Kara Walker’s newest art work, a giant sugar-sphynx called “A Sutblety" installed in the defunct Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg is an absolute must-see if you’re in the area. The line was long, but we were inside within 25 minutes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a combination of submission and power in a single large-scale artwork before, and the confluence of materials, timing, setting, and even smell, all contributes to the thought-provoking themes. Some notes I happened upon after seeing and pondering the exhibit:
- Subtleties were, in the Middle Ages, were elaborately constructed food items typically reserved for royals. They were meant to be consumable as well as entertaining.
- The gesture being made by the sphynx, thumb between the index and middle finger, is known as the fig. It can signify good, evil, or obscene tidings, depending on where in the world that you are.
- The baskets of the small resin statues of boys contain pieces of similar all-sugar sculptures that melted.
- The Domino Sugar factory in Williamsburg, which is soon to be replaced by high-rise condos, was once the largest sugar refinery in the world, producing over half of the sugar consumed in the United States. Sugar still coats the walls and beams of the exhibit space, and lingers in the smell of the musty air. It is at once difficult and all too easy (given the real estate a few blocks to the North) imagine the space replaced by shining, Dubai-like towers. While I think some additional context for the setting would have been useful for visitors, this may have detracted from the sphynx-like aura, and the impetus for some folks to ponder the meaning for themselves.