Brooklyn, NEW YORK—In case you somehow missed it, Kara Walker is presenting her first public sculpture at the old Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg. Creative Time, a public art organization, commissioned Walker to create a work in the abandoned space before it is transformed by developers. What she came up with has stunned critics and the public alike.
Walker’s sugar-coated sculpture is a sphinx figure with the head of a black woman donning a handkerchief. Called “A Subtlety” or “The Marvelous Sugar Baby,” its subtitle explains its symbolism: “an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World.”
There is much more about “A Subtlety” here.
The installation has become the event of the season, drawing all kinds beyond the art world and the city’s usual culture seekers. Artist Chakaia Booker (who has her own public art exhibition currently on view in the city) was there the day I visited. The New York Times reported that actresses Julianne Moore and Jodi Foster each waited in line to see it. Beyonce posted photos on her blog of her, Jay-Z and their daughter viewing the work.
Closing this weekend, “A Subtlety” is on view May 10 to July 6, 2014. (It is closed today for the July 4 holiday.) Viewing the work is quite an experience. If you can’t make it in person, the images below will give you a sense of its powerful presence, its scale and the installation space.
All photos by Arts Observer
Admission to “A Subtlety” is free and it has been so popular that the line generally extends a couple of blocks. The wait is not bad considering, usually about 20 to 30 minutes. About 100 people are admitted at a time.
The sphinx is surrounded by series of molasses sculptures of black boys that are scaled up replicas of figures Walker found online. As described by Creative Time, “they are both racist objectifications and strangely cute and compelling.”
Over the course of the exhibition, the sugar sculptures have been melting, transforming and in some case collapsing. The boys’ features are fading away and they are standing in brown, sticky puddles. Walker has said she was aware this would happen and that the process of decomposition plays into the narrative of the exhibition.