Kara Walker, ‘Untitled’, 2004, Phillips

From the Catalogue:
Kara Walker’s Untitled work is a powerful example of the artist’s critical interpretation of societal stereotypes, explored through the simple art form of cut paper. Walker is unique in her ability to address the power struggles of race, gender and sexuality through an innocent, childlike medium. The present lot’s three figures, which are composed of two white and one gray silhouettes collaged against a pitch black background, are erected in a monumental scale, with the entire composition measuring over seven feet tall and ten feet wide. The two large white female figures flank the middle male, towering over him. As silhouettes, these figures are stripped of any sort of identity, yet their superior stance evokes a sense of power over the man who seems to be cowering beneath them. The scene exemplifies the artist’s series of works that illustrate slavery, presenting storylines in an absurdly simplified manner. These flat, white caricatures represent female slave masters, violently approaching the black slave victim in the center. By reducing the figures to simple shapes and shades of black and white, the artist plays upon the notion that stereotypes exist on both sides of the racial divide. “The silhouette says a lot with very little information,” she says, “but that’s also what the stereotype does.” (Kara Walker, quoted in a conversation with Lisa Dorin, Rise Up Ye Mighty Race!, The Art Institute of Chicago, 2013, online)

Alongside masterpieces by other artists concerned with societal generalizations and longstanding issues of identity, this specific Untitled work was included in the 2006 exhibition Into Me/Out of Me at MoMA P.S. 1. Within this context of works by Marina Abramović, Chris Burden, Bruce Nauman, and others, the work stands out as a powerful example of how artists take examples from their own personal histories and illustrate them to make broader statements. In its sheer size, this work confronts the viewer with the question of whether or not these issues have become completely extinct, attempting the answer that they are still very much present in the fabric of our lives. Walker herself has called this personal conflict her “ever-present, never-ending war with race.” (Kara Walker, quoted in a conversation with Lisa Dorin, Rise Up Ye Mighty Race!, The Art Institute of Chicago, 2013, online)
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: signed and dated "Kara Walker 2004" on the reverse

New York, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center; Berlin, KW Institute for Contemporary Art; Rome, MACRO Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Into Me/Out of Me, June 25, 2006 - September 30, 2007

Brent Sikkema, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in September 2004

About Kara Walker

Kara Walker is known for creating black-and-white silhouette works that invoke themes of African American racial identity. Her subjects, often scenes of slavery, conflict or violence, are rendered in a style recalling traditional African illustration and folklore of the pre-Civil War United States; the works preserve and draw critical attention to these earlier cultural epochs. Working in collage, Walker cuts out and affixes black or white paper directly to gallery walls, and utilizes light projectors to cast viewers’ own shadows into her silhouetted narratives, creating a deeply engaging experience. Despite the oftentimes sombre nature of her subjects, Walker relies on humor and viewer interaction. “I didn’t want a completely passive viewer,” she has said. “I wanted to make work where the viewer wouldn’t walk away; he would either giggle nervously, get pulled into history, into fiction, into something totally demeaning and possibly very beautiful.”

American, b. 1969, Stockton, California, based in New York, New York