Before the old Domino Sugar factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is razed to make way for the massive SHoP-designed mixed-use complex, it has been transformed into a gallery for famed artist, Kara Walker. Inside the 30,000-square-foot space, which stills smells of molasses, she has created a 75-foot-long, 35-foot-high, sugar-coated sphinx (on view through July 6th). The work, which was created in collaboration with Creative Time, is called A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, and according to Walker’s artist statement, it is “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.”
The Sphinx. (Henry Melcher / AN)
Because of its sheer size, the bleached-white sphinx is impossible to fully see and comprehend from just one side; as the view of Marvelous Sugar Baby changes, so do the questions she raises. It is a work about ruins and time, female sexuality and power, and, most fundamentally, sugar and race.
“A form like this form embodies multiple meanings, multiple readings all at once, each one valid, each one contrasting with the other,” said Walker standing alongside her work.
Inside the cavernous space, Walker has also created a procession of figurines made of molasses and resin in the shape of smiling, basket-carrying boys who appear to be melting away under spotlights. Days before the unveiling, when two of the boys actually did melt away—or at least shatter—Walker picked up their pieces and placed them in the baskets of those still standing.
For Walker, this installation was about more than creating another great piece of work and expanding her artistic vocabulary; it was about filling the factory’s final days with something grand. “It was my obligation, being given the opportunity to work in this space, to bring as much as possible into it because it is never going to happen again,” said Walker.