October 30, 2007

New reviews: Kara Walker's racy cutouts

"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.

At Time Out New York, Howard Halle addresses the difficulty in reviewing such a racially-charged show. He asks "What do you say about an artist you can’t really criticize because doing so exposes your own squeamishness and contradictory views about race? That, I suppose, is the beauty of Kara Walker’s work, from a strategic standpoint anyway: It’s virtually criticproof. As for visual rewards, Walker’s multimedia depictions of an antebellum Grand Guignol of sexual violence and abjection certainly make ugly verities alluring. Still, I can’t say I’ve ever been a real fan of the artist, and this survey at the Whitney does little to change my mind. Walker may be important, but her work has always struck me as being more of an excursion into her personal hang-ups than an exorcism of the country’s racial psychosis. Her cotillion of horrors—the pickaninnies trailing feces, the Negroes choking on massa’s cock—grabs you by the throat, but to what end? As an object lesson in history, or as a form of elitist titillation? I’ll leave it to others to enjoy Walker’s visual equivalent of erotic asphyxiation, but as Samuel Goldwyn once remarked, include me out."

In The Village Voice, Christian Viveros-Fauné swoons over Walker's "uniquely nimble artistic performance. ....A perfect melding of subject and object, Walker's silhouettes—which, as she points out, ultimately read clear as Rorschach tests—proved coal-black, diamantine receptacles with which to carry a welter of purposely conflicted values. A Trojan horse containing small devils of smiling malice, her gorgeously drawn comedies of miscegenation have, for more than a decade now, consistently pushed all the right buttons and a good many of the wrong ones, too."

In the Washington Post, Robin Givhan would like to see an end to the soul searching aroused by clichéed symbols of oppression. "It is impossible to feel good looking at Walker's work. It comes at you like a relentless nightmare. Walker drags everyone who dares to view her work down into the muck. The show's title, 'My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love,' points to the complexity of the black-white relationship. Her work has been criticized by other artists, intellectuals and collectors as exploiting stereotypes. Of mocking or aggravating the victim's suffering. And maybe she does. Is that unfair? Or tough love? Will it ever be possible to remember the horrible history of lynching while neutering a loop of rope of its ability to incite?...Walker's artwork questions how much power is robbed from victims and how much power they give up. In that spirit, the next time a loop of rope is hung from a tree -- and surely, sadly, there will be another -- instead of asking 'When is the vigil?,' one might also ask: 'Should this cowardly declaration of power be validated by so much righteous outrage?' "

Related link:
Kara Walker's racy cutouts arrive at the Whitney

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