Adam Helms

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Courtesy of Highpoint Center for Printmaking. © Highpoint Center for Printmaking
Born 1974, Tucson, Arizona

Adam Helms grew up in the Desert Southwest watching horror films on VHS with Tucson’s hardcore punk scene ascendant in the background. In his teens he was fascinated by flyers for hardcore punk shows, posters of Ronald Reagan with a swastika superimposed on his forehead, and other extreme images from the underground music scene of the 1980s and ’90s. Now he considers himself an ethnographer whose artistic practice, which includes drawing, printmaking, and and assemblage, is rooted in his archival research of the subversive and insurgent. “I survey and document the iconography, posturing, and symbols of radical political groups and subcultures,” Helms said of his practice in 2006. “I am interested in the ethos of violence, the romanticization of extremist ideology, and linking issues from our political past with contemporary [and] current events.”1 Yet Helms’s work is not necessarily as political as it is anthropological—it does not present answers or propagate certain sympathies but rather poses questions about the power of images in the formation and representation of revolutionary identity.

At Highpoint Editions Helms produced a , Untitled Landscape (2008) (cat. no. 157) , that exemplifies the subject matter of his practice. Two photolithographs—one of an improvised shelter in the desert outside Marfa, Texas, and another of a separatist rebel camp in the remote forests of Chechnya—flank a sheet of ballistic nylon depicting a mutilated body, a pastiche of Chechnya’s flag, and a phantomlike mask resembling a portrait of Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. The result is a fictitious rebel insignia formed by an amalgam of historical imagery, symbolism, and context. By stripping the work of specificity, Helms was able to investigate the patterns that underlie and predetermine radicalism independent of time, place, and ideology.

Helms’s search for the universal among disparate radical cultures began during his time as a graduate student at Yale University School of Art, New Haven, Connecticut. While there, Helms was awarded the Robert Schoelkopf Memorial Traveling Fellowship (2003), which afforded him a trip to Northern Ireland to document republican and loyalist murals in rural Catholic and Protestant communities. Helms received his MFA from Yale in 2004, and before that, in 1997, he earned a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence.

Helms has had solo exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver (2008) and at several galleries in New York, Los Angeles, and Amsterdam, as well as residencies at Artpace, San Antonio (2014) and Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas (2007). His work has been featured in group exhibitions at, among other venues, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (2010); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and Bilboa (2010); and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2006). He has received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (2010), Rema Hort Mann Foundation Emerging Artist Grant (2006), and Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award (2005). In 2019 Helms relocated his studio from Brooklyn to Cologne, Germany, where he now lives and works.

—Ian Karp


  1. . Doryun Chong et al., Ordinary Cultures: Heikes/Helms/McMillian (exh. cat.), Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, 2006). ↩︎