After 20 years of traveling and living outside of Baltimore, contemporary artist Matthew Gray has returned to his hometown with a fairly unique piece — a 10-foot tall, multicolored candy prism that sits among a dilapidated warehouse in East Baltimore.
Gray created the sticky sculpture by cooking a mixture of 282 pounds of water, 2,520 pounds of corn syrup, 4,872 pounds of cane sugar, and various scents and flavors to mold the sweet artwork, entitled “God Bless the Child.”
On Feb. 17, he transferred the piece to a former warehouse on 2200 Aisquith St., which was affected by a 2014 three-alarm fire, according to a 2014 Baltimore Sun article. For Gray, the location, which he describes as “dramatic, truly epic, truly wounded,” offers a sharp contrast to the candy sculpture. The piece gives off scents like wild cherry, tangerine and banana nut bread — a favorite for lingering insects.
Supported by a 6-foot wooden beam, the sculpture has been in development for the past three years, said Gray, who mentioned that getting communities on board with a large candy sculpture was difficult.
He ultimately installed the piece without any official permission or permits, but said that if the city takes issue with it, he will take responsibility.
“It scares a lot of people, so this ended up having to be done in a rogue manner, and it’s kind of got some of the street art ethos in it,” he said. “It’s outside of the establishment in that regard.”
Records show that the property was forfeited by 2200 Corporation in 2001. Tania Baker, the director of communications for Baltimore Housing, wrote in an email that the Maryland Department of Housing & Community Development has attempted to reach the last owners with no success. The department has issued a vacant building notice, as well as a notice deeming the property unsafe. Both the city and state are planning a demolition, Baker wrote.
"The public is warned to keep away from the building as it is unsafe for use and occupancy," she wrote, a sentiment echoed by Baltimore Fire Department spokesperson Blair Adams.
The artwork may be made of candy, but Gray, who's been working with candy and sugar as a creative material for more 20 years, said it isn’t supposed to be “cute.”
“It’s perplexing. I still don’t understand it and I like that. You can’t easily put it on a shelf. The candy is kind of a fake out, because it wants to lure you in… but it’s an actual serious piece. This thing is no joke,” Gray said.
And one thing is for sure — “you can’t protect it,” said Gray.
Because the artist made the edible, biodegradable work from ingredients that "can be found in aisle 5 of Safeway," the sculpture’s longevity is in the hands of nature.
“Bees are already starting to swarm it. Insects feed on it. The rain washes it away,” and humidity and humans are likely the biggest challenges, he said. There’s already evidence that someone has hammered away at the wall with a brick, Gray said.
But that's part of the allure, he said: Eventually, “it’s going to fall apart."