Here's my review of Kara Walker’s print series “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated)” at the Addison Gallery in Andover. Above is “Alabama Loyalists Greeting the Federal Gun-Boats” (2005). The whole portfolio is reproduced here.
In my review, I also touch on Walker’s “The Rich Soil Down There” (detail below, entire piece at bottom), which hangs in the Upper Galleria of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ West Wing. It’s a stenciled paint version in black and white on gray of the RISD grad's 2002 cut-paper mural, which the MFA owns.
William Stover, the MFA’s assistant curator for contemporary art, tells me that when one buys a Walker cut-out nowadays one receives (a) her hand-cut piece, (b) a template made from this original and (c) an exhibition copy made from the template. In other words, the template provides a master guide for making reproductions of the original that can be displayed instead of the original to save it from the wear and tear (literally) of being repeatedly pasted walls and then ripped down again.
The MFA got permission to use the template to create a painted version of “The Rich Soil…” for the high-traffic Upper Galleria. The result is an officially approved copy of Walker’s work in a different medium – and an example of the compromises made to preserve contemporary art featuring inventive uses of delicate materials. As well as a sign of what happens when an art star becomes an art factory.
“I think the piece is more like a Sol LeWitt,” Stover says, in which the artist provides the instructions to create the artwork and then others execute them.
Kara Walker “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War (Annotated),” Addison Gallery, Phillips Academy, 180 Main St., Andover, Massachusetts, Jan. 9 to April 15, 2007.