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.