IN THE NEWS
In 'Breathing Directions,' Nari Ward Gathers Layers of African-American History
New York Times
By Holland Cotter
Among the things that Nari Ward’s work has been about over the past two decades is how Africa stays alive in African-American. His approach to sculpture and installation has been mostly through accumulation, pulling things from the environment, often from the street: old shoes, rum bottles, television sets and, in his unforgettable 1993 “Amazing Grace,” castoff baby strollers. There’s energy in gathered and layered material. You see it in the object-adorned figures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Kongo: Power and Majesty” show, in bottle trees in the American South and in street altars assembled in New York City, where Mr. Ward lives.
One piece in his beautiful current solo, “Breathing Directions,” is an example of the method. Titled “Spellbound,” it’s made of hundreds of loose keys (from locks) that have been nailed to a piano, as if the instrument were carrying the ghosts of all the music it had ever played. Other pieces are different, abstract, more unitary-looking, though it turns out also incrementally based. A low, platform-like floor installation, “Ground (In Progress),” is composed of some 700 copper-covered bricks painted with colored patterns. Three big wall sculptures are made from single pieces of copper sheeting covered with countless strokelike marks made by the artist’s moving feet.
African-American history is embedded everywhere. The colored patterns in the floor installation are derived from 19th-century African-American quilts. Perforations cut into the wall sculptures refer to the breathing holes found in the floorboards of churches that sheltered escaped slaves. The quilt patterns derive from African textiles; the patterns of holes form Congolese cosmograms. Finally, all the work is essentially about a universal art form: dancing. The artist did his dance on the panels now hung on the walls. Visitors to the gallery are invited to do theirs on “Ground (In Progress).”