After graduating from Columbia University in 1953 with a B.F.A. in painting, Alice Adams received a Fulbright grant to study tapestry-making at L’École Nationale d’Art Decoratif in Aubusson, France. Returning to the United States, Adams set off to work on tapestries, but she kept her knowledge of painting and drawing at hand, often starting with sketches and then bringing them to the loom. In this period, Adams also developed an interest in highlighting the randomness of the backside of her woven works as the artistic subject, rather than the front, thus transforming her traditional weaving education into an experimental artistic approach. She also began using her tapestries to construct complete environments within themselves.
Adams exhibited in Woven Forms at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in 1963, an exhibition that recognized her innovative weavings among those of other prominent artists in the field of textiles. Shortly after this exhibition, Adams began working on three-dimensional pieces she called “structures,” honing in on her desire to highlight her working process. Adams also used increasingly unusual materials, combining industrial objects with her weaving practices. In 1966, Adams exhibited in Lucy Lippard’s groundbreaking Eccentric Abstraction, a group exhibition at the Fischbach Gallery that presented artists who also used non-traditional materials.
Adams’ work shifted in the mid-1960s with a greater interest in construction and “urban renewal.” A native resident of New York, Adams had experienced the continual construction and demolition occurring in the city, pushing her audience to consider the harsh effects of urban renewal. This shift also accompanied Adams’ transition to materials outside the realm of the loom.
Finding many of her materials on Canal Street and even incorporating materials typically reserved for building, Adams used her “structures,” beginning around 1965, to create new rooms and environments. Adams questioned the rigid, monotone architecture of New York City, using plaster, wood, fragments of buildings, and corner pieces to reveal what existed beneath the surface. In this alternate construction to the work happening outside of her studio, Adams focused on creating objects meant for preservation rather than eventual destruction, freezing the architecture of this period in New York, and the details beneath it, against the tide of urban renewal.
Much of Adams’ later work is based in public commissions, but she continued to develop these reflections on place, projecting them to a larger scale and a greater audience.
Adams’ work has been included in many significant group exhibitions, including Decoys, Complexes and Triggers, Feminism and Land Art in the 1970’s, Sculpture Center, NY (2008); Materializing Six Years: Lucy Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art, Brooklyn Museum, NY (2012); and Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950-2019, Whitney Museum of American Art, NY (2019-2021).