When New York-based artist Kara Walker was invited by London’s Tate Modern to produce a site-specific artwork within its Turbine Hall—a 500-foot-long exhibition space that has hosted outsized works by the likes of Olafur Eliasson, Anish Kapoor, and Ai Wei Wei—she knew she had to go big. The result was Fons Americanus (2019), a monumental, 42-foot-tall fountain in the style of the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace that, according to the artist, serves as “an allegory of the Black Atlantic, and really all global waters, which disastrously connect Africa to America, Europe and economic prosperity.”
The sculpture opened in the space in October 2019 and has since become one of the most visited exhibitions in Turbine Hall’s 20-year history. “I would hope some aspect of it would have another life,” Walker told The Art Newspaper when asked about the potential future of the landmark piece. “It has all the possibilities for living beyond its present [form].” Though Fons Americanus was due to originally close on April 5, the entire museum shuttered its doors three weeks prior in the wake of the novel coronavirus epidemic. Following the abrupt closure of the exhibition, it was announced that the monument would not be reinstalled at another location but will instead be disassembled and recycled among its parts.
Conceivably the plan all along, the original exhibition description provided by Tate Modern emphasized that the sculpture was built using “recyclable or reusable cork, wood and metal,” and “avoid[ed] the use of large quantities of non-recyclable materials and harmful substances often found in the production of exhibitions and installations.” Additionally, a spokesperson for the museum told The Art Newspaper that all works commissioned for the Turbine Hall have been temporary and site-specific, and that “the exhibition catalogue remains a document and archive of the artistic intentions of the work, featuring contributions by the artist and the curator, as well as photographic illustrations of the finished sculpture.”
The fate of Fons Americanus will mirror that of A Subtlety, the artist’s first large-scale public project, installed within the Domino Sugar Refinery in Brooklyn in 2014. The sphinx-like sculpture was composed of forty tons of sugar, an inherently ephemeral material meant to reflect that of the Domino Sugar refinery itself, which was slated for demolition that same year.