Nari Ward, Hunger Cradle (1996). Yarn, rope, and found materials. Dimensions variable. Exhibition view: Nari Ward: We the People, New Museum, New York (13 February–26 May 2019). Courtesy the New Museum. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio.
Way back in 1996, three friends — Janine Antoni, Marcel Odenbach, and Nari Ward — presented a memorable exhibition, 3 Legged Race, in an abandoned 19th-century firehouse in Harlem. This artist-driven show was for me, and for many others as well, an absolute highlight of that era, and it occurred with little institutional support and next to no money in a neighborhood that was hardly an art-world focus at the time.
The artists didn't just transport finished works to this unorthodox site. Instead, through various media (videos by Odenbach, a marvelous domestic installation by Antoni, and sculptural installations by the Jamaica-born, New Jersey-raised Ward, who lives in Harlem), they directly engaged the site, opening themselves to it and all its history, entropy, and indications of past lives and use. Their exhibition also uncommonly engaged local residents, just as many Harlem buildings were faltering or abandoned and gentrification and dislocation were on the rise.