If you didn't take a selfie this summer in front of Kara Walker's 75-foot-tall sphinx at Brooklyn's Domino Sugar Factory, you missed out. The massive sculpture, as a part of A Subtlety, attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors over its eight-week run, egging spectators to investigate the race, gender, and sexuality implications of the "Marvelous Sugar Baby" — and Instagram a photo or two.
Yet, while you were selecting the perfect filter for your picture, Walker herself was capturing you. On July 6 at 6 p.m. (the final day and hour of the exhibition), the artist sent six camera operators to "record the waning spectacle" and "to observe the audience in the act of looking — at the work, at themselves, at one another, and especially, looking at their phones and cameras," she explains in the resulting film, An Audience.
Set to debut Friday at the Sikkema Jenkins & Co. gallery in Chelsea, An Audience shows an alternate perspective of a revered piece of work that spurred much conversation; the sculpture was originally described by the artist as "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, on the occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant." These themes of slavery, combined with the mammy figure, of sorts, constructed from white sugar, sparked much controversy surrounding the insensitive way several showgoers interacted with the explicit statue. The film, part of a larger exhibition titled Afterword, reflects on the implications of the colossal structure in three parts: there are sketches and drawings from the pre-installation phase; the remaining left fist of the sphinx; and the footage captured in July. Even after the saccharine sculptures have completely melted away, the impact of Walker's work will surely be felt in Brooklyn and beyond.