Sugarcoating the Art of Real Estate


A few days ago, I received a mass e-mail invitation from Creative Time for their annual spring gala, which will take place at the long defunct Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn and honor artist Kara Walker:

Join us on May 6 as we honor the brilliant Kara Walker at this year's Creative Time gala -- and preview her biggest installation yet, just days before it opens to the public!

On its website, Creative Time, calling Kara Walker "one of the most celebrated artists of our era," promises that this, her first large-scale public project, will explore "themes related to the history of the sugar trade and its many implications." The exhibition is titled A Subtlety or The Marvelous Sugar Baby, and described as "An Homage To The Unpaid And Overworked Artisans Who Have Refined Our Sweet Tastes From The Cane Fields To The Kitchens Of The New World On The Occasion Of The Demolition Of The Domino Sugar Refining Plant."

The email invitation came with an embedded video message by Agnes Gund, Creative Time host committee member and President Emerita of the Museum of Modern Art. The one-minute video shows Miss Gund seated on a grey sofa in an elegant living room with understated beige walls and a décor of potted plants and choice pieces of modern art. Framed by two silk pillows and a pastel-colored pashmina throw whose colors match the light green Hydrangea bouquet on the coffee table in front of her, Miss Gund is facing the camera as sunlight gently filters through the window behind her. She is wearing a casually unbuttoned robins blue blazer over a classic black mini dress. Her wheat-colored hair is carefully coiffed, and she has taken her glasses off to deliver a brief, personal tribute to Miss Walker. Not mincing words and underscored by the cool beat of contemporary lounge music, she eloquently describes Creative Time's honorary artist of 2014 as follows:

I think she is a catalyst for a change in many forms in the art world and has done an incredible job of making a real difference in how we look at an artist's work, so I think she manages to do a lot with her art and I can't wait to see this combo of Creative Time and Kara at the Domino Sugar Factory.

The video tribute wraps up with a text message that encourages the viewer to purchase tickets for the gala and "help Creative Time transform artists' boldest dreams into reality."

But Creative Time's boldest dream to date may very well be its relationship with board member Jed Walentas, a real estate maven and principal of Two Trees Management Company, who I think is a catalyst for a change in many forms in the real estate sector, and has done an incredible job of making a real difference in how we look at a neighborhood's transformation, so I think he manages to do a lot with his business and I can't wait to see this combo of Creative Time and Jed at the Domino Sugar Factory.

Perhaps we will even witness a sweet deal between Two Trees and Creative Time, should the non-profit decide to move its headquarters into a more suitable spot than its current location in the post-gentrified East Village: Miss Walker's installation, "confected [...] on the occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant" happens to precede Two Trees' City Hall-approved redevelopment of the landmark into a $1.5 billion complex that will include several luxury residential towers, office space for tech firms and an expansion of riverfront parkland.

In the meantime, I cannot help wondering about the "subtlety" of inviting an African American artist to highlight the historic past of labor exploitation in the sugar trade before erasing one of its monuments and replacing it with a monument to gentrification. As Simone Weil has written, "The destruction of the past is perhaps the greatest of all crimes."