Kara Walker's "A Subtlety" was a large scale public project inside of Brooklyn's old Domino Sugar Factory. The show took place from May 10th through July 6th, and was presented by Creative Time. We asked artist Coby Kennedy to write about it.
It struck me all at once on the 3rd visit. "Ooooooo... I get it."
If I had not have borne witness to the evolving stages of Kara Walkers "A Subtlety", then I would not have "gotten it". "The Subtlety" being a polarizing installation consisting of the colossal sugar Sphinx Mammy figure surrounded by molasses and resin slave children all slowly decomposing in the cavernous remains of a molasses coated sugar factory. The ambitious months long exhibition, in the beginning, was seen by many as massive sculptural indulgence but soon revealed itself to be, among many other layers, a much more complex and unexpected exercise in viewer involved social practice.
When I arrived at the Domino Sugar Factory on that opening weekend I felt "The Fear". I rarely feel "The Fear" in New York, it usually rears its ugly head when I'm well south of the Mason Dixon Line; or on those unexpected occasions that I find myself in "America Proper" alone in a privileged suburban Abercrombie drenched mythical Stepford-wives-ian Wasp-ish purgatory of "Beckys"and "Chads".
The Fear starts as a foreboding sense of dread, a loss of agency, embarrassment and imminent danger, punctuated by an instinctual shock in the chest upon realizing that you're currently surrounded by an alien culture that consistently proves itself defensively hostile, subversively judgmental and aggressively ignorant. And on this weekend in Brooklyn, as one of the only Black viewers, surrounded by over-excited throngs of the white art viewing public cavorting and running amok around the face, ass and labia of a 30 foot tall gargantuan nude prostrated Black Mammy Sphinx made of white sugar, I found myself surrounded by White folks that just didn't get it... and the fear set in.
The depth of the piece and the sugar plantation slavery history it was referencing was in stark contrast to the perceived frolicking madness of the crowd. But then again isn't that mix of dire serious theme and darkly humorous, almost slapstick visual aesthetic, a consistent through line of Kara's work? Regardless, getting out of there felt like escaping a mob, or Auschwitz, or a Mississippi plantation in the 1800's. The overriding sense of racial them-against-us was palpable. Right then and there I laid it out to a friend, "...Any exhibit that can freak me out that hard has GOT to be a win!". But the question remained, what the hell really just happened?
The debate among a swath of the Black artist community of, "do the artist and curator of 'A Subtlety' have a responsibility to provide written or spoken context to an exhibition", is arguable. But if so where does the art cease and the didactic history lesson start? Why must intentionally polarizing art be prescribed? Doesn't that attempt at political correctness simply neuter the multifaceted potential of the work? Since when has a prerequisite of art been that it has to teach? I found it was that vagueness that made my experience with the exhibit so intense that I had to come back a second time. The critique of the piece and the way it was being engaged from a deluge of Black voices that ensued online and in person was so intense, at times seeming to come in the form of outright hatred for, not only the audience, but for the artist herself. It seemed to me that I now found myself surrounded by Black folks that just didn't get it.
And on the third visit, on the final weekend of the exhibit, it all viscerally clicked. The physicality of this sugar warehouse as tomb and slave ship alike. The past meets present connection of the porthole cut out of the wall framing perfectly the real housing projects across the east river that now holds the descendants of the Sugar Sphinx and her children. The decomposed state of the children themselves naturally melted over the course of the run of the show. The fact that Kara Walker and Creative Time planned to use the hash tagged online photos that the thousands of visitors have posted for an epilogue project of sorts goes directly to the idea that "A Subtlety" is just as much a critique of how the piece is engaged by the public as it is about the piece itself, the artist has said as much already. But what is so striking is the notion that ultimately it may not even be about "getting it" anyway. Increasingly as the show ran on whether intentional or not, those who engaged "A Subtlety" became in many ways the work itself. On that last day it seemed that the audience was just as enthralled by watching the crowd as there were watching the sugar melt.
Also on display at The Shooting Gallery alongside Kelly Tunstall and Ferris Plock is works from San Francisco based Meryl Pataky. Rachel Ralph wrote up a few words and took the photos below. Rachel can be reached: rachel(at)fecalface.com
Bringing a different kind of feminine sensibility to the project space is Meryl Pataky with her show, The Golden Hour. I must admit, I am personally enamored with this show and its creator. The work is powerful, its industrial materials are not easy to work with I’m sure, but it doesn’t feel forced whatsoever.
She combines neon tubing with cowhide and ink, speaking to what feels like an internal dichotomy. The Rorschach ink blots reveal psychological depth through the skin of the cow which literally glows from within and finally through the numerals on its surface. She also plays with the artificiality of her neon by placing up against walls of vegetation and minerals, emphasizing the true elemental nature of something that illuminates itself in a way that we don’t commonly associate with organic environments. In so doing, she speaks beyond the earth and instead reaches to the cosmos, the big bang, the creation of it all – possibly the golden hour.
After regretfully missing the opening and the lovely couple that is KEFE, I finally got over to the Shooting Gallery to see their new show, Floating World.
Somehow, with two young kids running around, our friends Ferris Plock and Kelly Tunstall have created a huge new body of work, some of which is individual, but most of which is collaborative. Combining Plock’s penchant for details and Tunstall’s intimately feminine sensibility provide for a world that we may not inhabit, yet floats above us; colorful, whimsical, and somewhat childlike. It’s fun without being immature and is ultimately just really enjoyable. Clearly influenced by a love for Japanese art and architecture, this show exudes a sense of love and appreciation and shouldn’t be missed.
Words & Photos: Rachel Ralph - rachel(at)fecalface.com
Last month Lotte Arts, in collaboration with Tiny Splendor, opened a weeklong print show, Paper & Pressure. The show, held at FFDG, featured 16 California printmakers, including Kenneth Srivijittakar and Peter Baczek.
On Saturday and Sunday the gallery housed a print sale with work by over 50 artists and local presses. Peter Calderwood and Lena Gustafson of Night Diver Press presented their hand printed and bound artist book series, Heaven and Humans.
Paper and Pressure included evening classes: a comic arts workshop led by Kane Lynch, a lettering workshop led by Sean Vranizan and Kel Troughton, and an artist talk given by veteran printmaker, Doug Minkler.
Following up the release of the newest Krooked guest artist board DLX went down to visit Geoff McFetridge in his studio to hear about his early years in skateboarding and how he transitioned from skating and making zines into becoming an artist and creating the newest Guest Artist deck for Krooked.
+click image below to view video.
We've featured the works of designer and painter Matt Moore over the years and was pleased to receive his latest email featuring a collection of foraged Andy Goldsworthy-esk geometric mandala grids he created during a recent residency at Summit on Powder Mountain in Eden, Utah.
Moore writes, "I decided it was a good play to take full advantage of the sunshine and wilderness and develop a series that would allow me to explore the beauty of Utah, create work with my hands, and celebrate the native color palette of the landscape."