Being, giving shape, changing: Nari Ward at Pirell...

Being, giving shape, changing: Nari Ward at Pirelli HangarBicocca

Bottles, supermarket trolleys, strollers, shoelaces, panels, signs, videos, huge installations, bricks, transparent beads, fishing nets, kerosene cans, mattresses, telephone booths, crystallized sugar and bitumen coatings, mango seeds , chandeliers: the universe functional to Nari Ward’s expressive poetics, on display at the Pirelli HangarBicocca in Milan, is infinite.

Nari Ward, “Hunger Cradle”, 1996-2024 (detail). Installation view at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2024, private collection, photo, courtesy the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan Photo: Agostino Osio

“Ground Break”, the title of this large solo show, is an expression that has to do with the first gesture of construction of an artefact: laying the first stone, the act of tracing the furrow by breaking the first stone. It is within the folds of this vast concept that the visitor moves through the large rooms and closely observes the works (some of them are gigantic) of the exhibition which also includes robust performative elements. This allows Ward to make his art a dance to read the present in a black and primarily American key (Nari Ward is Jamaican by origin but now a New Yorker by adoption). Once the black curtain that separates the two rooms generally intended for temporary exhibitions in the Hangar has been moved, the imposing mass of a hungry cradle appears in the darkness, the enormous “Hunger Cradle”, an installation designed specifically for the Hangar and which gathers in its womb an impressive series of recycled objects (even as large as a piano). The cradle serves as a place of care and shelter for the objects that the artist found in his exploratory journey, giving them new and more protected life.

Nari Ward, “Ground Break”, exhibition view at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2024. Photo courtesy the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan Photo Agostino Osio

The installation that gives the exhibition its title, “Ground Break”, is a flooring work made up of thousands of copper-coated concrete bricks. Here the artist creates a tribute to the historical use of copper in art and, with the spiral-shaped signs on the surface, introduces us to a cosmological dimension. The “Geography Bottle Curtain” installation is impressive, a gigantic suspended cascade of glass bottles intertwined with threads. The subtext of the work is political, the bottles represent the diaspora, the weaving recalls actions rooted in the hearts of African populations and refers to an auspicious relationship that man wants to weave with the spirits. Nari Ward’s artistic versatility also reveals a pop soul: the two (real) telephone booths that make up the diptych “American Bottle Anthem Booth” and “Italian Bottle Anthem Booth” refer to pop imagery, even more strengthened by the issue sound, from inside the two cabins filled with bottles, mattress springs and foam rubber, of the two national anthems.

Nari Ward, “Geography Bottle Curtain”, 1997/2024, installation view at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2024. Produced by Pirelli HangarBicocca, photo Courtesy the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, photo: Agostino Osio

Engagement with the social story also occurs with the “Spellbound” video. In the video, the artist commemorates the black resistance of the southern United States, the involvement of black Haitian soldiers in the War of Independence and above all the Georgian town of Savannah, founded by Tomochichi, a native chief who was also included among the forgotten of history. The installation “Geography Pallets” is monumental, conceived specifically for the Hangar. Wooden pallets for goods, plexiglass, metals, crystallized sugar contribute to the creation of a gigantic inclined wall with which the artist intends to represent a port area and the movement of goods, from a joint idea with the choreographer-writer Ralph Lemon.

Nari Ward, “Geography Pallets”, 2000/2024, installation view at Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, 2024. Produced by Pirelli HangarBicocca, photo courtesy the artist and Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, photo: Agostino Osio

Of particular impact is the video which captures a sculpture also present in the exhibition. The fixed work is “Crusader” and the title introduces the strong polemical hint of Ward who creates a wandering cart made up of a common supermarket trolley, kerosene cans, plastic bags and a towering chandelier. The video shows Ward walking, caged in the central space of the trolley, through the streets of New York, pushing the work and crossing not only the urban space but also the indifferent gaze of many passers-by, until he reaches a train station service in which, with a purifying ritual, one washes one’s hands with oil. All the works in the exhibition belong to the last thirty years of the artist’s activity and compose a sort of memorial of the objects found, such is the amount of poor material used by Nari Ward. Memory, faith, identity are the themes that run through the artistic journey: the concept is profoundly human and centered on the human being, oscillating between claiming dignity and spirituality.


Nari Ward. “Ground Break”
Curated by Roberta Tenconi and Lucia Aspesi
28/03 – 28/07/2024
Pirelli HangarBicocca
Via Chiese, 2
20126 Milano
tel: 0266111573


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