Kara Walker’s “A Subtlety” — a Sugar Sphinx installed at the old Domino Sugar Factory — has been wildly popular since it was installed in early May, though not universally embraced. “Once a luxury — subtleties were sugar sculptures made for the rich as edible table-decorations — sugar became more widely available due in large part to slave labor.” The work, commissioned by Creative Time, is a perfect pairing of venue and art, provoking interpretations around race, industry and power in U.S. culture, past and present.
The Sphinx is a stunner, and the sensation of standing on the empty factory floor on Brooklyn’s waterfront (soon to be torn down to make way for residential construction and a park) with this monumental sculpture and its smaller molasses boys cannot be replicated from afar. Not even through the avalanche of images available on social media (here and here, for a start). The scale of the hangar-like space and its sticky sugary smell are vital to the experience.
“…it is beautiful, brazen and disturbing, and above all a densely layered statement that both indicts and pays tribute.”
Roberta Smith, ‘A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby’ at the Domino Plant
“Both Murillo’s and Walker’s projects speak to labor and commerce, but both, by nature of their grand scale, are very much part of the structures they critique…. Let’s use these works to unearth troubled histories, sure. But let’s unearth the stories behind the works themselves to look at our troubled present.”
Ryan Wong, Sugar Coat: On Oscar Murillo and Kara Walker
“So much for institutionalized protest—this is art packaged to look like radicalism while supporting capitalism at its worst.”
Carol Diehl, in Dirty Sugar: Kara Walker’s dubious alliance with Domino, follows the money trail, citing the advertising alliances at play in this work and the checkered history and connections of today’s sugar industrialists.
‘A Subtlety’ is open Fridays- Sundays only and is scheduled to close July 6th. Because of its popularity there is often a line for admission, but it moves very quickly. Don’t miss this unique show and a chance to see the Domino Sugar Factory for the last time.
Photos: sphinx and boy by me; factory via Creative Time.