Lot 11
  • 11

KARA WALKER | Untitled

Estimate
90,000 - 120,000 GBP
Sold
150,000 GBP
bidding is closed

Description

  • Kara Walker
  • Untitled
  • cut paper and pastel on paper mounted on canvas
  • 71 x 71 inches

Provenance

Brent Sikkema, New York (acquired directly from the artist)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000

Exhibited

Frankfurt am Main, Deutsche Bank; Vienna, Museumsquartier, Kara Walker, January 2002 - February 2003

New York, The Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery; Massachusetts, Williams College Museum of Art, Kara Walker: Narratives of a Negress, January - December 2003, p. 17, illustrated in colour

New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kara Walker at the Met: After the Deluge, March - August 2006, pp. 12-13, illustrated in colour

Literature

Hilarie M. Sheets, '"Sharks, Savagery, and Sainthood": Kara Walker Curates a Show at the Met’, Art News, June 2006, No. 6, p. 128, illustrated in colour 

Catalogue Note

Untitled is a macabre, tragicomic and vaudevillian dreamscape by an artist who, just a year after this work was produced, was awarded the Genius Grant by the MacArthur Foundation. Drawing on the bourgeois, twee connotations of eighteenth-century cut-paper silhouette art, as well as patriotic, post-American Revolution history painting, Kara Walker’s Untitled depicts an impish girl – bludgeon in hand – engaged in battle with a distressed horse. In the background, a Mississippi steamboat blazing fire from its chimneys conjures a veritable plethora of imagery from US history; including the antebellum South, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the economic boom and Westward Expansion of Andrew Jackson’s presidency. Serving as a dramatic counterpoint to the conflict in the foreground, the steamboat emits violent hues of orange and red pastel from its hull, cabin and upper deck; bearing a striking resemblance to the Sultana steamboat – the victim of the most deadly maritime disaster in US history in which a staggering 1192 passengers lost their lives. Brought about by a boiler explosion on 27th April 1865, the ship’s loss was eclipsed in American collective consciousness by the assassination of Abraham Lincoln’s murderer John Wilkes Booth just the previous day. Exuding poignant parallels to the dangerous boats by which African slaves were brought to the United States, Untitled makes perfect use of the Sultana incident as a metaphor for the innumerable, bloody stories commonly omitted by conventional accounts of America’s past. Shown at the 2003 exhibition Kara Walker: Narratives of a Negress at the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College and Williams College Museum of Art, the present work is an extraordinary re-conception of US history; successfully confounding, informing and enthralling us all at once.

Widely known for her scholarship in art history, Walker draws on the cut-paper profile caricatures of August Edouart, John Miers and most significantly Moses Williams in the United States. Freed from slavery by Charles Willson Peale in 1802, Williams was an African-American profile-cutter and master of the so-called ‘Physiognotrace’ or ‘face-tracing’ machine. Williams was taught how to analyse and render putative ‘facial types’ with the use of black cardboard over pale or white backgrounds. It is by appropriating this medium – in which racist tropes and generalisations were perpetuated in a way that was presented as innocuous – that Walker’s work acquires so much of its power. In her 1994 Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as it Occurred b’tween the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart, which was exhibited at the Drawing Center, New York and first engendered her international fame, Walker depicts such cut-out figures performing an array of strange, sexual and violent acts; stripping the medium of its middle-class romance and revealing the nefarious assumptions of its privileged customer-base.

And yet, while such interpretations are invited by Walker, the work itself maintains a laconic distance from them. Born in a relatively integrated Californian suburb in 1969, Walker moved to Atlanta aged 13 and there she experienced her first real taste of discrimination and racism. Graduating from the Atlanta School of Art, Georgia and the Rhode Island School of Design, Walker was greatly influenced by Andy Warhol’s cool gaze, the re-configurations of Robert Colescott, and the philosophy of Adrian Piper. Walker represented the US at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 2002 with her work Slavery! Slavery! (1997), and in 2014, launched her breathtaking 75ft sculpture A Subtlety in the Domino sugar refining plant before its demolition.

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