Nari Ward’s exhibition at a historic outdoor pool in Milan

The New York-based artist’s works, some created for this occasion, dialogue with the almost 100-year-old architecture of the Centro Balneare Romano in one of the most anticipated art exhibitions of the season, promoted by Fondazione Trussardi.

The interaction between Nicola Trussardi Foundation and the city of Milan has always been prolific in narrating the contemporary. The new project, Gilded Darkness, curated by Massimiliano Gioni, presents nine artworks by Jamaican-born artist Nari Ward, who lives and works in New York City. Since the early 1990s, his artistic practice has grown starting from the collection of objects found in the street, which in his sculptures acquire new meanings, also in relation to where they are displayed.

Some of the works in this exhibition were made specifically for the spaces of Centro Balneare Romano, a historic place with a strong symbolic value. Built in 1929 to a design by architect and engineer Luigi Lorenzo Secchi, who also oversaw the construction of the Cozzi Pool in 1934, the Romano Pool is named after Italian gymnast Guido Romano, winner of the gold medal at the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games, and it’s part of the city’s urban modernization program defined between the 1920s and 1930s.

The exhibition, designed around two main works, begins without introduction: at the entrance space, about three hundred baby strollers, which the artist collected from the streets of Harlem, are arranged following the shape of a hull and connected by a track made of fire hoses, which make hard for the visitors to balance walking around the installation. Here, the voice of gospel singer and activist Mahalia Jackson resounds to the tune of Amazing Grace, a song deeply connected to the civil rights movements of the 1960s, which gives the title to this work from 1993. 

Nari Ward. Foto Marco De Scalzi
Nari Ward. Photo Marco De Scalzi

Unlike the first time it was exhibited in Milan in 2015, on the occasion of the exhibition “The Great Mother”, organized by Trussardi Foundation at Palazzo Reale, the installation here is characterized by the presence of natural light that, entering through the large windows of the rationalist-style entrance building, conveys a sense of redemption and hope.

On the outside, the dazzling luminosity of the site-specific work Emergence Pool (2022), with hundreds of thermal blankets covering the immense surface area of the 4,000-square-meter pool, interacts with the surrounding space with melancholy grace: a thin golden stretch gives the appearance of a large, precarious raft, above which the small white flags of Blackstroke Flag (2022) wave. The majestic fragility of this installation is also emphasized by its relationship with the surrounding architectural elements: the central building of the sports center, now used as the local police headquarters, and the two buildings of Politecnico di Milano overlooking Via Ampère, Nave and Trifoglio designed by Gio Ponti in the early 1950s.

In this context, the celebratory intent behind the design of the bathing center and the monumentality of its proportions contrast significantly with Nari Ward’s works, which is about the uncertainty and precariousness of our time.

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