Hard Targets at The Wexner Center Galleries
Sat, Jan 30 – Sun, Apr 11, 2010
Wexner Center Galleries
Our contemporary view of sports and athletes appears to have been largely reduced to a series of either/or propositions. Ask one person about sports and they’ll explain that they provide a chance to learn valuable lessons in teamwork. Ask another, and they’ll tell you they’re a cruel indoctrination into a culture of competition.
Likewise, and depending on one’s perspective, athletes themselves are either exemplary models of practice and determination or overpaid narcissists.
Similarly, large-scale spectator sports are viewed as either a chance for shared community bonding or a trivial diversion from more important issues.
And while these choices seem plausible enough, each one demonstrates a logical fallacy known as the false dilemma. They are propositions that offer only two choices when in fact others most certainly exist. This is important not just because these statements serve to frame some very unproductive debates about the nature of sports, but also because they prevent us from asking the most salient question of all, “How else might we look at athletes and sports?”
Fortunately, this is the very question that Hard Targets seeks to answer. It’s also one that curator Christopher Bedford is eminently qualified to address. Bedford himself serves as a kind of living refutation of the false dilemmas described above. While most people might agree that one could either be a football player or an art history major, it turns out that Bedford is both. This provides him with a unique perspective on the experience of athletes and an understanding of how those experiences might be reflected in art.
Hard Targets includes nearly 70 works by 21 different artists. The work spans a range of media, from video, to painting, to sculpture to installation. While the formats are certainly eclectic, the themes that bind these works together are consistent. Hard Targets is an exhibition that focuses on the male athlete, the male form, and the commodity culture that envelopes big-time sports. It offers art that calls into question some of our most common assumptions about athletes and competition. Through Bedford’s careful selection of work, a very human face is put on athletes. Invincibility is replaced by vulnerability, the masculine is replaced by feminine, and heroes are replaced by humans.
Paul Pfeiffer’s Caryatid (Red, Yellow, and Blue) provides video that isolates and highlights the violent ballet that soccer often becomes. Catherine Opie’s stark photographs present a view of young athletes that is candid and disarming. Sam Taylor-Wood’s David Robert Joseph Beckham (“David”) and 3 Minute Round show us athletes outside the lines and outside media glare. Brian Jungen’s Blanket no. 3 repurposes sports jerseys through weaving in a way that questions the idea of masculinity in both sport and art.
It’s perhaps notable that Bedford has selected so many video works for this show. During a gallery talk he mentioned the primacy of Douglas Gordon and Phillipe Parreno’s, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. He observed that video may well be the most definitive medium of our time when it comes to portraiture. If so, then Zidane is likely the high-water mark. 17 cameras, from varying perspectives and locations are trained on the athlete for the duration of a single soccer match. It’s a work that’s relentless, hypnotic, and unmatched in sport.
Taken together, these works provide an alternate story for what sports can mean. Hard Targets, while ultimately successful, will likely challenge some viewers. Its promise is an appreciation of sport that falls well outside the standard narrative. This involves a new way of seeing; one that might take some practice. These are not the voices of ESPN commentators, color analysts, rabid fans, or clichéd coaches. They aren’t familiar. They aren’t either and they aren’t or. They’re something different; and if they do their job, you will be too.
Jeff Regensburger is a painter, librarian, and drummer in the (currently dormant) rock combo The Patsys. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts (Painting and Drawing) from The Ohio State University in 1990 and an Master’s Degree in Library Science from Kent State University in 1997. Jeff blogs sporadically (OnSummit.blogspot.com), tweets occasionally (@jeffrey_r), and paints as time allows.