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From Prospect New Orleans to the Whitney Museum: Kara Walker’s Steam-Powered Calliope to Travel to New York

Kara Walker, Katastwóf Karavan, 2018, installation view at Prospect.4 in New Orleans.

ANDREW RUSSETH/ARTNEWS

The Whitney Museum’s programming for the fall season couldn’t be better. A Rachel Harrison survey has topped this writer’s list of most anticipated shows for the fall worldwide, and the New York institution’s Jason Moran exhibition isn’t too far behind it.

Add to this yet another high-profile showing to be mounted as part of the Moran exhibition: Kara Walker’s Katastwóf Karavan (2018), a steam-powered calliope that will make its New York debut in a one-day-only event set to take place on October 12. Moran will be on hand to play the calliope live while the sun sets.

Katastwóf Karavan was originally shown at the 2017 edition of the Prospect New Orleans triennial, where it became one of the most widely praised offerings on view. It was, however, not without some controversy that took place behind the scenes. The debut of the piece—which, from the beginning, was hotly anticipated by many—was delayed because the piece continued to grow in scale and, as a result, become more expensive to fabricate. The New York Times reported last year that Walker wound up paying the $250,000 to fabricate the work herself.

When it finally debuted in February 2018, it was activated for three days, and was programmed to play songs such as Jimi Hendrix’s “Freedom” and “Down by the Riverside.” The piece’s calliope is a reference to a similar instrument found on the Natchez, a boat whose form recalls similar steam-powered vessels that traveled down the Mississippi River after the Civil War during the 19th century. However, Walker’s version of it refers to the horrors of slavery. Algiers Point, the place where it was first shown in New Orleans, was where slaves were kept before being ferried to market, turning the piece into an affecting meditation on the persistence of dark parts of American history. Writing for ARTnews, Lauren Ross called it “smart, unsubtle, provocative, and powerful.”

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