Kara Walker’s retrospective opened yesterday at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Starting with a silhouette-figure mural she made in 1994, the exhibit features notebook-size drawings, films, and other large scale cutouts. Holland Cotter writes in the New York Times, “The consistency of the imagery — hapless masters, uppity slaves, tragicomic violence, uncensored sex — is one reason the show feels so concentrated and absorbing. Once you’re in it, you’re really in it. You can’t just stroll through.”
The artist became the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Award when she was only 27 years old, and thus became the object of harsh criticism from older Black female artists who accused her of bringing back racial stereotypes and profiting from them, which a generation of artists had spent their careers trying to “banish from our lexicon”. However, art critic Eleanor Heartney says that “Walker is part of a young generation of artists rethinking ideas about representation – that just because an artist makes use of a stereotyped image, doesn’t mean they endorse the prejudice behind it.”
In an interview with Helga Davis for WNYC, Walker describes how the viewer becomes complicit in the actions depicted in her work, and the question of ownership is raised. The majority of her collectors are “rich white” with a small, growing “contingent of rich black collectors”.