Nari Ward Follows Vilcek Prize Win with Three Solo Shows

Nari Ward is having a busy summer, or at least his art handlers are. The 2017 Vilcek Prizewinner currently has three solo exhibitions on view: two in New York and one in Boston.

Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City is hosting Nari’s first institutional solo show in New York, Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again. The five-acre park on the bank of the East River is filled with six large newly commissioned works, as well as twenty cast-concrete goat sculptures. The exhibition abounds with Nari’s characteristic wordplay and possibilities for multiple interpretations. Even the title can be read in two ways: G.O.A.T. is an acronym for “Greatest of All Time,” which is regularly used in the worlds of sports and hip-hop, yet the works literally reference the pronunciation of the word the letters create.

Considering the interplay of multiple interpretations is important to understanding Nari’s works. Though rebar jetting out of the goat sculptures’ backs initially appears to imply impalement, it is actually a hopeful reference to the architecture of the artist’s birth country. As he explained during a recent tour, “In Jamaica, when they are building homes, they will always leave the rebar sticking out of the top, so the next generation can build on top of it … There’s a little bit of a dark side and a little bit humor, and you’ll notice in the work there is a balance of both things that I try to pull at.”

Nari aims to let viewers interpret the works for themselves, though. He likes utilizing familiar materials in a strange way to open the door for engagement. “It’s really about pushing spaces so they can enter it, and then they can come up with their own conclusions. So, for me, it’s much more about leaving a kind of intriguing contemplative gesture for a viewer to have their own experience with,” said Nari.

Running concurrently with Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again is TILL LIT at Lehmann Maupin in New York. Nari’s fourth solo exhibition for the gallery includes a new series of mixed-media paintings, sculptures, and installations organized around the theme of how value is assigned. The works, which are more abstract than many at Socrates Sculpture Park, are still imbued with Nari’s love of wordplay and use of found materials—a collection of minimalist paintings that repurpose cash register drawers are fittingly titled the Till series. 

Nari also has a mid-career retrospective, Nari Ward: Sun Splashed, on display at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. Originally organized by curator Diana Nawai for the Perez Art Museum in Miami, the exhibition is on its third stop, after a successful run last year at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. The show, which is the largest survey of his work ever assembled, features many of his most famous pieces, including “We the People,” a striking installation that spells the first words of the Preamble to the United State Constitution in broken shoestrings.

You can learn about Nari and his art in our previously published feature “Nari Ward: The Empowerment of Place.” Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again will be on view at Socrates Sculpture Park until September 4, TILL LIT will be on view at Lehmann Maupin until August 25, and Nari Ward: Sun Splashed will be on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, until September 4. 

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