This is the first time in the park’s 30-year history that the entire five-acre space has been handed over to a single artist, and Ward makes excellent use of the opportunity. There are six main components to the show, including the title track (if you will) G.O.A.T.S, 2017, for which Ward has installed a whole menagerie of the beasts throughout the park. Each sculpture in this piece began as a cast of one of those cute, life-size lawn ornaments, to which Ward then embedded and piled upon urban detritus: rebar, electrical crap, bits of fire hose, ruined shoes.
The goat can be a loaded symbol, according to Mr. Ward, 53, who was born in Jamaica and now lives in Harlem with his wife and two children. He likes to elicit association, memory, history and politics through installations and large-scale sculptures laden with commonplace and often-discarded objects that he collects from the streets. At his studio and home in a former fire station, he described how the goat can be perceived as a sacrificial animal as well as an image of debauchery, as humble or arrogant, an insult or a boast. Musicians and athletes often use G.O.A.T. as an acronym for Greatest of All Time.
After Donald J. Trump won the election, Mr. Ward thought the goat seemed like the suitable form for populating the public park. “Audacity was in the air, with this ego running rampant,” said Mr. Ward, a natural storyteller with an easy sense of humor. He had intended to do something “absurdist and ridiculous” with chickens after being offered the Socrates commission last summer but scrapped that plan in November.
“I didn’t feel playful anymore,” he said, emphasizing that the idea is bigger than the new president. “There was something urgent that I needed to talk about. The title ‘G.O.A.T., again’ is referencing the small-minded concept of history that you’re the Greatest of All Time.”
Mr. Ward seems to be courting public opinion in the park with a giant glowing sign that spells “Apollo,” like the Harlem theater. But in Mr. Ward’s version, the first and last letters blink to flip the message to “poll,” a word linked to the 2016 election. “It’s the linchpin of the show,” said Mr. Ward, connecting the theater’s Amateur Night, where the crowd cheers contestants or boos them off the stage, with the protests, rallies and social media eruptions across the American landscape.
GOAT exhibits through September 4th at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens