Yesterday, I meet my daughter The BearMaiden at "Miguelina’s” Dominican hair salon, on 3rd Ave. in El Barrio. After her hair blow out, we lace up the buckskin boots and head out into the sleet and freezing rain to head downtown to the Whitney Museum to look at Kara Walker. The first storm of winter has hit Manhattan, cold, wet, slippery and dark, a perfect day to visit Kara at the The Ole' Plantation.
The BearMaiden, who graduated from Pratt in Graphic Design and Illustration does not think of herself as an artist. She’s too pragmatic, having worked in offices for some years before the genetic bug to create hit. She thinks about money, the rent, paying bills feeding her growing 9 year old son (see: thebearmaiden.blogspot.com). This makes her The Perfect Companion for spending an afternoon looking at ART. I live in LaLa land, thinking about aesthetics, perfect expression, color theories, making stuff.
We get to the Whitney a bit cold and wet but in good spirits. We agree that the papercuts show superior technical skill. The crispness of the line, the sharp points like knives cutting the psyche of the viewer. The Cyclorama had many visually beautiful elements, the crescent moon with drifting clouds, the abstractions , airy black mass shapes with drips of ‘moss’. The figures parading this way and that round and round, and yet, here’s the same old foreground middleground background, as a narrative and literary expression it says what it says, but as a visual experience, I got a little bored. OK, that’s personal. It wasn’t so much the scat and sex, which I found immature, but the lack of ‘duende’,that animating spark that lifts the work off the wall and burns it into your psyche. Besides the story of slavery not black and white, that makes the history way to simplistic, and no way explains me and The BearMaiden in our buckskin and turquoise and strength of leg. So Kara Walkers point of view personal, does that, her technical skill and mean world view make it ART? I say no, because for me there’s no magic, no back beat no wink of the eye pulling me into the joke. I find the work cold and over inflated. I liked the small pieces washed panels with black cutouts that made a seamless world. One, of a woman in skirts, baby dropped by her feet attached by umbilical cord running invisible up the skirt the most gripping work. The background a light wash of grey punctuated by delicate hatching suggesting clouds, a pastoral environment fraught with fear loathing confusion doubt longing.
The BearMaiden says, yeah, she makes ART because she illustrates her own personal narrative. We both found the drawings weak; the journal entries looked forced the ideas young and not particularly insightful, though I loved how uncomfortable the Pale Conservatives got looking and reading.
The film work, with shadow puppets worked. The audio elements were gripping and some parts quite funny, though the Pale Conservatives didn’t even giggle. I especially liked the Black Bluegrass of the last film installation. I can see Kara Walker making a feature film about the Ole’ Plantation, our very own Julian Schnabel.
Kara Walker reminds me of Thelma Goldin, neurotic, ambitious,successful, highly visible in the upper echelons of Plantation life, but there’s a suicidal energy here as they cut themselves into a corner.
I find the papercuts blown up like helium balloons, over inflated so it can be seen at Art Basel and Museums and Big Galleries, For me ,though, small is better, but hey, I’m just a Red Bone, living out here in da brier patch, just me and the Tar Babies.