Max Adrian Challenges Expectations with Captivating Textile Sculptures

By Sarah Berenz, Roy Lichtenstein curatorial fellow, Columbus Museum of Art

Max Adrian is a Columbus-based textile artist whose work is featured in Quilting a Future: Contemporary Quilts and American Tradition on view now through Jan. 28, 2024 at the Columbus Museum of Art.

Sarah: Can you briefly explain your work and artistic practice?
Max: My work is primarily based in sewing, soft sculpture and inflatables. I like using sewn construction and piecework to create objects that reference the body in unexpected ways. I’m interested in grabbing the viewer’s attention right away through bold colors or tactile materials and using that as a starting point for conversations about desire, consumer culture and queerness. I like making work that has specific visual associations – like bounce houses, board games or cat towers – and then complicates your expectation of that thing. Mutability, transformation and playfulness are consistent themes through a lot of my work. I think it’s always an important reminder that something or someone is more complex than the initial impression we develop.

Sarah: Have you experienced any “aha!” moments or major transitions in your education or artistic career?
Max: Graduate school was a pretty big transitional moment in my practice. Before grad school, my work was very focused on personal experiences of queer identity. Themes around fetish, kink, costume and performance were really prevalent. During grad school in Philadelphia (also in the early months of the pandemic), I started to zoom outward and place those personal experiences in relation to broader concerns like technology, artificial intelligence, even waste management. My work took a much more architectural turn as I started to consider the ways that desire and the built environment collide. Now, my ideas are a lot about blurring lines between bodies, objects and structures.

Max Adrian’s , Act II, Scene IV: Snowman, 2017, 2021 at Columbus Museum of Art (courtesy CMA)

Sarah: What’s the best thing about the Columbus art scene right now?
Max: The best thing about the Columbus art scene is how welcoming and unpretentious it is. People are very curious about what other artists are up to, so I think it’s easier to feel supported here versus other cities, as long as you put yourself out there. I feel that Columbus is a really great place to take some risks and experiment.

Sarah: What other artists inspire you?
Max: I tend to find the most inspiration in experimental work that crosses disciplines and considers the body in compelling ways. I’m a big fan of Zsófia Keresztes lately, she makes these large-scale tiled bodily sculptures that ooze and bulge around rigid structures. I love Kara Walker for her powerful, immersive sense of storytelling. I love Robert Gober for the ways in which bodies and objects morph into each other – think hairy silicon legs traveling through a large sink! I love Tishan Hsu for similar reasons, particularly the ways that his work examines how bodies have been impacted by technology. Wells Chandler is one of my favorite queer artists; I love the sense of joy and transformation in his crochet pieces. Aaron McIntosh’s queer quilting based work is a major source of inspiration, too. I often look at inflatable artists like Claire Ashley and Jimmy Kuehnle for thinking about ways that large, soft structures engage with architecture. Lauren Clay’s work plays with this sense of physical/ virtual traversal in really compelling ways to me. I keep tabs on a lot of artists, but I honestly find just as much inspiration in art forms like drag, puppetry and fashion, too.

Sarah: Do you have a favorite museum/gallery/cultural venue?
Max: I’m originally from Kansas City, Missouri, so the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art back home hold special nostalgia value for me. Those museums are on either side of the Kansas City Art Institute campus (where I went to undergrad), so I spent a lot of time in both places. Here in Columbus, I think galleries like No Place, Dream Clinic Project Space and 934 Gallery do a great job at showcasing experimental contemporary work. My all-time favorite cultural venue has to be the entire city of Venice, Italy,  though. I’ve been super fortunate to attend the Venice Biennale twice now, which takes place in locations all throughout the city – the old shipyards, palaces, private homes in some cases. It’s an incredible way to experience so much art and history, and you can grab an Aperol spritz on your way from one site to the next.

Max Adrian’s Yellow Tower as an Unruly Body (Currently Undergoing Routine Maintenance, Engorgement, and Self Discovery), 2022 (credit Jake Holler)

Sarah: What is on your playlist/podcast list?
Max: It really depends. Sometimes it’s disco vibes, and I’m singing to Donna Summer while sewing away. I have a great upbeat studio playlist with lots of Janelle Monae, St. Vincent, Scissor Sisters, Beyonce, Miley, Ssion (that’s a niche KC reference for those KC queers out there!). Alt J or Beach House if the studio is feeling a little moody. I listen to A LOT of soundtracks for movies or video games too: Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Night in the Woods, Ori and the Blind Forest. I’m a bit of a nerd. Sometimes I’ll even find a four-hour video on YouTube of Animal Crossing music that immediately puts me in a chill, productive trance. Podcast wise, I LOVE this podcast called Very Delta hosted by one of my favorite drag queens, Delta Work. She is hilarious, campy, highly opinionated and brings great queer guests onto the show. I also listen to All Things Considered for good storytelling and 99% Invisible to learn about architecture and design.

Sarah: Do you have any current or upcoming exhibitions or residencies?
Max: Yes! I recently opened a major solo exhibition titled Max Adrian: RIPSTOP at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. That is up in Houston, Texas until Jan. 6. I have a piece in the phenomenal exhibition Quilting a Future at the Columbus Museum of Art until Jan. 28. And I’m currently the Artist-in-Residence at the Priscilla R. Tyson Cultural Arts Center, also until late January. Come say hi and see what I’m stitching up!

See Max’s work at the Columbus Museum of Art in Quilting a Future: Contemporary Quilts and American Tradition on view now through Jan. 28, 2024.

This article is part of a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council as part of the Art Makes Columbus campaign. Explore a calendar of events, public art database and artist stories at columbusmakesart.com. To learn more about GCAC grants visit gcac.org.



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