Sports / arts redux
I thought I'd pick up where I left off two weeks ago, with a topic that generated a fair amount of interest: sports and the arts. Last night, I attended a panel discussion at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) titled "Forward Progress: New Perspectives on the Wisconsin Gridiron."
This was a joint event between MMoCA and Madison Repertory Theatre. Speakers were David Maraniss, the Madison native and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist (who, it turns out, still lives in Madison part of the year); Eric Simonson, whose play based on Maraniss' bio of Vince Lombardi will premiere next month at Madison Rep; MMoCA curator Jane Simon; and Rep artistic director Richard Corley.
The panel tied together the Brett Favre-related art exhibition at MMoCA and the development of Maraniss' Lombardi biography into a work for the stage.
A few of the themes that emerged: Maraniss noted the pervasiveness of Lombardi quotes in realms not related to sports--Lombardi not just as coach, but as motivational speaker. He also spoke of "central American myths," stating "[Lombardi] had so much to offer about the mythology of winning, what it takes and what it costs." Simonson noted the strong influence of Jesuit thinking and specifically the philosophies of St. Ignatius on Lombardi's worldview.
And, as one might expect, there was talk of the violent aspect of modern sports and what that means. Maraniss argued that there is "a measure of artistic resonance even in violence," while Simon compared a central image in the Brett Favre-related art exhibition (Tim Laun's show "Sunday, September 20th, 1992") to a fallen soldier. The piece in question shows a downed Don Majkowski in larger-than-life fashion, taking up nearly a full gallery wall. This, of course, is the moment that set Favre's career in motion, as #4 replaced Majkowski on the field.
While comparisons between fallen soldiers and athletes are apt in many ways and have a long, even ancient, visual history, this is one place where I think we need to tread carefully and think in historical specifics, not just generalities. As we all know, the stakes for a soldier are much higher than for a pro athlete; we are reminded of that daily in these times. As my husband (a Marine Corps vet himself) commented, "Today, a 'fallen soldier' is likely to be in an outpatient mental health clinic."
Abstracted, almost beautiful depictions of downed bodies, from ancient Greece to images of Majkowski (who is alive and well), don't reflect the kind of psychological and physical trauma that is in our midst now. Symbolic comparisons, while valid on many levels, may have the unintended consequence of distancing us from current realities.
That said, I am glad to see this kind of joint event between Madison's professional theater company and its contemporary art museum. Not only have they coordinated their programming, they've connected it to one of the U.S.' major obsessions that is infrequently addressed in contemporary art-making.
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