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Back to Reviews 96

Happy Smilers: Duty Free Shopping, 1996

© ArtNet Worldwide 1997

Happy Smilers:
Duty Free Shopping,

Happy Smilers:
Duty Free Shopping,

nari ward
at jeffrey deitch projects

by John Good

We can't help but be impressed by the three 

shows produced thus far by the former 

Citibank art advisor and freelance curator 

Jeffrey Deitch in his closely watched new 

space on Grand Street. In case you missed 

his first two shows, of work by Vanessa 

Beecroft and Jocelyn Taylor, informative 

recapitulations are on display in the 

adjacent gallery office. The latest 

installation, by Nari Ward, is grand and 

fun. In one of SoHo's most inexplicably 

beautiful spaces, Ward effects a 

transformation of gallery into a 

metaphorical composite of his own paradise 


Upon entering the room with its tall walls 

painted a chartreusey bright yellow, one is 

confronted by another wall of almost equal 

height made of junk held together with 

flattened firehose and dry-wall screws. 

Reinhard Mucha gone funky?

As we find our way down the narrow 

passageway, navigating through this 

apparently impenetrable object of Serra-

like scale, we turn one corner, then the 

next, until we are visually and psychically 

relieved to enter an open U-shaped space 

with a floor of sand and a gigantic, 

distressed fire escape hanging from the 

ceiling above. Island music plays in the 

background and we pleasantly wonder: what 

is this supposed to mean? It's quirkily 

beautiful and innocent (owing some of its 

moves to Nancy Rubins, but without the 

angry absurdity); it's long the on work 

ethic, bringing to mind Leonardo Drew (up 

the street at the nearly extinct SoHo 

outpost of the Mary Boone Gallery) and it 

entertains all the senses.

It is only when we read the press release 

that we find out that the work is an 

attempt by the artist to reconcile and 

transcend his nostalgia for a Caribbean 

childhood with his adult present as an 

artist working in Harlem. It's an 

effective and affecting work. But is it 

transcendent? Transcendent enough in a 

season of austerity and colorlessness.