It’s always interesting to see what draws the New York crowd; great shows can go without any attention while mediocre ones can pack a room. There’s a concoction of trailing the openings of favorite artists, juggling trust in magazine reviews, and the recurrent advertising of social media influencing where to go and what to see. It’s clear that Kara Walker’s show isn’t like the small but vacant gallery with hidden gems nor like the mediocre space over fire capacity; for one, the storage shed of the vacant Domino Sugar Factory which houses the sculptures makes a group of hundreds of people still feel rather intimate. At the same time, the winding line down Kent Ave, the waivers to be signed, and the instructions on entrance shape the experience in a Disneyland-like way before one even enters.
In a sense, there really is something sweet and amusement park-like about the show. The humid air of a New York just starting to welcome sunshine feels slow and thick like molasses, but the molasses in the air might just be the smell of the sculptures. Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety” or “The Marvelous Sugar Baby” is a host of smaller sculptures, small boys carrying baskets of sugar products, and the ‘sphinx’ made entirely out of sugar cubes and standing at 35 x 75 feet. For the sphinx alone, Domino donated 160,000 pounds of sugar. An inscription at the building’s entrance, written by Walker, reads: “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.” Hyperallergic writes:
“Once one of the neighborhood’s leading employers, by the beginning of this century, when artists, musicians, writers, and urban professionals were slowly beginning to outnumber blue collar workers in Willliamsburg, Domino had become a symbol of the city’s industrial past that was never to return.”
The New York Times has said:
“In some ways, then, her piece is about the passing of blue-collar America. The Domino building on the East River now belongs to the art-friendly developer Jed Walentas, who has lent the space to Creative Time while he prepares to level most of the the structure and put up apartments for Williamsburg’s new elite (with some set aside for the less privileged).”
So Walker’s nod to the building’s past is also a haunting declaration of its future. Both past and present collapse in the building’s present; the sweetness is overwhelming and in fact becomes too sweet to bear; the sugar rush to the head is matched by the energy of being in the building, and one can’t really be present in the building for too long at all. At the same time, the sculptures are too sweet not to see at all.
Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety” (aka the Marvelous Sugar Baby) is organized by Creative Time and will be on view at the Domino Sugar Factory (S 1st Street and Kent Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn) on Fridays from 4-8 PM and Saturdays & Sundays from 12-6 PM until July 6.