Sugar? Sure, but Salted With Meaning

Written by
Roberta Smith

With her stinging, site-specific installation at the former Domino Sugar compound on the edge of the East River in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Kara Walker expands her imposing achievement to include three dimensions and monumental scale. In the process, she raises the bar on an overused art-spectacle formula as well as her own work. And she subjects a grand, decaying structure fraught with the conflicted history of the sugar trade and its physical residue to a kind of predemolition purification ritual.

Titled “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby,” the piece runs the gamut in its effects. Dominated by an enormous sugarcoated woman-sphinx with undeniably black features and wearing only an Aunt Jemima kerchief and earrings, it is beautiful, brazen and disturbing, and above all a densely layered statement that both indicts and pays tribute. It all but throws possible interpretations and inescapable meanings at you.

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