Back To Top

Gallery Exhibitions

Museum Exhibitions & Projects

Store

Artist Bio

Nari Ward

PRESS

Museum Magazine

August 31, 2017

PRESS

Artnet

May 18, 2017

PRESS

The New York Times

January 27, 2017

News

The New York Times

July 8 2016

News

Nari Ward brings Mango Tourists and other exotics to the Barnes Foundation The Philadelphia Inquirer

June 25 2016

News

Nari Ward: The story behind an artwork in the artist's own words Modern Painters

June 1 2016

News

Sculpture Finds a Parking Space on the High Line Wall Street Journal

April 30 2016

News

Sculpture Finds a Parking Space on the High Line Wall Street Journal

April 27 2016

News

An Artist and a Poet Capture Death in a Hospice Room T Magazine

April 16 2016

News

A Sense of Placeness High Line Magazine

April 14 2016

News

Homegrown philanthropy fuels the new Speed Art Museum The Art Newspaper

March 10 2016

News

Video: Nari Ward show at Pérez Art Museum Miami Miami Herald

February 21 2016

News

The Historical and Fictional Worlds of Nari Ward Hyperallergic

February 11 2016

News

Nari Ward with Nicole Smythe-Johnson Miami Rail

December 12 2015

News

Nari Ward’s found object sculptures explore history and power Financial Times

December 4 2015

News

Book Signing with Nari Ward Pérez Art Museum Miami

December 3 2015

News

Nari Ward Looks Back at Two Decades of Work in "Sun Splashed" at PAMM

November 28 2015

News

Art Basel Week 2015 Guide: At the Museums Miami Herald

November 26 2015

News

In 'Breathing Directions,' Nari Ward Gathers Layers of African-American History New York Times

October 30 2015

News

Nari Ward at Lehmann Maupin Art in America

October 30 2015

News

25 Most Collectable Midcareer Artists: Nari Ward Artnet

September 30 2015

News

See: Nari Ward's Breathing Directions New York Magazine

September 26 2015

News

Timeless Symbols Pack Nari Ward’s Sculptures with Meaning The Creators Project

September 24 2015

News

Nari Ward BOMB Magazine

September 17 2015

News

Nari Ward: Breathing Directions at Lehmann Maupin Elephant Magazine

September 16 2015

PRESS

Forbes

March 27, 2015

PRESS

Forbes

March 25, 2015

PRESS

Forbes

March 24, 2015

PRESS

Design & Trend

March 10, 2015

News

Nari Ward’s "Divination X" to Grace Gardner Museum Façade Boston Magazine

January 5 2015

PRESS

Artnet News

June 9, 2014

PRESS

Sculpture Magazine

June 2013

PRESS

Frieze

May 2013

News

Mousse Magazine Nari Ward interviewed by Anna Daneri

April 2013

News

New York Times Review 'NYC 1993' Exhibition at New Museum

February 14, 2013

PRESS

The New York Times

February 14, 2013

News

Whitewall Magazine Installation View: Nari Ward's 1993

February 1, 2013

PRESS

Whitewall

February 1, 2013

News

New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York Nari Ward: Amazing Grace

January 17 - April 21, 2013

PRESS

The Wall Street Journal

January 16, 2013

PRESS

ARTnews

January 2013

PRESS

The Brooklyn Rail

April 30, 2012

PRESS

New York Observer

April 27, 2012

PRESS

Huffington Post

April 8, 2012

News

Nari Ward Receives Rome Prize

April 2012

PRESS

Designboom

March 31, 2012

PRESS

Artinfo

March 27, 2012

PRESS

Modern Painters

January 31, 2012

PRESS

Philadelphia Weekly

November 2, 2011

PRESS

International Review of African American Art

November 30, 2010

PRESS

ARTnews

April 30, 2010

PRESS

Art in America

April 30, 2010

PRESS

Artforum

April 30, 2010

PRESS

The New York Times

April 2, 2010

PRESS

Frieze

December 31, 2008

PRESS

The New Yorker

November 24, 2008

PRESS

The New York Times

August 24, 2007

PRESS

Sculpture

March 31, 2006

PRESS

Sculpture

April 30, 2005

PRESS

Art in America

November 30, 2004

PRESS

V Magazine

December 31, 2001

PRESS

The New York Times

August 6, 2000

PRESS

The Observer

October 27, 1997

PRESS

The New York Times

August 10, 1997

PRESS

The Village Voice

October 9, 1996

PRESS

Flash Art

September 30, 1996

PRESS

Elle

June 30, 1995

Nari Ward’s found object sculptures explore history and power

Financial Times


By Ariella Budick
 

Jamaican-born Nari Ward uses everyday objects to make sculptures that explore history and power


Every new arrival has a story about becoming a New Yorker, and usually it involves real estate. That’s especially true of the Jamaican-born artist Nari Ward, whose sculptures and installations — the subject of a major retrospective at the Pérez Art Museum Miami — demand hefty quantities of square footage. In 1993, for instance, he gathered a fleet of discarded baby strollers more than 300 strong, and arranged them into “Amazing Grace”, which buzzes with abandonment, grief and memory. Finding somewhere to exhibit that work is never an easy task.


“I was looking for a church, because I really wanted to create a transcendent experience,” Ward recalls. “A buddy of mine said, ‘Hey, I know an old firehouse.’” The narrow, three-storey building in Central Harlem was a little lacking in spiritual aura, but at least it had a suitable next-door neighbour, the Church of the Meek: Ward filled the firehouse with his collection of strollers.


More than 20 years later, we meet in the same space, which now serves as his studio. He’s well defended against the cold that seeps through the large doors: jacket, scarf and one of his ever-present hats. The ground floor is pleasingly cluttered the way only an artist’s can be: a Smart car armoured in sliced-up tires sits in the foyer; Ward plans to grow a tree through the sun roof and hoist the whole thing on to the city’s High Line walkway in the spring. Next to his overflowing desk, a life-sized human skeleton appears to be receiving IV fluids beneath a clear dome.


“I get inspired by things that don’t fit in,” he says. “I find an object that speaks to me, and there’s always something out of place about it. Out of place-ness is a New York thing.”


For a long time, Ward and his wife Noemi felt bracingly uneasy in a neighbourhood they considered dangerous. But Harlem was changing: in 1993, there were 66 murders in his precinct, the 32nd. Last year, there were six. The demographics were shifting, too: by 2010, African-Americans no longer constituted a majority in the neighbourhood once known as the capital of black America. Manhattanville Coffee, on the corner, looks like an outpost of coolest Brooklyn, and is priced accordingly.


Urban evolution has a way of sneaking up on longtime New Yorkers and disrupting their tranquility, and in Ward’s case it has sometimes even altered the meaning of his art. Take his 1996 “Happy Smilers”, for example. Behind a Jamaican-style yellow awning is a sunny emporium of discarded housewares, furniture and bric-a-brac, assembled into tight constructions and wrapped in lengths of fire hose. The out of place-ness is hard to miss. Two decades ago, he says, “it was about creating this sense of home, and having the viewer experience it as a theatrical moment. A fire hose is a metaphor for transformation. It’s associated with saving lives, but also with water and fire, which are regenerative elements.” At this remove, though, the objects in “Happy Smilers” that seemed startlingly current have become mementoes.


“Nostalgia can be magical, but it can also be a trap. My challenge is to have these longings for another time also be a visceral experience.” Ward worries that as the objects age, they become abstract. He wants his works to retain their physicality and viewers to feel their weight and sense their texture, as well as their “sociopolitical context”.


I ask him for a sociopolitical exegesis of the upside-down sign glowing quietly on the wall. Read from bottom to top, it spells “Liquors”, with the I, Q, and R unlit. Read the other way, and skipping the missing letters, the sign says “Soul.”


“I pulled these signs down from buildings where the landlord didn’t even know they were there,” Ward says. His gift lies not just in grabbing derelict castaways but in giving them a resonance that is both personal and broad. “Alcohol is a material of transformation, associated with rites of passage,” he explains, and it’s a short associative hop from “spirits” to “soul”.


As the zone around his firehouse gentrifies, it becomes tougher for a professional scavenger to do his job. Fortunately, his territory has widened. Recently, while preparing for a one-man show at the Savannah College of Art and Design, he visited the First African Baptist Church, which, before the Civil War, served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. A guide pointed out holes in the floor drilled in the pattern of cosmograms, two-dimensional depictions of the universe.


“They were breathing holes for escaped slaves who were hiding underneath. The configuration was actually a Congolese symbol that means life, death and rebirth. When these people were down below and looking up, they would see this light and it was life.”


The result of this encounter with the past was “Breathing Directions”, a set of large copper rectangles covered with African patterns. But the work wasn’t finished until he had experienced it the way he does the sidewalks of New York: by walking on it. “I put a patina on the sole of my shoes and danced on top of the copper.”


Ward refers frequently to the physicality of his art — both the visceral experience he hopes to give viewers and the demands on his own muscles, “that mind/body connection that happens with labour and repetition”. He savours menial tasks that the art world holds in ill repute these days, when conceptualism rules and an entrepreneur like Jeff Koons can outsource his fantasies to fabricators. “This playing down of labour is a contemporary art trope. It’s a question of whether you’re aligned with intellectual prowess or with craft. I like to think that I’m trying to bring the two together.”


Still, the pressure to work less hard can get intense. “My friend [the artist David Hammons] started ribbing me once: ‘Nari, people love to see you sweat.’ He was trying to get my goat. He said, ‘They’re not interested in paying you for your thought, they just want to put you back on the plantation.’ So I made a work that continued the conversation. It’s called ‘Sweater’ and it’s a close-up of the sweat running down my forehead. Except I was in a sauna, totally relaxed.”


Ward is 53 now, with a son in college and a gold-plated reputation. He doesn’t feel the same need to prowl the sidewalks for inspiration: even a changed city offers an invigorating background of furore, and the firehouse a place to retreat with his imagination.


“New York makes a noise I need. I might just be sitting quietly at home with a glass of wine but I know there’s this intensity out there, a fast-moving train that I can get on any time I want.”


‘Nari Ward: Sun Splashed’ is at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, to February 21, pamm.org