Kara Walker is not a subtle artist. Perhaps best known for her cut-paper silhouettes, she often uses violent images that brazenly call forth issues of race, gender and sexuality to the fore.
Creative Time has commissioned Walker to create Subtlety: Or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, 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 on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant. While intricate sugar confections used as centerpieces for feasts are apparently called subtleties, Walker's work is anything but.
Walker has created a magnificent sphinx-like sculpture that is more than 35 feet high and 75 feet long, and installed it in the derelict remains of the old Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg. After years of community protest, the site has been recently approved by the City Council for developer, Two Trees, to demolish the factory and build a high-rise residential development. Using this site for her temporary installation at this juncture in its history, Walker and her team used white sugar, donated by Domino, to cover the sphinx which is sculpted with styrofoam blocks. She also created smaller boy figures made of molasses--and currently in various stages of melting--and installed them surrounding their snow-white mother figure.
The factory site reeks of its history, a raw syrupy smell of hardened molasses. Entering the vacant cavernous space, Walker's sphinx lounges at the far end, bathed in the sunlight and surrounded by her dissolving attendants. Her majestic presence evokes issues of the past and the present: the plantation economy of the antebellum south; relations between masters and slaves (particularly those between male plantation owners and female slaves); Brooklyn in the late 1880s when the Domino plant was said to have been the largest sugar refinery in the world; and gentrified "Wiliamsburg" (complete with scare quotes). In Walker's first three-dimensional artwork, she manages to hit the sweet spot (pun somewhat intended) to achieve powerfully evocative imagery through contemplative serenity.
ART21 documents the installation in-process here:
Walker's work is on view at the Domino Sugar Refinery until July 6, 2014. Catch it before her work and the refinery are removed.
One of the absolute main highlights of my Detroit trip was meeting and visiting with artists who have transplanted to the city. Taking advantage of declining property values, some artists from other cosmopolitan areas (including Brooklyn and Oakland) have moved to Detroit, purchased property (without mortgages), and transformed their homes into live/work spaces and site-specific installations. In doing so, these artists have managed to turn rows of homes that had been used as informal brothels and crack houses into a neighborhood, complete with an ingrained community watch system.Indeed
The architects and urban revitalization specialists behind Design 99 have managed to orchestrate one such community. Their non-profit, Powerhouse Productions, teamed up with Juxtapoz magazine in 2009 to purchase several houses in the neighborhood which were then given over to artists, Swoon, Retna, Monica Canilao, Richard Colman, Saelee Oh, and Ben Wolf, to renovate and recreate. Each house has been given a descriptive name, and now either provides living space for artists and visitors or exists as a site-specific installation.
The documentary film, Detropia (2012), explores the decline of the city’s automobile industry and its consequent effects on the city’s residents. Featuring striking shots of abandoned buildings in the center of Detroit, the film includes a beautiful scene of tenor, Noah Stewart, singing Puccini in the abandoned Michigan Central Station, his sonorous voice reverberating through its hallowed halls. The documentary’s strength lies in its ability to highlight the consequences of the rise and fall of the automobile industry, by focusing on the compelling narrative of the community members who were integral to the industry’s workforce and whose livelihood and standards of well-being are directly affected.
Another narrative, however, is the nascent story of Detroit’s attempt at renewing its downtown area. Walking through the downtown area on a summer afternoon, I came across this: