Review of reviews: Art
Exhibit of the week
Kara Walker: Sikkema Jenkins and Co. Is Compelled to Present...
Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York City, through Oct. 14
Kara Walker isn’t nearly as exhausted as she professes to be, said Siddhartha Mitter in VillageVoice.com. The very title of Walker’s latest major gallery exhibition— a 198-word carnivalbarker parody that playfully foretells the public’s likely response— shows the California native to be as inventive as ever. In an accompanying statement, the 47-year-old black artist declares, “Frankly I am tired, tired of standing up, being counted, tired of ‘having a voice’ or worse ‘being a role model.’” It’s a remark designed to attract pushback, as have many of the provocations Walker has engaged in on her way to becoming “one of the most daring, acclaimed, and occasionally reviled” artists working in America. Whether she has used wall-size silhouettes or a hangar-size sphinx made of sugar to play with stereotypes of African-Americans, she has always exposed to light the ugliest corners of the nation’s racial imagination. “Walker has long warned us of today’s engulfing grotesque. The culture has come to her.”
Reducing her focus on America’s past, she homes in this time on “the remorseless, racialized American present,” said Roberta Smith in The New York Times. The title of one group of silhouetted figures, Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might Be Guilty of Something), hints at the recent spate of stories about police shootings of unarmed African-Americans. In the 10-foot-tall collage The Pool Party of Sardanapalus (after Delacroix, Kienholz), Walker “really cuts loose.” Its array of young black women in two-piece bathing suits calls to mind a well-publicized 2015 incident in which a white policeman in Texas was videotaped pinning down a black teenage girl at a pool party. By painting and drawing the figures in ink, then cutting them out and arranging them, Walker has brought to her art “a new freedom and toughness that it has needed.”
One enormous collage rates, alongside Walker’s sugar sphinx, as “perhaps the greatest work about America made in the 21st century,” said Jerry Saltz in New York magazine. Christ’s Entry Into Journalism plays on the title of James Ensor’s Christ’s Entry Into Brussels in 1889. But this is no pale imitation. It’s an “empire-destroying” riot of pillagers, Klansmen, and golems. Trayvon Martin makes an appearance. So do Batman, Uncle Ben, Martin Luther King Jr., and Donald Trump twice—including once as a severed head bearing a swastika on his forehead and held aloft by a Black Panther–like figure. Walker clearly knows she may be destroying her career by issuing this 10-by-18-foot howl of protest. Still, “it will be a crime if this work doesn’t end up on permanent display in a prominent New York museum.”