‘A Spilled Bag of Cheetos on the Sidewalk Is a Stunning Composition’: Watch Artist Adam Milner Make Art From… Well, Anything

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Adam Milner Takes Care of the Details." © Art21, Inc. 2021.

If you happen to be near the South Pacific Playground in Brooklyn, keep your eyes peeled for a 2003 Silver Honda CRV. It belongs to someone named Conor, and if you text him (419-971-1233), he’ll direct you right to it.

Brooklyn not your home base? Near Gramercy Park, there’s a dog named Oh Papa who usually hangs out there with his owner, Starlee. You can text her, too, for an exact location.

These seemingly random people and places are actually locations of site-specific artworks that make up the roving installation Public Sculptures by Brooklyn-based artist Adam Milner, and presented by Colorado-based nonprofit Black Cube, a nomadic contemporary art museum.

Milner is a self-proclaimed “collector” who constructs elaborate installations from discarded or found objects. Babybel cheese wax, porcelain figurines, a friend’s braided hair (“is it my hair now?” he wants to know) or plastic gems embedded in a smooth jasper stone, all collected from thrift stores, street corners, or simply amassed over the years, each become the foundation of his work.

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Adam Milner Takes Care of the Details." © Art21, Inc. 2021.

Production still from the Art21 “New York Close Up” film, “Adam Milner Takes Care of the Details.” © Art21, Inc. 2021.

In an exclusive interview filmed as part of Art21’s series New York Close Up, Milner describes himself as a “magnet, and objects are just flying at me all the time, and then I have to then deal with them.” For the omnivorous artist, that means paying close attention to detail to find commonalities in texture, color, and shape, and then meticulously arranging things into jewel-box-like displays.

While DIY self-improvement shows like Tidying Up With Marie Kondo and Hoarders tout the wonders of purging, Milner said he’s “really interested in this idea of vibrant matter, or this idea that everything is active—and how, when we’re done with something, it still exists in the world.” For Milner, there is beauty in the entropy of everyday life. 

“I will just walk around the neighborhood and look at trash,” he told Art21. “A spilled bag of Cheetos on the sidewalk is a stunning composition.”


Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s New York Close Up series, below. “Adam Milner: Public Sculptures” is on view at Black Cube through August 15, 2021.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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