In anticipation of the Broad Museum’s opening in 2015, the museum is hosting a lecture series called the Un-Private Collection. The sessions are designed to introduce the public to the Broad’s collection and the corresponding artists behind the works. The latest installment in the successful series featured a discussion with Kara Walker hosted by Director Ava DuVerny. It was an incredible look at Walker’s creative process, and more importantly it was a unique deep dive into the psychological dynamic behind the public’s reaction to her work. This sold out talk was streamed on-line and available via video playback (which I enjoyed this afternoon).
DuVerny and Walker dove right into a lengthy discussion of the creation of “A Subtlety”, Walker’s ambitious, large-scale installation of the Sugar Sphinx in the abandoned Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn this Spring. Walker discussed the political and historical context behind the production of sugar and its representation of wealth and power. The sculpture is a creative departure from her cutout silhouette work that explores themes of race, power, sexuality and violence.
When I see people being inappropriate I don’t think of them as being uncomfortable.”
Walker diplomatically tackled the issue of “selfie-gate”, and the public’s cavalier, disrespectful response to the gravity of the piece. There have been numerous critiques specifically addressing how this work was viewed, and I found her dismissal of the immaturity of visitors refreshingly centered and grounded. She distilled this dynamic into a fascinating byproduct of the human story behind the piece.
What I found more surprising is that Walker wanted to experience the work as it was being shown, but quickly found that her presence at the exhibit changed the entire tenor of the piece. To her, the dynamic of being confronted with people’s reactions and their expectation that Walker draw herself into their experience was draining process that ultimately impacted the work for her at a subconscious level.
Walker’s transparency around how she processed and dealt with her very vocal critics was also compelling:
When you besiege a viewer with this imagery, it just sits there being, and it’s unsettling, and a viewer needs to be able to talk back to it.”
I do what I’m feeling and what I’m feeling is, I think monstrous; so I do it in the nicest possible way and I think that’s what’s unsettling… The one thing I can give that seems like a gift is the part that looks pretty and the other part that feels like a curse is the part I was feeling in the first place.”
The discussion ended with DuVerny asking 5 questions that no-one ever asks Kara Walker. This was an compelling, thought provoking discussion. I love listening to Kara Walker because she takes a very relatable approach to express her process in a way that is very accessible, yet challenging at the same time.