NYU Black Renaissance Noire Winter 2014 - Page 100

Dennis Kardon But then, what are we to do with a critique that faults Walker for the capitalist corruptions of her sponsors, those who came later than the exploiters in her historical spectacle? I guess we need to denounce Leonardo’s works for the profit earned from the Borgias, who also funded much of the Italian Renaissance. Take the art out of the Met that was supported by crooked money and you could plant a fine soccer pitch. Art history is never innocent — I’m quoting somebody; maybe myself. Walker gets blamed for the housing development that will be built on the site of her temporary public art piece and trashed for the working conditions under which her polyurethane material are produced. Graffiti taggers, throw down your markers! 98 A Subtlety may be more of a sensation and spectacle than a major work of art, but there is something large and impressive about its effort to articulate an idea. It says more to me than Christo’s drapery of orange sheets in Central Park. One thing is easy to miss: the first thing that hits you when you walk toward the sculpture is the Mammy stereotype of distorted minstrel facial features of the sugar goddess. But what is compliant and humble in that frontal view changes when you see her in profile. Then you see those same features pressed forward in arrogant contempt and defiance. Both at once. In mythology a sphinx is where you go to get answers to portentous questions. And often her answers are a riddle. There are a few riddles in A Subtlety. Diehl missed them all. Part of the riddle or mystery of the piece is its refusal to console. The pronounced vulva at the rear end testifies to both power and vulnerability (“sweetness and power”). It is surely not a triumphalist monument (but a mockery). And as a conceptual artwork destined to dissolve like sugar in somebody else’s bowl, it is more tragic than redemptive. Yet to use a phrase Baldwin knew how to handle, it witnesses. Carol, a fascinating piece on the political connections of Domino, but I would like to respectfully disagree on a few points. I think it is a mistake to attack Walker on the gratuitous titillation charge. As originally conceived in her first exhibition at the Drawing Center, the black paper silhouettes were radical partly because of the way they implicated a viewer’s imagination with its store of racial and pornographic stereotypes in order to complete the piece. It was the ambiguity that gave the early work that power. It was only after the attack by the black intellectuals that you mention which scared her off her original premise, that Walker started to weaken and temporize her work with text, illustration, and general dumbing down and lack of trust in the original power of her work, making explicit and obvious what was before ambiguous and requiring a complicity on the part of viewers. This is the first really great work of hers since then, because it again requires that complicity. Rather than temporizing the Domino connection it throws it in their face. No one having seen this piece can now innocently buy a Domino product again. She has made visible something hidden, and easy to stay unaware of, and in a way that brings the full horror of it home. It is important for groups that have been oppressed to take back the stereotypes that oppressors have used to define them, emphasizing their degrading nature. And people who criticize Walker for doing this don’t really understand the artistic power in the way she has most successfully employed it. The work (at its best) is not really titillating, it is discomfiting. But you are correct that the criticism of the instagrams is disingenuous. They were to be expected. I don’t think it was Walker that criticized them. I think this piece is more problematic for Domino, especially with your research, than it is for viewers or Walker. As for Two Trees I am afraid that being in bed with them is pretty self-defeating. I urge artists not to participate in their open studio celebrations which just raise the value of the real-estate and hasten their own eventual eviction.