it has alienated Adams from the broader community in which he otherwise participates. In a contemporary art market ravenous for the relentlessly new, Adams stands apart in his uncompromising commitment to his own vision of the world."

Cydonian

Jim Adams
Cydonian Sea (with thanks to Arnold BöcklIn), 1999
Acrylic canvas on ragboard
30.75 x 54. 75 x 2 in. framed

There is something to be said for the consistency

Jim Adams
Blood Moon, 2018
Acrylic on canvas
10.5 x 12 x 2 in. framed

Even if they do not appear in a larger-scale canvas, they are nevertheless their conceptual origin, providing Adams with the means to see things in perspective. This is often literally the case, as when Adams portrays his subjects either posing upon, or at distance from, a pyramid, though more often it is an intangible prism through which the events of a given scene occur. In other words, the pyramid is the antediluvian launch pad for Adams' forays into an array of different subjects.

There is something to be said for the consistency with which Adams returns to these works. They belie the position of an artist who has steadfastly refused to succumb to the dominant trends of painting within the contemporary art world, and particularly in Vancouver, which ascended within the global art world concurrently to Adams' own development as an artist. They reflect Adams' fascination with the eternal recurrence of conflict and the perennial truths of myth, a la Campbell; but the paradox of this position is that it is itself deeply personal, arguably to the point that it has alienated Adams from the broader community in which he otherwise participates. In a contemporary art market ravenous for the relentlessly new, Adams stands apart in his uncompromising commitment to his own vision of the world.

"Though he may address himself to a myriad of subjects—family and friends, nebulae and Nubia, microcosm and macrocosm—such statements always issue from the pyramid, looming over all, a silent witness. It encompasses all our hopes and fears, but in order to do this, it must never be commensurable to any one text. The universal symbol reserves something within its depths, something which does not translate." 

minor sun large

Jim Adams
Minor Sun, 2001
Acrylic on canvas
42.5 x 47.5 x 2 in. framed 

The poet Lavinia Greenlaw said: “The past leads us to the future

Jim Adams
Hades Rising, 2018
Acrylic on canvas
10.5 x 12.5 x 1.75 in. framed

The poet Lavinia Greenlaw said: “The past leads us to the future by reminding us that our perceptual framework is ours alone and will not sustain.” The breadth of Adams' oeuvre (of which only a fraction is present at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles) is testament to the singularity of Adams' perception. Though he may address himself to a myriad of subjects—family and friends, nebulae and Nubia, microcosm and macrocosm—such statements always issue from the pyramid, looming over all, a silent witness. It encompasses all our hopes and fears, but in order to do this, it must never be commensurable to any one text. The universal symbol reserves something within its depths, something which does not translate. That which is held over is irreducible, unique only to Adams. 

 

"Behind the mythical, there is the individual—and yet it is precisely because Adams establishes the mythical in terms of the individual that he transcends the perspectives that time imposes upon our lives."

JimAdamsSaturdayNight

Jim Adams
Saturday Night, 2001
Acrylic on canvas
29.5 x 49.25 x 2.5 in. framed

 

Behind the mythical, there is the individual—and yet it is precisely because Adams

Jim Adams
Nubian Express (The Artist Explores his Life), 2019 
Acrylic on canvas
31.5 x 41.5 x 2 in. framed

Behind the mythical, there is the individual—and yet it is precisely because Adams establishes the mythical in terms of the individual that he transcends the perspectives that time imposes upon our lives.

In his 2019 untitled self-portrait, the artist portrays himself wearing a space suit. This work is the latest in a long line of self-portraits, going back to the 1970s, where Adams appears in the form of a pilot. His destination is the upper echelons of the atmosphere, and beyond, where he is not beholden to the strictures of discourse, or the passing of time. From this lofty plane, he is able to see the world from a distance, untethered by the affairs of mortals. Here, he charters a course into alien territory, beyond terra firma. 

rainbow

Jim Adams
Look Upon the Rainbow, 2009
Acrylic on canvas
31 x 49 x 2 in. framed

Jim Adams Bio

 

 

James Lowell Adams was born in 1943 in Philadelphia, PA.  Adams received his bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Temple University (1965) and his master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania (1968).  While in university he focused on printmaking, and it wasn’t until he discovered acrylic paints that his dream of becoming a painter soared and with it 20 years of paintings dealing with his passion for aviation and flight—today considered a seminal body of work in the artist’s career.  Adams began his teaching career at the Fleisher Memorial Art School; he also taught in California at Cal State Long Beach and the Laguna Beach School of Art and Design. He moved to Canada in 1969 and, after a short time in Vancouver, settled in Surrey, BC, and took a position in the Fine Arts Department at Douglas/Kwantlen University College, where he taught until his retirement in 2000. 

Among Adams’ most prominent exhibitions are “The Irretrievable Moment” (2017), a retrospective presented concurrently at The Surrey Art Gallery in Surrey and The Reach Gallery Museum in Abbotsford; “Mythic Sketches” at the Newton Cultural Centre, Surrey; “Re: Mix” at the Surrey Art Gallery; and “Tribute: The Art of African Canadian Artists” at the Peel Art Gallery Museum + Archives in Brampton, ON, and the Mississauga Art Gallery in Mississauga, ON.  He has also been featured in solo and group exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BC; Amelia Douglas Gallery, New Westminster, BC; Thames Art Gallery, Chatham, ON; Richmond Art Centre, Richmond, BC; A Space Gallery, Toronto, ON; Metro Hall, Toronto; The Berkeley Centre, Yale University, New Haven, CT; Peterson Library, University of Connecticut, West Haven, CT; and numerous other venues.  

rhys

Rhys Edwards is a critic, artist, and curator. His art practice employs figurative painting and drawing techniques in the pursuit of anti-representation. He has written for C Magazine, Canadian Art, The Capilano Review, and BC Studies. In 2015, he co-founded the Agent C Gallery with artist Debbie Tuepah in the Newton region of Surrey, BC, and in 2019 he was nominated for the Salt Spring National Art Prize. He works as Assistant Curator at Surrey Art Gallery, BC, and lives in Vancouver, BC.

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Jim Adams
Cydonian Sea (with thanks to Arnold BöcklIn), 1999
Acrylic on canvas and ragboard, hand-painted artist frame
30.75 x 54.75 in. 

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Jim Adams
Eternal Symbol, 1996
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
37.75 x 49.5 in.

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Jim Adams
Harry and Anubis, 2018
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
40.5 x 32.5 i

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Jim Adams
Lil Zoose, 2008
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
49 x 37 in.

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Jim Adams
Look Upon the Rainbow, 2000
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
31 x 49 in. 

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Jim Adams
Lost Trophy (Apollo), 2012
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
28.75 x 36.75 in.

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Jim Adams
Minor Sun 3 (Lucifer), 2001
Acrylic on canvas and ragboard, hand-painted artist frame
54 x 41.25 in.

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Jim Adams
Minor Sun 4 (Red Sun), 2001
Acrylic on canvas and ragboard, hand-painted artist frame
51 x 42.5 in. 

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Jim Adams
Minor Sun, 2000
Acrylic on canvas and ragboard, hand-painted artist frame
44.5 x 46.5 in. 

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Jim Adams
Minor Sun 2, 2001
Acrylic on canvas and ragboard, hand-painted artist frame
42.75 x 47.5 in.

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Jim Adams
Nubian Express / Exploration (The Artist Explores his Life), 2019
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
31.5 x 41.5 in.

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Jim Adams
Nubian Express (Little Pharaoh), 2019 
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
31.5 x 41.5 in

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Jim Adams
Royal Flypast (Horus flies over the artist's studio while Seth explodes in rage), 2019 
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
21 x 25 in. 

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Jim Adams
Saturday Night, 2001
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
29.25 x 49.25 in. 

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Jim Adams
Nubian Express (Night Train), 2019
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame

10 x 12 x 1.5 in framed

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Jim Adams
Alien Landscape, 2018
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame

17.75 x 14.75 x 1.75 in. framed

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Jim Adams
Blood Moon, 2018
Acrylic on canvas

10.5 x 12 x 2 in. framed

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Jim Adams
Cydonian Pyramid, 1999
Acylic on panel
10.5 x 12.5 x 2.5 in framed

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Jim Adams
Hades Rising, 2018
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
10.5 x 12.5 x 1.75 in. framed

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Jim Adams
Hades Sketch, 2016
Acrylic on canvas

13.25 x 11.25 x 2.25 in. framed

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Jim Adams
Lunatic, 2018
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
11.5 x 13.25 x 1.75 in. framed

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Jim Adams
Nubian Express (Blue Moon), 2019
Acrylic on panel
11.5 x 13.5 x 1.25 in. framed

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Jim Adams
Nubian Express (Hale/Bopp), 2019
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
9.75 x 11.75 x 1 in. framed

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Jim Adams
Nubian Express (Blood Moon), 2020
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
10.5 x 12.25 x 1.75 x  in. framed

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Jim Adams
Nubian Express No. 1, 2013
Acrylic on board
11.5 x 13.25 x 2 in. framed

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Jim Adams
Nubian Express No. 4, 2000
Acrylic on canvas
11.5 x 13.25 x 1.75 in. framed

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Jim Adams
Young Haephestus (Vulcan), 2019
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
10.5 x 10.5 x 1.75 in. framed

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Jim Adams
Cydonian Sea (with thanks to Arnold BöcklIn), 1999
Acrylic on canvas and ragboard, hand-painted artist frame
30.75 x 54.75 in. 

Jim Adams
Eternal Symbol, 1996
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
37.75 x 49.5 in.

Jim Adams
Harry and Anubis, 2018
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
40.5 x 32.5 i

Jim Adams
Lil Zoose, 2008
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
49 x 37 in.

Jim Adams
Look Upon the Rainbow, 2000
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
31 x 49 in. 

Jim Adams
Lost Trophy (Apollo), 2012
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
28.75 x 36.75 in.

Jim Adams
Minor Sun 3 (Lucifer), 2001
Acrylic on canvas and ragboard, hand-painted artist frame
54 x 41.25 in.

Jim Adams
Minor Sun 4 (Red Sun), 2001
Acrylic on canvas and ragboard, hand-painted artist frame
51 x 42.5 in. 

Jim Adams
Minor Sun, 2000
Acrylic on canvas and ragboard, hand-painted artist frame
44.5 x 46.5 in. 

Jim Adams
Minor Sun 2, 2001
Acrylic on canvas and ragboard, hand-painted artist frame
42.75 x 47.5 in.

Jim Adams
Nubian Express / Exploration (The Artist Explores his Life), 2019
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
31.5 x 41.5 in.

Jim Adams
Nubian Express (Little Pharaoh), 2019 
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
31.5 x 41.5 in

Jim Adams
Royal Flypast (Horus flies over the artist's studio while Seth explodes in rage), 2019 
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
21 x 25 in. 

Jim Adams
Saturday Night, 2001
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
29.25 x 49.25 in. 

Jim Adams
Nubian Express (Night Train), 2019
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame

10 x 12 x 1.5 in framed

Jim Adams
Alien Landscape, 2018
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame

17.75 x 14.75 x 1.75 in. framed

Jim Adams
Blood Moon, 2018
Acrylic on canvas

10.5 x 12 x 2 in. framed

Jim Adams
Cydonian Pyramid, 1999
Acylic on panel
10.5 x 12.5 x 2.5 in framed

Jim Adams
Hades Rising, 2018
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
10.5 x 12.5 x 1.75 in. framed

Jim Adams
Hades Sketch, 2016
Acrylic on canvas

13.25 x 11.25 x 2.25 in. framed

Jim Adams
Lunatic, 2018
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
11.5 x 13.25 x 1.75 in. framed

Jim Adams
Nubian Express (Blue Moon), 2019
Acrylic on panel
11.5 x 13.5 x 1.25 in. framed

Jim Adams
Nubian Express (Hale/Bopp), 2019
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
9.75 x 11.75 x 1 in. framed

Jim Adams
Nubian Express (Blood Moon), 2020
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
10.5 x 12.25 x 1.75 x  in. framed

Jim Adams
Nubian Express No. 1, 2013
Acrylic on board
11.5 x 13.25 x 2 in. framed

Jim Adams
Nubian Express No. 4, 2000
Acrylic on canvas
11.5 x 13.25 x 1.75 in. framed

Jim Adams
Young Haephestus (Vulcan), 2019
Acrylic on canvas, hand-painted artist frame
10.5 x 10.5 x 1.75 in. framed

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Installation view of Jim Adam: Eternal Witness 

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