Kara Walker

Wooster Gardens

Controversy is often thought to be good for an artist—and who, after all, would set out to be innocuous?—yet it must by definition mean that there are not only people who love your work but people who hate it. Kara Walker certainly has both: In 1997 she won a MacArthur, in 1998 she became a target at a Harvard symposium on the invidious use of the black stereotype. The topic should be painfully sensitive to Americans, which means that feelings of upset at Walker’s art must be respected—you can’t just say they’re wrong. (Although surely the outrage directed against the artist includes other, more ambiguous reactions.) For this viewer, though, Walker’s negotiation of her minefield of a subject has real fascination.

The most self-evident defense of Walker’s “pickaninnies” and “nigger wenches” (the words are hers), cut out of black paper and set on the white wall, is that they are satiric. But

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