VIDEO: Sugar Babylon in Harlem One-Ups Kara Walker’s Sugar Sphinx

Two artists from Belfast turned a quarter-million sugar cubes into a city.

Brendan Jamison and Mark Revels, <em>Sugar Metropolis</em> (2014), part of "If You Build It" at Broadway Housing Communities' Sugar Hill Development. Photo: courtesy No Longer Empty.

Brendan Jamison and Mark Revels, Sugar Metropolis (2014), part of “If You Build It” at Broadway Housing Communities’ Sugar Hill Development. Photo: courtesy No Longer Empty.

It’s shaping up to be a sweet summer here in New York, with Irish duo Brendan Jamison and Mark Revels giving the city its second large-scale sugar-based art project of the season, after Kara Walker’s wildly popular, offensive-selfie-spawning Sugar Baby. Revels and Jamison don’t have any problem with the art world’s much-maligned “white cube.” On the contrary, they’ve embraced it, albeit in the form of the sugar cube, their favored sculptural medium, which they use by the thousand to construct expansive, beautifully detailed, and highly imaginative crystalline cityscapes.

Their latest project, which marks their New York City debut, brings their confectionery creations to Harlem’s historic Sugar Hill neighborhood, for “If You Build It,” an exhibition organized by No Longer Empty at Broadway Housing Communities‘s new Sugar Hill Development. The exhibition’s curator, Manon Slome, has long had a sweet tooth for Jamison’s work (he began teaming up with Revels last summer), but had not found the right opportunity for a collaboration. “When I arranged the show in Sugar Hill, I called him up and said ‘I have the perfect place for you to work!'” Slome told artnet News.

Now, a quarter of a million sugar cubes later, after some three and a half weeks of work—sometimes working as long as 16 or 17 hours a day—Jamison and Revels are ready to debut Sugar Metropolis. A fantastic city of the future with structures as large as six feet tall, the artists hope their sculptural installation will inspire Harlem residents to dream about what shape their neighborhood could take in the decades to come.

 

Because construction on the exhibition venue, the Sugar Hill Development, was behind schedule, the artists were forced to work offsite for the first couple of weeks. Broadway Housing Communities offered a temporary studio space at one of its other properties, the historic Benziger-Abraham mansion, some five blocks away on Edgecombe Avenue, now a shelter space. The artists found themselves inspired not only by the area’s timeless brownstones and ornately detailed buildings, but also by the unexpectedly lush greenery of the tree-lined street, which overlooks Jackie Robinson Park.

Their Sugar Metropolis draws architectural inspiration from both the architectural and natural elements of the neighborhood, with organic forms that gradually morph into more traditional buildings. Two thirds of the way through construction, the artists transported their growing sugar city up to the Sugar Hill Development to complete their work in situ. Before flying back to their native Belfast, Jamison and Revels trained a small army of volunteers who will be on hand for the duration of the show to instruct visitors who wish to build their own sugar sculptures to add to the sprawling city.

Brendan Jamison and Mark Revels, <em>Sugar Metropolis</em> (2013), at the Royal Ulster Academy of Arts, Ulster Museum, Belfast. The pair have constructed a similar confectionery city in Harlem's appropriately-named Sugar Hill neighborhood. Photo: Tony Corey, courtesy Royal Ulster Academy.

Brendan Jamison and Mark Revels, Sugar Metropolis (2013), at the Royal Ulster Academy of Arts, Ulster Museum, Belfast. The pair have constructed a similar confectionery city in Harlem’s appropriately-named Sugar Hill neighborhood.
Photo: Tony Corey, courtesy Royal Ulster Academy.

“We don’t want people to be limited by what they see,” says Revels, who hopes visitors will be inspired “by the magical sparkle of the sugar cube” to construct futuristic, visionary buildings. During a similar installation in Ireland at the Royal Ulster Academy of Arts in Belfast, some 5,000 people participated. Once completed, Sugar Metropolis stands to be the artists’ biggest piece to date—and undoubtedly their sweetest.

If You Build It” will be on view at Sugar Hill Development at 155th St and St. Nicholas Avenue, June 26–August 10.


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