Art School(ed): Aesthetes and athletes, art and basketball

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2014 has been a big year for basketball thus far. Just yesterday, BlogDailyHerald got you thoroughly jazzed for the CIT (not the building). In February, a new commissioner graced the National Basketball Association with his presence. Legend Bill Russell turned 80. 2 Chainz and some other guys had a swell time at NBA All Star Weekend in New Orleans. While none of you were watching, the RISD Balls creamed Cooper Union 56-52 in the (first ever) Art School Championship. (As they say, when the heat is on, the balls stick together.) This past Selection Sunday riveted fans once again, and Barack Obama is working hard on his bracket because he has motives this year. In the apparel department (no, not that one), NBA players and fans have been grumbling about the new sleeved jerseys for months. This season, Brown Bears women’s basketball finished with a solid overall record of 10-18, getting one more W (and one fewer L) than they did last season. Of course, the most important ballin’ has yet to come: the Harlem Globetrotters will be making a pit stop in continuing their “Fans Rule” World Tour in Providence on March 28th. I feel faint. 

If all this talk about ball(s) is revving up your creative engines, you’re not alone. It’s tough to study for your History of Ancient Greece midterm when all you can think about is how much you want to express yourself and your love for the game, and we certainly can’t spend all of our time waiting around and hoping that Shaquille O’Neal will guest-curate the next show at the RISD Museum.

Alas, if you’re feeling inspired by the saffron glow of Spalding, whip out your painting palette splattered with all of the colors of Dennis Rodman’s hair, and check out these artists who have been in your size 23, Shaq Attaq shoes, after the JUMPKazaam!

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Artist Jonas Wood seems to be incredibly fixated on the sport of basketball. Wood recently exhibited in the much-salivated-over Lever House venue on Park Avenue, juxtaposing his wallpaper of Wilson, Spalding, and Molten basketballs with large scale plant paintings (think Ellsworth-Kelly-meets-Marco-Belinelli):

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Like Jonas Wood, artist Paul Pfeiffer can’t resist a good basketball in suspension. Paul Pfeiffer created his video piece John 3:16 by isolating clear images of a basketball from televised footage. Using old-school stop motion and the classic film technique of the graphic match, the ball stays in the center of the frame while the players’ hands, the court, and the fans spin behind it. The piece plays on a loop, although its true duration is 2 minutes and 7 seconds, and the video could transfix any spectator for hours. Here’s a snippet (you’ll have to catch it in full next time it’s exhibited at the Paula Cooper Gallery or Museum of Modern Art): 

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1978

In 1977, Richard Weisman commissioned Andy Warhol to create ten portraits of athletic superstars. Warhol shot their portraits with his SX-70 Polaroid camera, which informed the final 40 x 40″ silkscreen portraits he produced. The commission is now known as The Athletes Series, and the mighty Kareem Abdul-Jabbar represented basketball amongst the other subjects: Muhammad Ali, O.J. Simpson, Dorothy Hamill, Chris Evert, Jack Nicklaus, Willie Shoemaker, Rod Gilbert, Tom Seaver, and Pelé. If you’ll be in Texas any time soon, this series is on display at the San Antonio Museum of Art until late April. These prints have been selling like hot cakes at Christie’s lately.

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Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Two Dr J Silver Series, Spalding NBA Tip-Off) 1985 by Jeff Koons born 1955

Who knew that the suspended basketball has become an art historical trope? Jeff Koons may be the king of this lineage. His piece Three Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Two Dr J Silver Series, Spalding NBA Tip-Off), pictured above, is a ready-made that Koons interprets as a metaphor for the human condition. The basketball, like a person, needs air to maintain its full capacity. He has placed the ball in a womb-like context, surrounded by distilled water. The basketballs are meant to be in perfect 50/50 equilibrium at all times (when a ball begins to deflate, it is replaced).

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Koons also created this piece, aptly entitled Encased — 5 Rows (6 Spalding Scottie Pippen Basketballs, 6 Spalding Shaq Attaq Basketballs, 6 Wilson Supershot Basketballs, 6 Wilson Supershot Basketballs, 6 Franklin 6034 Soccerballs):

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If you like what you see, the Whitney Museum of American Art will be hosting the first Jeff Koons retrospective from June-October 2014. This will be the final exhibition in the Whitney’s Marcel Breuer building before the museum moves to its new location in the Meatpacking District.

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I thought it would have been too creepy to dedicate this entire post to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but clearly I have enough material to do so. Remember when Kareem participated in Miranda July’s project We Think Alone? The man is a muse for the ages.

Everything Richard Avedon touched is pure gold, and the portrait above is no exception: it stuns. It is grippingly beautiful. Taken before the player changed his name, Avedon entitled the photograph Lew Alcindor, basketball player, New York. Here is another compelling image from the shoot:

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There you have it: a love letter to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, disguised as a blog post about basketball-related art. Yes, the hoops-inspired artistic oeuvre extends beyond the film masterpieces of Like Mike, Space Jam, and Love and Basketball. (In all seriousness, do yourself a favor and watch Hoop Dreams.) If anyone needs me, I will be in my studio, oil-painting an eight-by-eight foot portrait of Ernie Johnson’s visage while wearing Craig Sager’s camouflage suit.

Images via, viaviaviaviaviaviaviaviaviaviaviavia, and via

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