Art as Nightmare

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I recently visited Art Omi, a sculpture and architecture park in Columbia County. We were able to ride bikes through the 120-acre park, on dirt paths and grassy slopes, stopping near each installation. The art was original and thought-provoking, the early autumn weather warm and colorful.

I’ve got family with me. It’s one of those days you’re just lucky to have.

Near the end of our riding tour, we came upon the sculpture in the photo above. It’s called Scapegoat, created by Nari Ward.

SCAPEGOAT, 2017

Steel, wood, concrete, tire tread, fire hose

40 x 12 x 12 feet

With a colossal faux-stone head that recalls the enormous busts of historical figures, this forty-foot long hobby goat toy can be understood as satire of masculinity and the monument. Here Ward infantilizes the impulse towards the mammoth by adding handle bars to its head and a precarious wheel of rusted steel and used tire. Its title invoking those shamed and blamed by a group, Scapegoat addresses communal values and modes of inclusion and exclusion.

Satire of masculinity . . . infantilizes . . . invoking those shamed and blamed . . . Lots of psychology in that language.

I love large displays of experiential art. The kind you see here at Art Omi and at Storm King in the Hudson Valley. Or indoors at Dia Beacon or Mass MOCA. What I love is the boldness of the artist’s vision, whether it’s a color field of white or a complex stone sculpture, a living space welded from an old silo or a 3-D rhombus constructed of broken glass and mirror.

Even the pieces that seem to me superficially dull are deeply daring. Granted, some of this art is plain weird. If I don’t understand a piece, or it leaves me unmoved, I might dismiss it. Or, if feeling less sure of myself, I might doubt the validity of my response.

That was not the case with Scapegoat. I was moved. My response was genuine: that thing terrified me. It was the stuff of my nightmares.

Age six, maybe seven. I’m waking up every night screaming because I’ve had a night terror. Every night, my parents have to console me. I’m disturbing my brothers and sisters. I settled back to sleep, seconds later I’m at it again. My parents are afraid I have a brain tumor. They also want to send me to a psychiatrist.

But my problem was that goat. In my dream, I’m painting a straight neat white line on a background of black (everything is black except for my white line), and then the wheeled beast appears. In many ways like that goat, a little sleeker, a little colder. The single wheel, the long frame, some kind of grotesque head on top. Its wheel leaves many crisscrossing white lines that obliterate my careful work.

And this terrifies me. Night after night, this nightmare evokes my screams of torture. It all seems kind of lame now, decades later, but I’ve never forgotten the essence of that dream, and seeing Scapegoat brought me back.

And I’m going to go back. I want to visit the sculpture again soon.

By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, avid reader, discriminating watcher of movies and series.

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