Ahead of Her Next Museum Exhibition, Kara Walker's ‘Fons Americanus’ Archive Shown in Online Art Basel

  • June 18, 2020 13:25

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The Ship from Kara Walker's Fons Americanus, Tate Modern, 2019 (detail). Photo: © Tate (Matt Greenwood)
Shell Grotto from Kara Walker's Fons Americanus, Tate Modern 2019 (detail). Photo: © Tate​ (Matt Greenwood)

To demand exactitude in the pursuit of a historical truth is to go where no mind can venture and return whole. The load is too large to carry, the losses too many and too varied. Truth will drain from your hands like so much water. Instead, you will find yourself drawing on tales from the past – historical accounts, novels and songs that compress shared memory – to make the bitter truth at least partly digestible.  - Kara Walker, Frieze

The second edition of Art Basel's Online Viewing Rooms, with 4,000 artworks from an international lineup of 282 leading galleries, is open to the public from June 19 and running digitally through June 26, 2020, and includes many thematic presentations, from artists addressing the impacts of the pandemic, to racial equality and justice.

One highlight is Sikkema Jenkins & Co.’s presentation, showcasing works by Deana Lawson that explore representations of the body within the context of contemporary Black diasporic life, as well as a new work on paper by Kara Walker – a monumental quadriptych from her 2019 ‘Fons Americanus’ archive, addressing the power systems of white supremacy that comprised the trans-Atlantic slave trade within Europe and America.

Walker's massive sculpture Fons Americanus, a 13-metre-high fountain, debuted to wide acclaim in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in fall 2019. A riff on the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace, the ambitious piece intertwined themes of "race, sexuality, and violence through the history of slavery" in an unfiltered narrative of the origins of the African diaspora and the British Empire.

The New York-based gallery also hosted a spring exhibition of works on paper by Kara Walker, featuring selections from the artist’s personal archive alongside more recent drawings. The show previewed a selection of works that will be included in Walker’s first major exhibition in Switzerland at the Kunstmuseum Basel in 2021. The museum exhibition will travel to HEART - Herning Museum of Contemporary Art in Herning, Denmark and the De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art in Tillburg, The Netherlands.

Kara Walker, Fons Americanus, Tate Modern 2019 (detail). Photo: © Tate​ (Matt Greenwood)

Sikkema Jenkins & Co. states: "To view these works on paper is to realize the intimacy and intensity of Walker’s vision in creating her subjects, speaking back to history and thus simultaneously reforming it within the present. The figures within Walker’s drawings insist upon themselves as the protagonists of a new mythology, a narrative revealed to us through bodies and words and unspeakable acts." 

"The abundance of drawings reveals that Walker deftly avails herself of a wide range of styles: one recognizes Goya’s light-dark contrasts, James Ensor’s vibrant line, or Hogarth’s flair for cartoonish emphasis," Kunstmuseum Basel notes. "Her most recent works, by contrast, prominently feature instances of old masterly white heightening on tinted paper and even colored crayons. The echoes of historic art raise the question of Walker’s influences and how an African-American artist adds to the concepts of art history."

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