SFMOMA announces new details regarding major commission by Kara Walker

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SFMOMA announces new details regarding major commission by Kara Walker
Kara Walker, Fortuna and the Immortality Garden (Machine), work in progress, 2023 - 2024; © Kara Walker; photo: Ari Marcopoulos.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF.- The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art today announced additional details for its forthcoming installation by artist Kara Walker in the museum’s admission-free, street-level Roberts Family Gallery. The complete title for the presentation is Fortuna and the Immortality Garden (Machine) / A Respite for the Weary Time-Traveler. / Featuring a Rite of Ancient Intelligence Carried out by The Gardeners / Toward the Continued Improvement of the Human Specious / by Kara E-Walker. It will open to the public on July 1, 2024, and remain on view through May 2026. The presentation marks the first time that SFMOMA has commissioned an artist to create a site-specific installation for the Roberts Family Gallery, following other major exhibitions in the space including Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity, JR’s digital mural The Chronicles of San Francisco and Richard Serra’s Sequence. The presentation will be accompanied by a broad range of public programs inspired by ideas introduced in Walker’s work, as well as a publication designed by the New York–based studio, Pacific, and featuring newly commissioned texts.

Walker has long been recognized for her incisive examinations of the dynamics of power and the exploitation of race and sexuality. Her work often leverages expressions of fantasy and humor to confront troubling histories and dominant narratives, repossessing control in the process. In the last decade, Walker has extended her practice beyond her signature cut-paper silhouettes and drawings to embrace monumental installations that further challenge communal memory as shaped and concretized through the institutions of state, museum and church. Featuring a complex landscape of mechanized sculptures and elaborate displays, Fortuna and the Immortality Garden (Machine) marks Walker’s most ambitious large-scale public project to date.

Organized by Eungie Joo, SFMOMA’s curator and head of contemporary art, with whom Walker has worked multiple times over the past 27 years, Fortuna and the Immortality Garden (Machine) is inspired by a wide range of sources, from antique dolls to Octavia Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower, to Bunraku puppetry and historical ephemera. Through Walker’s singular vision, these disparate references come together to examine the fear and loss we experienced as a global society during the COVID-19 pandemic and to address more broadly the memorialization of trauma, objectives of technology and how we might transcend the ills that plague contemporary society. Automatons serve as stand-ins for human experience, situated within a vast garden of black obsidian—a volcanic glass with deep spiritual and material history thought to repel negative energies and heal past traumas. The work offers an energetically charged environment for reflection, healing, respite and hope, transforming the Roberts Family Gallery into a would-be natural history museum of the future. To create the elaborate presentation, Walker is collaborating with software engineer Noah Feehan, the engineering company Hypersonic, couturier Gary Graham and fabrication studio New Project.

“Fortuna and the Immortality Garden (Machine) emerges out of the abject loneliness of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ominous depopulation of our once thriving downtown San Francisco,” explains Joo. “With her towering composition of Black automatons enacting ritual and witness amidst a sea of gleaming obsidian—evidence of our geologic and cosmic past—Walker has created a fantastical space of reflection, memorialization and possibility. I look forward to spending many hours with the work thinking about our shared future.”

The commission is part of SFMOMA’s vision to present work that has strong resonance for its communities and offers opportunities to foster dialogue on meaningful subjects in contemporary culture. The Roberts Family Gallery is a free space at SFMOMA, ensuring a broad and diverse public can engage with the groundbreaking work, and the floor-to-ceiling windows that wrap two sides of the space offer significant opportunity to engage passersby with the installation. Fortuna and the Immortality Garden (Machine) is the first commissioned site-specific work for the Roberts Family Gallery since it was established as part of the museum’s 2016 expansion.

“Kara Walker’s profound installation grapples with critical subjects relating to our shared humanity, the rapidly expanding role of technology and our aspirations and fears for the future. These topics find fresh life and meaning through the distinct lens of her practice, which has for decades confronted challenging histories and realities through formal experimentation and innovation,” said Christopher Bedford, SFMOMA’s Helen and Charles Schwab Director. “We very much look forward to engaging our audiences with this exciting and important work and to the many conversations that it will inspire. We are also gratified to offer this experience in one of our major free spaces, aligning with our mission of increased accessibility.”

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