Lehmann Maupin is pleased to present Balance Fountain, New York-based multidisciplinary artist Nari Ward's first solo exhibition in London. The exhibition precedes a major European museum exhibition to be announced in the coming months. Adopting a distinctly spiritual approach, _Balance Fountai_n probes the unseen forces that shape both unique cultures and global society, exposing ritual as a structural artistic device. The presentation features a series of new copper panel works, a selection of sculptures, and a large-scale floor installation, each composed of objects adjacent to ceremonial practice or devotional behaviour.
Ward is best known for his wall- and installation-based sculptural works created from materials frequently found and collected throughout Harlem, his longtime neighbourhood. The artist combines these materials to re-contextualise their original meanings, creating assemblage works that confront complex social and political realities (often surrounding race, migration, democracy, and community) through literal and metaphorical juxtaposition. Materially specific but intentionally ambiguous in their signification, Ward's works encourage the viewer to explore many possible interpretations.
Installed in the centre of the gallery are two sculptures, whose individual construction and mutual interaction explore the restorative possibilities of communal gathering. Balance Fountain (2013—2014) recalls a wheelbarrow overflowing with mysterious cargo. Strands of silver shade cloth, enormous golden mango seeds, and long metal window balances exceed the confines of an antique barrel. Freed from performing their crucial mechanical function, Ward's window balances suggest an array of metaphorical resonances. If a window is used to see, then a window balance is a purveyor of vision. Essential to this operation is a typically hidden cross-shaped spring that allows windows to be raised or lowered with ease. In Balance Fountain, these crosses proliferate to create a spray of delicate crucifixes extending from a base of luminous seeds. In both title and material, Balance Fountain is a meditation on equilibrium, potentiality, and the promise of insight if only you can strike the right balance.
Balance Fountain sits atop a new floor installation titled _Groundin' Visible _(2023), which is composed of bricks overlaid with a sheet of copper. Ward has long been drawn to copper as an artistic medium for both its energetic properties and its many cultural associations with medicine and healing. In Groundin' Visible, the copper surface is imprinted with the indexical traces of sundry objects. The delicate outlines of prayer beads and rosaries appear alongside the visually resonant yet significantly opposing symbols of the Union Jack and the Congolese Cosmogram. Ward also includes the imprints of eight fan blades, which hold dual resonance in Groundin' Visible as a practical appliance and as a metaphor for the invisible movement of the Spirit. Recalling this animation, Groundin' Visible is conceived as a pedestal for hosting other activity. Several performances will take place during the run of the exhibition, where participants will engage Balance Fountain and Groundin' Visible in a ceremonial manner that explores communal introspection.
In Prayers Series; Circuit (2023), Ward considers the significance and omnipresence of prayer across global religions. Praying is an act of devotion that communes the individual with the divine, often through the use of sacred objects that materially structure a spiritual connection. The tactility of these exercises that connect the physical to the spiritual is of great interest to Ward, whose new series deploys prayer beads and hands as a central motif. Each panel in Prayers Series features the ghostly traces of prayer beads, their impression left on the copper surface through the application of a darkening patina. The unbroken loop of the beads is crisply visible. Describing this loop and also the conductive properties of copper metal, the titular word Circuit gestures towards both visible and invisible manifestations of connective energy and repetitive labor.
Echoing the interplay between Balance Fountain and Groundin' Visible, Ward's Empire (2023) is also composed of new and found art objects. The sculptural installation comprises a decorative glass cabinet painted black with indelible ink and filled with an assortment of unusual black globes. These globes are tufted in balls of cotton dipped in sugar and singed with fire. Their scorched topographies reference the most notorious crops that powered the economies of the American South. A dark twist on the western museological phenomenon of the cabinet of curiosities, Empire gestures towards slavery and colonialism as invisible forces used to violently re-structure societies, often in concert with religious proselytisation. Here and elsewhere in the exhibition, Ward employs assemblage to deconstruct the often invisible yet intertwined religious, political, and cultural structures that charge humble objects with extraordinary significance.
Press release courtesy Lehmann Maupin.