Following the initial announcement in April that David Adjaye will design a “monumental earthwork” as part of a larger artistic cohort assembled for the forthcoming 2023 edition of the Counterpublic triennial in St. Louis, further details, accompanied by initial design renderings, have been revealed about the much-anticipated commission. Entitled Asaase III (2023), it will be the celebrated Ghanaian-British architect’s first-ever permanent public artwork.
The work will be realized on Jefferson Avenue just outside the Griot Museum of Black History, and not too far from the former site of the Pruitt-Igoe housing development in North St. Louis. As detailed in a press release, Asaase III takes form as a labyrinthine configuration of earthen walls that “climb to a conical vertex.” Referencing notable works of West African architecture like the Tiébélé royal complex in Burkina Faso and the walled city of Agadez in Niger, Adjaye’s work “meditates on the notions of fragments—fragments of chambers and of buildings constructed from the earth that were the backdrop to the lives of Black people.”
“St. Louis Place has a rich architectural history,” explained Public Art Fund senior curator Allison Glenn, who commissioned the work for Counterpublic in her role as part of a larger curatorial ensemble for the 2023 triennial. “The immediate adjacency of The Griot to the former site of Pruitt-Igoe provides an apt platform to connect to Adjaye’s vision for the sculpture, which takes influence from African architectural forms.”
Organized by Counterpublic executive and artistic director James McAnally and cofounder Lee Broughton, the 2023 exhibition is set to kick off on April 15 and conclude July 15. During the triennial, a six-mile-long stretch of Jefferson Avenue in Missouri’s second-largest city that stretches from the Southern Riverfront to St. Louis Avenue to the north will play host to 30 commissioned public art installations and architectural interventions—plus four permanent, site-specific sculptural works, including the Adjaye commission—for a community-oriented civic exhibition that “weaves contemporary art into the daily life of St. Louis.”
This is the second (pandemic-delayed) edition of Counterpublic. The first iteration of the triennial was held in 2019 on and around Cherokee Street, a bustling nucleus of Hispanic and Latino life in St. Louis that’s also home to a number of galleries including The Luminary, the 15-year-old St. Louis arts incubator and event space that established the triennial exhibition.
Joining Glenn on the larger Counterpublic 2023 curatorial team are, Diya Vij, Dream the Combine, New Red Order, and Risa Puleo. In addition to Adjaye, Damon Davis, Cannupa Hanska Luger, and Jordan Weber have been commissioned to create the exhibition’s three other large-scale, permanent works. (A full list of participating artists and designers can be found here.)
Established in 1997, the Griot Museum will serve as a northern anchor of the upcoming exhibition. Initially named the Black World History Wax Museum, the Griot is one of two waxwork-featuring African American history museums in the country, the other being Baltimore’s National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. Although life-size likenesses of great Black Americans very much play a key role at the Griot, the museum, which “collects, preserves, interprets, and shares the stories, culture, and history of Black people,” continues to expand its scope as the first “cultural institution in St. Louis that is solely dedicated to revealing the broad scope of Black History and culture.” Asaase III is being donated to the Griot by Broughton and his wife Chrissy Taylor.
In addition to the reveal of Adjaye’s design, Counterpublic has also announced the launch of a two-year, full-time fellowship at the Griot to “maintain, contextualize, and conserve the work and create consistent connections between The Griot, Asaase III, and the community.” The pilot fellowship is funded by the Mellon Foundation and organized in partnership with the St. Louis Art Museum.
“The Griot is an important part of telling St. Louis’s cultural history and, we believe, a cornerstone of its future,” said Broughton. “Our hope is that by bringing David Adjaye’s first permanent public artwork to this vital organization it can support this vision, be a part of generational change through Counterpublic’s efforts and shine a light on St Louis.”