International News

The Marvelous Sugar Baby + other news

Inspirational African-American artist, Kara Walker, who is particularly known for her black cut-out silhouettes and animations, has just opened her first ever public art installation. The colossal sugar sculpture she has created fills the abandoned Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is due for demolition. Commissioned by Creative Time, renowned for its public art projects, the sculpture goes under the lengthy title: A Subtlety or 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 on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.

In the middle of the dark warehouse, the sculpture stands out like one of her silhouettes in reverse . Walker explains that she has portrayed ‘… the head of a woman, who has very African, black features…somewhere in between the kind of mammy figure of old and something a bit more…recognisably human.’ As much of her work, this is about racism and inequality. The refined sugar has been bleached white to symbolise power and privilege with the image of the sphinx with its a generic negress head echoing the eighteenth-century portrait sphinx sculptures of Marie-Antoinette and Madame de la Pompadour in the grounds of the grand French châteaux . Leading up to the white negress sphinx are fifteen boys carrying baskets, the figures are 5’ high made of raw molasses coloured sugar. These are gradually melting, because there is no climate control in the factory, but Walker says she expected this to happen; they are being lost in the same way the slaves’ lives were lost.

Although Walker says it was ‘fun and childlike’ making the sculpture, the message it carries is serious. The sculpture honours those who suffered in the Caribbean slave trade, which was built on the Western desire for sweet treats and financial profit. The sugar trade was a key part of the slave-trade triangle. Walker says it was ‘blood sugar…like we talk about blood diamonds today.’ She acknowledges that, in her work, she tries to get a ‘grasp on history’ and says she read a book, Sweetness and Power, the Place of sugar in Modern History, in which learned that in North Europe royal chefs made sugar sculptures called ‘subtleties’ for their privileged masters ; the inspiration for the installation’s title.

Main Image: Kara Walker, A Subtlety, sugar, 2014, 30’(photo: Jason Wyche, courtesy Creative Time)

Mind your head! Seattle learns how to make a Jaume Plensa Head from the inside out..

Cranes and fences buffeted the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park as Spanish artist, Jaume Plensa’s 46’ sculpture head Echo was installed. Workmen stood nervously inside the statue’s head, just above the nose, as the upper section of the forehead loomed ominously above them, ready to be manoeuvred into position. On a complex steel infrastructure, the head is made of polyester resin with a layer of marble dust. Despite winning a tranche of international awards, such as the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, Plensa’s Echo, sited on a popular walkway by the waterfront, attracted mixed reviews from locals, with some describing it as, ‘really cool’ and others ,‘not really a piece of art, it’s something odd’.

Michelangelo’s David at Risk from weak Ankles

A 1.4 billion euro project to build a high speed railway line beneath the city of Florence could put Michelangelo’s statue of David in jeopardy. The work is due to begin this summer and a tunnel will be dug about 2,000’ away from the famous statue. Vibrations from this work could prove disastrous for the statue, which Italian scientists have recently confirmed has many tiny cracks, particularly in the ankle areas.

It is thought that vibrations from the traffic and passing tourists over the years have contributed to a weakness in the ankles. These are not the only factors which have put David’sankles under stress. The statue, which is not of particularly high quality marble, is 17’ high and 5.5 tonnes in weight and supported only by its ankles and a tree stump. The figure of Davidalso leans to one side which increases the stress on the statue’s right ankle, which is why Michelangelo has introduced the tree stump into his composition to provide additional support.

There are now urgent calls for the statue to be moved away to a safe location, before the construction work starts.

Richard Serra New Site-Specific Work in the Desert

One of the world’s greatest living sculptors, Richard Serra, has created East-West/West-East,four dramatic steel ‘plates’ in the Qatar desert at Zekreet. These imposing sentinels, two of which rise 14.7m. above the ground and the other two 16.7m., appear the same height and dominate their surroundings. In this inhospitable climate, the smooth steel surfaces are slowly surrendering to the process of weathering and rust, which forms an integral part of their identity. 

Although the site is an acknowledged tourist destination and visited by locals, it is still sufficiently inaccessible and remote that a visit to see Serra’s work here is tantamount to a pilgrimage. Indeed the arid climate in this wilderness is constantly challenging, rising to 50° in the Summer. Yet it is this unique atmosphere that inspired Serra, who described how the desert ‘caught his imagination’, adding that the vast open landscape inspired him because: ‘I consider space to be primary material’. Serra also explained that the sculptures have given visitors ‘a new point of reference’, but he was quick to refute a prescribed experience: ‘You just have to present it and see how people react. You can’t spoon feed… because to try and force a meaning, to tell them what it’s supposed to be, seems to me futile. You can point them in a direction.’

The artist is also exhibiting at the QMA Gallery in Qatar and the Al Riwaq Art Space in Bahrain.

Large Iconic Art Deco Statue damaged in Rio

The concrete and soapstone art deco statue of Christ the Redeemer by Polish-French sculptor, Paul Landowski, on top of the Corcovado mountain, which towers above the city of Rio de Janiero, Brazil was struck by lightning yet again this January. This time it was a thumb which was damaged. The head and some fingers had been damaged by an earlier storm. Repairs on the statue will take four months and additional lightning rods are to be added. The statue including its pedestal stands 125’ tall and is 92’ wide -its outstretched arms symbolise peace.

The sculptor Paul Landowski worked from the designs of a local engineer, Hector da Silva Costa. Born in Paris to a Polish refugee father and French mother, Landowski studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under Louis-Ernest Barrias and won the Prix de Rome for sculpture in 1900. He made around fifty monuments in the city of Paris and its environs. The Musée Landowski devoted to the sculptor’s work at Boulogne-Billancourt, outside Paris, houses an original ochre patinated plaster model of Christ the Redeemer.

Aurora Corio