When Adam Justice's father, Lynn, enrolled in a Bob Ross painting class, he had no idea that it would lead to a career for his son.
"My first major introduction to art was through my father. When I was young, my dad enrolled in a Bob Ross painting class held at our local bank. I remember his makeshift studio in our basement, where he practiced every night on his technique. The scent of oil paint still reminds me of that studio. I went to class with him every chance I could and always wanted to be around while he painted at home. I had always loved to draw, but after seeing my dad being so studious and serious about his painting, I began to realize art could be something much more than a pastime.
"I think these experiences with my dad instilled in me a general curiosity in art that never went away. I enrolled at Radford University as a painting major. That major required so many credit hours in art history, which ultimately changed my trajectory. I immediately fell in love with art history, while still maintaining studio classes every semester. I received my BA in art history at Radford and later earned my MA in art history at Virginia Commonwealth University. I was employed part-time at VCU's Anderson Gallery for several years before landing my first full-time curatorial gig at William King Museum of Art in 2006," he says.
His mother, Barbara, got involved in his career because she missed him, so she told him about what became his first full-time job.
"My first curatorial appointment was with William King Museum of Art. Prior to that, I had no intention of being a curator. I remember receiving a letter from my mother that included the classified ad about WKMA seeking a new curator. She wanted me to be closer to home. I applied for the job with no expectations to land it. So, when I was offered the position, I leaped into curatorial rather blindly. WKMA provided those very important formative years, when I discovered myself as a curator. Having grown up in Southwest Virginia, it was a bonus to have learned how to be a curator in my native environment," Justice says.
His first exhibit that he solely curated was "Of Earth + Mind" at William King Museum in 2006. "It was a survey of regional pottery that included several artists from central Virginia to western North Carolina. That show opened my eyes to know and appreciate the thriving Appalachian arts scene."
Justice left William King Museum in 2010 to become Curator of Art at the Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, Florida. While there he was in charge of organizing the museum's exhibitions and working with the Acquisition and Collection Committee to expand and maintain the museum's permanent collection. During his tenure, he curated and oversaw the installation of exhibitions and worked with numerous contemporary artists and arts institutions throughout the country. He built relationships with regional artists, art collectors throughout Florida and facilitated several important acquisitions for the permanent collection, including works by Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Iva Gueorguieva. Along with artist Trent Manning, Justice also served as co-curator and resident artist at Winter Haven's Outer Space gallery.
In 2016, he joined The Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, as the assistant curator of modern and contemporary art.
"I have never worked for an institution as large as the Mint Museum or in a city as large as Charlotte. I have also never been an assistant curator. Now that I have been here for nearly a year, I have grasped most of the general duties of the job, and the city is finally feeling like home," Justice says.
"I'm not actively working on my own exhibitions just yet, but I have some ideas I'm fleshing out for the future. I feel I have earned the trust of my Mint colleagues and have been gradually given more responsibility and involvement in the exhibition process. We just opened "State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now,' a large exhibition on loan from the Crystal Bridges Museum. I was very involved in working with the museum's exhibition designer and installation team throughout the show's staging process. We are currently squaring details for a large exhibition of contemporary Mexican photography opening this fall. That will be followed by a survey of contemporary collage work.
"I think my involvement will continue to grow with those exhibitions until I begin solely curating again. I have recently assisted a local art gallery with curating an exhibition for a corporate space and am in conversations with another gallery for something similar in the future. I am also remotely curating an exhibition to open next year at the Polk Museum of Art in Florida," he says.
Justice prefers to focus on shows with art from living artists.
"I learn so much from just a conversation with an artist. When that conversation is geared toward an eventual exhibition, that artist and I must distill and digest that information in order to conceptualize the vision for the show. In keeping with that, one of the most memorable shows for me was "Beyond Aesthetics' at William King Museum of Art. That would have opened around 2008.
"I worked with three artists who created work that aligned with their respective faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I have always been intrigued by the intersection between art and religion and the historical context shared among the three Abrahamic faiths. It was a mind-opening experience to work with those three artists, and I hope audiences left with a more informed understanding of contemporary faith-based art.
"I do love working with living artists who are creating cutting edge work that is both aesthetically fresh and intellectually compelling. I usually approach works of art from an aesthetic perspective, then delve deeper into their meanings or context. That doesn't always prove productive in a curatorial sense, but it's something I cannot turn off. With that said, perhaps the most difficult thing is to be objective. Seeing beyond my own personal preferences can be challenging, but I've learned how to better manage that over the years. I will continue to learn how to balance that with future experience," he says.
He is a graduate of Honaker High School. Justice's career includes nearly 50 curated exhibitions of modern and contemporary art, numerous essays and critiques written for exhibition catalogues and regional publications. He has served as judge/juror for regional and national arts competitions, including PhotoNOLA (New Orleans), The Hunting Art Prize (Houston, Texas), and Gasparilla Festival of the Arts (Tampa, Florida). While in Florida, he also helped found Outer Space (Winter Haven, Florida), a contemporary art gallery and studio residency program, where he served as co-curator and resident artist. He still maintains a modest studio space at his home in Charlotte, where he explores the formal intersections between drawing, collage and acrylic.
Justice plans to remain in Charlotte for the foreseeable future. "I think this city has a budding arts community that I want to continue connecting with through the museum. I plan to continue curating. I plan to continue painting."
He encourages people to never waste an opportunity to experience the arts of their immediate communities.
For more information about The Mint Museum, visit www.mintmuseum.org.