The exhibition “G.O.A.T., again” is the first institutional solo exhibition of Nari Ward in New York and is on presentation at Socrates Sculpture Park and features a series of six newly commissioned site specific outdoor artworks, examining how hubris creates misplaced expectations in American cultural politics. This exhibition also brings new insight into the artist’s exploration of identity, social progress, the urban environment, and group belonging (Part I, Part II).
By Efi Michalarou
Photo: Socrates Sculpture Park
G.O.A.T. is an acronym for Greatest of All Time, a phrase commonly used in American sports, made famous by Muhammad Ali, and in hip-hop,. The title alludes to the African-American experience and political theate, both common themes in Ward’s work. The visual anchor of the exhibition is “Apollo/Poll” (2017), a towering sign that reads “APOLLO”, the letters “A” and “O” blinking on and off to spell out “POLL”. The red LED-lit letters echo that of the iconic neon beacon hanging over Harlem’s Apollo Theater, a renowned venue for African American musicians and entertainers. Ward imagines the sign as a reflection on the enterprise and art of self-promotion, performance, originality, and the meaning of communal acceptance. “King: finish line, jump rope” (2017), is hovering in an undefined space, this incongruous jump rope complicates its potential use in playground games or for agility training. The ‘King’ that it’s imprinted handles refers to is ambiguous. Elvis? Martin Luther King Jr? Or another male monarch yet to come? Yet its fusion of weight and movement evoke the great Muhammad Ali who famously bragged that he was king of the world. “G.O.A.T.s” (2017) is cast from a lawn ornament and situated throughout the park both in groups and as solitary individuals, this flock of goats manifests the show’s title. The sculptures pun on the acronym for Greatest of All Time, frequently used for athletes and musicians, from Muhammad Ali to L.L. Cool J. They carry on their backs tangled piles of material goods ranging from telephone wires and copper sheaths to fire hose and tarred feathers. “Bipartition Bell” (2017) plays with monumentality, virility, and illusion. Hanging from a resilient steel I-beam frame, the bell’s cup structure is large enough for visitors to duck under and introduce their head and torso into its interior. Inside are three small goat bells for ringing. The outer bell’s copper-clad exterior protrudes on opposite sides, appearing bifurcated, in the shape of a billy goat’s gonads. Belying the grandeur and patina of the copper, the petite inner bell undermines the exterior appearance of grandness. “Scapegoat” (2017) with a colossal faux-stone head that recalls the enormous busts of historical figures, can be understood as satire of masculinity and the monument. Here Ward infantilizes the impulse towards the mammoth by adding handle bars to its head and a precarious wheel of rusted steel and used tire. Its title invoking those shamed and blamed by a group, the addresses communal values and modes of inclusion and exclusion. Enclosed within the structure of “Shun-Light” (2017), visible only through vertical louvered slats, hangs a bulbous tangle of glossy black skeins punctured with lights a hidden chandelier. Adopting the materials of visual and spatial partition used around construction sites, the piece calls forth the social and psychic barriers that emerge in the urban field. Transforming discarded consumer goods into a source of light and symbol of luxury, the piece simultaneously beckons in and denies access.
Info: Socrates Sculpture Park, 32-01 Vernon Blvd, Long Island City, New York, Duration: 29/4-4/9/17, Days & Hours: 09:00 to Sunset, http://socratessculpturepark.org