John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The artist built a 75-foot-long humanimal inside the soon-to-be-demolished refinery.
It's hard to hide a 75-foot-long, lily-white mammy in the shape of a sphinx in Brooklyn, but renowned artist Kara Walker has managed to pull it off. The trick: Stick it inside an abandoned building that's soon to see the ugly side of a wrecking ball.
The bare-breasted humanimal, whose skin is made of sugar, currently lurks in the abandoned Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg. The iconic processing plant, which dates to the 1850s (though a fire once caused it to be rebuilt), ceased operations in 2004 and is slated to become just one more mixed development. To give it a fitting send-off, the arts group Creative Time tapped Walker—known for her cut-paper silhouettes loaded with themes of race, violence, and sexuality—to gift it with something truly monumental.
The sculpture's full title, a sentence in itself, references the troubled, colonial history of the sugar trade that helped inspire the piece: "A Subtlety: 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." The folks at Brooklyn Street Art offer some insight into the difficulties Walker and her team had in erecting it:
On a technical note, she offers special thanks to the fabricating sculptors who struggled with the amber candy material as it reacted to changes in temperature and humidity. The floor itself had to be power-washed to loosen and dispel an inch of thick goo, and as we spoke she pointed to the dripping of a molasses type of liquid from the ceiling onto the sculpture. Asked by the [Creative Time] team if the sphinx should be whitened each time there was a drip, the artist decided that she likes the dripping effect so they will leave it as is and watch how the piece ages with the history of the building.
Below, find photos that Creative Time has offered of the Sphinx's mightiness. For those wishing to pay tribute in the flesh, trek to Williamsburg for the work's public debut this Saturday, May 10, and on certain hours every Friday to Sunday until July 6.
Photos of the artwork by Jason Wyche, courtesy of Creative Time; image of the Domino plant by Beyond My Ken / Wikipedia