From Lambeau Field to the gallery wall
Yesterday, on a drizzly morning in south-central Wisconsin, I awoke to find the lead headline on the soggy paper in my driveway printed in the type size normally reserved for things like "VICTORY OVER JAPAN!" Yes, during Sunday's game against the Vikings, Brett Favre set the record for career touchdown passes. "TOP GUN," the Wisconsin State Journal exclaimed on a special cover consumed entirely by a full-color picture of Favre. (The "normal" front page was shifted to page 3.)
While I normally bemoan the fact that sports coverage dwarfs arts coverage in most places, I didn't this time. I'm not sure why. I'm not much of a sports fan--despite a borderline-weird childhood obsession with the '70s Cincinnati Reds--but maybe the Packer worship surrounding me in this state is starting to rub off. Being married to a Green Bay native doesn't hurt, either.
What I thought might be interesting for Flyover readers is a current flurry of interest (at least in these parts) in sports as subject matter in the arts. The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) is currently exhibiting Tim Laun's "Sunday, September 20th, 1992," so named for the day Favre took over for Don Majkowski. I still have not seen it (it runs through Nov. 11) but here's some coverage from the Wisconsin State Journal and from the local anonymous blogger Madison Guy, on "Letter from Here," who called it "pandering, pompous and patronizing" as well as "cynical and exploitive." That's pretty blistering stuff from a guy who writes a thoughtful, well-researched blog about art, architecture, politics and local Madison doings. The unspoken question here I think is this: Are sports an appropriate (worthy, relevant) subject for art?
Sports-themed and sports-related art has a mixed history here in Madison, at least during the dozen years I've lived here. A few years back, a controversial Donald Lipski sculpture (essentially an obelisk of stacked footballs, a kind of whimsical monument to gladiatorial sport) was installed outside of Camp Randall on the UW campus. It inspired a local backlash of what seemed to me ridiculous proportions. Whether one loves it, hates it, or is merely indifferent, it is but one of thousands of art objects one can see in Madison during the year. Yes, I get it that it's a permanent, prominently sited work at a beloved home of college football, but I still think the local ire was overblown and, after a while, fed on itself. What also disappointed me personally was local commentators' refusal (or inability) to deal with it as a sculpture, with at least some passing reference to Lipski's other work or sculpture in general.
Since I haven't seen MMoCA's Tim Laun show on Favre yet, I'm curious to see how it comes off. (And if anyone reading this has seen it for themselves, please add your thoughts in the comments.)
In the realm of Madison theater, Madison Rep is presenting the premiere of "Lombardi / The Only Thing," an Eric Simonson play based on the David Maraniss bio of legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi, When Pride Still Mattered. It opens Nov. 9.
I can see two schools of thought forming around this Favre-and-Lombardi art: a camp that sees it as pandering to sports-loving Wisconsinites, a wallowing in familiar, beloved icons, and a camp that sees it as possibly a prime opportunity to get people into galleries and playhouses who might not otherwise come there.
The main response I have is that these arts offerings point up just how seldomly sports are treated seriously as subject matter in contemporary art and theater. While the results will have to stand on their own merits, whatever they may be, I don't think sports are a priori an inappropriate subject for art. I'm not sure anything is - except maybe this (nooooo, Milwaukee, don't do it!). Whether you're a sports fan or not, you've got to admit that sports consume a huge amount of time, attention and money in this country; I think there's something there worth exploring.
Other sports-related art rearing its head in recent years in Madison includes the bronze statues of UW athletic director Barry Alvarez (former Badgers head coach) and Pat Richter, unveiled about a year ago. You can have a gander at the Alvarez half of that here. A coworker remarked that these humorless, Socialist Realism-style figures reminded him of Marx and Engels, boldly striding towards a new tomorrow. Just think: our very own Madison Alexanderplatz!
Seriously, though, I'd be interested in hearing from others what might be happening in their communities that combines athletics and art. While not much of a "sports person" myself--though I did attend a Wisconsin Wolves game a few weeks ago; they're a team in the WPFL--there's got to be some common ground between "arts people" and "sports people." What might that look like?
Bloggers We Love
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Drew McManus' "Neo Classical" at the Partial Observer
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Mary Louise Schumacher's "Art City"
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American Composers Orchestra
Arts & Letters Daily
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Cultural Policy and the Arts National Data Archive
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New Music Box: American Music Center
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Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
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Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog