These Intrepid Art Handlers Had to Deliver Kara Walker’s Sugar Sphinx Up a Greek Mountain

It took planes, boats, and automobiles to transport Kara Walker's "Figa" from a Long Island warehouse to a Greek slaughterhouse.

The massive sculpture required a team to negotiate its transport from boat to land.
The massive sculpture required a team to negotiate its transport from boat to land. Photo courtesy of the DESTE Foundation.

How do you transport a beloved 661-pound sculpture up a mountain? Very carefully.

Three years after Kara Walker unveiled her monumental public sculpture “A Subtlety,” the sugar sphinx’s last remaining vestige resurfaced last week in a former slaughterhouse on the tiny Greek island of Hydra. But getting it there was no easy feat.

Walker destroyed most of the sphinx, which debuted at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn in 2014, after the show ended. But the sculpture’s left hand—grasping its own thumb in a gesture that simultaneously expresses vulgarity, fertility, and luck—survived. It is on view in the exhibition “Figa” at the collector Dakis Joannou’s DESTE Foundation’s Project Space Slaughterhouse through September 30.

The work traveled via jumbo cargo jet from its storage facility in Long Island City to Liege, then via truck to Greece, and then on a ferry to Hydra, an island known to rely almost solely on donkeys for overland transportation.

“We had to be sure it would make it through the streets!” says DESTE’s installation manager and conservator Eugenia Stamatopoulou, who meticulously took all the requisite measurements.

One of the island’s few trucks for hire brought the sculpture to the converted slaughterhouse on the cliff; the door frame had to be removed so it could fit. Inside, it’s kept at a stable 64 to 68 degrees with an air conditioner and dehumidifier (insect traps will be added if proven necessary). The surface, according to Stamatopoulou, will be regularly re-coated with sugar sourced from a wholesale factory in Athens. The foundation has over 650 pounds on hand—hopefully enough to last through the summer.

Get a glimpse of the sculpture’s dramatic journey below.

The polystyrene base was first transported in a large container by boat.

The polystyrene base was first transported in a large container by boat. Photo courtesy of the DESTE Foundation.

Transportation obstacles continued as the sculpture was driven through Hydra on a truck, and placed into the slaughterhouse.

Transportation obstacles continued as the sculpture was driven through Hydra on a truck, and placed into the slaughterhouse. Photo courtesy of the DESTE Foundation.

A portion of Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby (2014) being transported to the DESTE Foundation in Hydra.

A portion of Kara Walker’s A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby (2014) being transported to the DESTE Foundation in Hydra. Photo courtesy of the foundation.

Kara Walker's Figa, on view at the DESTE Project Space in Hydra. Photo© Maria Markezi.

Kara Walker’s Figa, a portion of A Subtlety installation at the DESTE Project Space in Hydra. Photo © Maria Markezi.

“Kara Walker – Figa” at the Deste Foundation Project Space, Slaughterhouse, Hydra, June 20–September 30


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