Brooklyn’s Iconic Domino Sugar Sign Gets a Second Life as an Art Installation

The historic sign has been transformed into an art installation on display at the former Domino Sugar Factory site.

Yellow sign reading 'Domino Sugar' placed on large industrial building
The neon yellow sign was dismantled in 2014. Stephen Chernin/Getty Images

For decades, a neon sign spelling out ‘Domino Sugar’ stood as a beacon of industrialism in New York City. With its bright yellow letters visible to Manhattanites looking across the East River to Williamsburg, the sign was affixed to what was once known as the most productive sugar refinery in the world.

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That all changed a decade ago when the iconic sign was taken down and the building demolished. Now, however, remnants of the Domino Sugar Factory’s signage have been given a new life by the artist Virginia Overton. Her abstract installation Untitled (reverse virgule) repurposes parts of the original sign for a display in the lobby of a former Domino Sugar Factory building, located at the heart of the redeveloped Domino campus, Two Trees Management’s Domino Park.

“The Refinery at Domino and its bright Domino Sugar lettering is a New York City icon that has remained a symbol of Brooklyn’s waterfront and industrial heritage for over 150 years,” said Kate Gavriel, director of cultural affairs at Two Trees Management in a statement. “We are honored to have worked with such an incredible artist whose artwork has brought our key values of reinvention and adaptive reuse to life.”

Large yellow pieces of metal attatched to wall in diagonal line
Virgina Overton, Untitled (reverse virgule), (2024). ©2024 Etienne Frossard

Measuring 45 by 65 feet, the ‘Domino Sugar’ sign was erected in 1969 after fabrication by Artkraft Strauss, a sign design and manufacturing company responsible for much of Times Square’s advertising in the 20th Century. It crafted memorable visual marketing campaigns like the infamous Camel cigarette ad that blew “smoke rings” through its billboard, in addition to fabricating the city’s New Year’s Eve Ball for nearly a century.

The future of the sugar refinery sign was uncertain when the Domino Sugar Factory shut down in the early 2000s and its campus was subsequently acquired by Two Trees Management in 2012. Two years later, the sign came down and its parts were carefully preserved as the former refinery was developed into office buildings, apartments and a waterside park. In an ode to its significance, a replica LED sign was installed atop Domino Sugar’s landmark refinery building in 2022.

Mixing art and sugar

The decision to commission Overton to transform the artifact into art was in part influenced by the artist’s experience re-purposing factory materials and working with scavenged industrial items. Originally from Tennessee, the Brooklyn-based artist’s work is held in the permanent collections of institutions like MoMA and the Whitney. Recent installations include a sculpture created for the 2022 Venice Biennale made out of concrete arcs originally intended for tunnel construction, while a permanent installation on display at LaGuardia Airport contains recycled security glass from city skylights.

“Reusing existing materials as a way to extend the life of objects is integral to my practice,” said Overton in a statement. “It was a privilege to be able to work with a piece of history from America’s industrial heyday and reimagine this historic artifact as a sculpture that honors the sign’s storied past while embracing its possibilities for the future.”

Overton’s project isn’t the first time art has come to the former sugar refinery. In 2014, Kara Walker’s debut large-scale public art project was displayed in a building of the Domino plant that has since been demolished. Entitled A Subtlety and measuring more than 75 feet long, her installation consisted of a sphinx-like woman made in part, fittingly, of sugar.

Brooklyn’s Iconic Domino Sugar Sign Gets a Second Life as an Art Installation