Socrates Sculpture Park: Nari Ward Exhibition

We’ve visited the Socrates Sculpture Park before, quite some time ago (you can find that post here), but I kept seeing photos of the summer exhibition on social media and had to get there before it ended. For the first time in its history, the park hosted an exhibition featuring a single artist, Nari Ward. Ward was born in Jamaica but currently makes his home in New York City. The exhibition, titled Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again, was both challenging and intriguing.

One of the things that makes this exhibition unique is that the art was created on site. As visitors roamed around the park, the most common features of the exhibition were the concrete goats. The park’s website contains this explanation of the exhibition’s name and the artist’s use of goats to convey his message:

Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again examines how hubris creates misplaced expectations in American cultural politics. … 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, most notably, as the title of Queens native LL Cool J’s best-selling album. The title alludes to the African-American experience and political theater – common themes in Ward’s work.

The figure of the goat features prominently in Nari Ward: G.O.A.T., again as the artist’s articulation of social dynamics, conjuring the animal’s attributes and symbolic connotations, from an ambitious climber of great heights to an outcast. A flock of goats cast from lawn ornaments traverse the landscape, both in groups and as solitary individuals, manifesting the show’s title. The appropriation of the word goat, turning an insult into a moniker for excellence, demonstrates the power of wordplay, while the modifier again implies historical repetition. Scapegoat, a forty-foot long hobby toy further develops the goat metaphor and highlights another strand of the show: the satirization of virility, masculinity, and monument.

Intrigued about these goats? Here are some photos of the exhibition. It had rained heavily the day before our visit, hence the puddles, but there were plenty of dry spots to walk on.

The exhibition also included a piece titled, “Apollo/Poll.” Here’s a description of the piece from the park’s website, as well as a photo of what it looked like.

The visual anchor of the show is Apollo/Poll, 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.

But the Nari Ward exhibition was not the only thing I found in the park. There were also these examples of community art projects, although I couldn’t find specific explanations of them.

And there was also this discovery, a free mini-library. Visitors were invited to take a book or leave a book at the site.

This exhibition has now ended, but another great exhibition has recently opened. If you’d like to visit the park, you can find directions here on the park’s website.

20 thoughts on “Socrates Sculpture Park: Nari Ward Exhibition

  1. Goats are really smart. They put them in with sheep–goats won’t go over a cliff just because the rest of the herd will. I like art that I can understand by looking at it–if there is a need for an explanation then… Not saying anything about your explanation…it was needed. I am glad you do a variety of posts. I think it is like music, you can’t just listen to all the hits, you need to listen all the artist’s music to understand who they are.

    1. You final comments are exactly my philosophy about both art and New York City – I try to explore and write about a variety of different things. Some appeal to me much more than others, but I learn something every time that makes me see even the familiar differently.

  2. I like sculptures in parkland. There’s room to walk around and cogitate … and photograph … without all the restraints of a gallery. I hadn’t thought about the multiple symbolic possibilities of goats, and certainly not some of the ones the commentary exposes. And if the goats are too abstruse, then I’ll settle for their puddly green setting!

    As for take a book leave a book I think I’ll just leave one, in my current shedding mode. My local coffee shop has a case ready for the using. It’s a great idea.

    1. I love finding sculptures on public land of any type, accessible to anyone who passes by. This park does some interesting exhibitions – not always my interests, but always something stimulating.

      I’m currently in shedding mode too, when it comes to books. It’s amazing how many I collect. I’ve been trying to rehome at least a few recently, so they can see new life.

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