October 12, 2007

Kara Walker's racy cutouts arrive at the Whitney

"Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love," organized by Philippe Vergne and Yasmil Raymond, both from the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN. Whitney Museum of American Art, , New York, NY. Through Feb. 3. UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA March 2 to June 8, 2008.

“It’s interesting that as soon as you start telling the story of racism, you start reliving the story,” Walker says. “You keep creating a monster that swallows you. But as long as there’s a Darfur, as long as there are people saying ‘Hey, you don’t belong here’ to others, it only seems realistic to continue investigating the terrain of racism.” The 200 paintings, drawings, collages, shadow-puppetry, light projections, and video animations presented here span the artist's career, conflating fact and fiction to expose the living roots of racial and gender bias.

In the NY Times, Holland Cotter calls Walker's style magnetic and absorbing. "Whether in large cutouts, or notebook-size drawings, or in films that are basically animated versions of both, her draftsmanship is excitingly textured — old-masterish here, doodlish there — and all of a piece. Brilliant is the word for it, and the brilliance grows over the survey’s decade-plus span....In refusing conclusions, Ms. Walker draws an important one: The source and blame for racism lies with everyone, including herself. It seems we are addicted to it. We claim to hate living with it, but we cannot live without it." Read more. See slide show of installation images.

In Newsday, Ariella Budick finds the work morbid but, at the same time, darkly humorous. "Her work is neither anti-black nor anti-white; it is broadly misanthropic. Both groups, as far as she is concerned, have forgone their claims to nobility or integrity. Walker scoffs at the notion of progress. To her, the distortions in self-image wrought by slavery's power relations have been completely internalized by both groups, which remain helpless in the face of history." Read more.

In the NY Sun, Lance Espland suggests that Walker's work is notable for the subject matter and the controversy surrounding it, but lacks visual eloquence and depth. "Her art often feels less like an exploration and more like exploitation — of both its subject and its viewers. When charged subjects remain too close to their source, when they are not transformed, and when they are reduced to platitudes and caricature, images merely push our buttons....Images float like islands, and, without rhythm and musicality, they do not interrelate. The individual forms are sometimes difficult to make out, and their flickering edges do not speak to one another. Also, the cutouts, with few exceptions, are dead at their centers. Leaden between their contours, they have no buoyancy or tension in the plane. They never become volumetric and alive. The 800-pound gorilla in this show is that Ms. Walker, who believes drawing issues are 'superficial,' cannot draw." Read more.

At Bloomberg.com, Linda Yablonsky finds the work unsettling. "
The naive charms of the silhouette form only make her pointedly obscene tales of sexual and cultural oppression more grotesque. Most unsettling, however, is how easily she wrings beauty from brutality....Walker can be crudely simplistic, but her levitating silhouettes and delicate drawings have an arresting beauty and an ambiguity that is both alluring and deceptive. First it draws you in with kisses, then it pummels you with its fists." Read more.

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