Sunday, April 15, 2012

Heavy hitters at the MIA - "The Sports Show"

I made it across the street this afternoon to "The Sports Show," the current special exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The show's premise is an investigation into the depiction of various facets of sports. Each of the nine rooms dedicated to the show divide the work into categories such as "spectacle," "race," and "politics." Since I'm not much of a sports fan, I had very little interest in attending, but as I explored more, I found myself enjoying the exhibition.

Hardware from Cory Arcangel's Masters, 2011
The categories offered on the walls did little to inform the work; most of the exhibition seemed to be chronological in content. The first few rooms contained mostly old sports photographs from notable locations and times, and the end of the show consisted of video works and contemporary photos leading up to Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. One exception to this trend was Cory Arcangel's Masters in the front room, which is is a golf video game hacked to always screw up your putt. Everyone took a turn at the game, only to fail. It was especially disappointing to watch small children attempt the putt over and over again. You could tell they were thinking, "I know video games, I can do this."

Jaques Henri Lartigue, Grand Prix of the Automobile Club of France, 1912
To be honest, quite a bit of the material in the show - particularly the historical photos - felt like padding for the more clearly intentional artworks. One example of this is Ezra Shaw's photos of divers mid-leap - maybe I've seen too many Internet memes, but I wasn't sold as easily on the message of this work as, say, Andreas Gursky's heavily photoshopped Bahrain I.

That's not to say that humor doesn't have its place in art. Though it was clear that the Zidane screening was intended as the big draw for the museum, the hands-down most popular artwork in the show was Upstate Olympics by video artist Tim Davis. In Davis' videos, the artist invents sports such as Lawn Jockey Leapfrog, and proceeds to "compete" by, say, jumping over all of the lawn jockeys he can find in his town. Davis' 54 "competitions" were displayed on three parallel monitors, running out of sync so that  a new sport was constantly visible on each.The room got crowded quickly, and no one wanted to leave.

Davis doing his stuff in Drive-in Movie Tennis
About 5 events in, I realized that the Upstate Olympics were more devious than the surface implied. Davis draws you in first with his ridiculous competitions, but once you have watched him perform for a few minutes, you begin to imagine what it would feel like to do what he is doing, and you are hooked. Everyone in the room felt for Davis, and we all found ourselves wincing and cheering out loud as the competitions progressed. We weren't just happy that he stuffed a bunch of acorns in his mouth (presumably to beat a record); when he spit them all out with a strand of drool, everyone chuckled because they had done something like that before.

Furthermore, when Davis steamrolled across a long line of political and commercial yard signs, we the audience were not just satisfied that he destroyed the signs in a fun way, but we endorsed his competition as a political statement, too. By using mundane materials and old public spaces for the competitions, Davis seems to be making a point about how hyper-real the actual Olympics tend to be - how can international friendships be made in an event that does its best to avoid reality? At the end of the video, we see Davis saluting "Olympic flags" flying at a location we cannot initially determine - an American flag, the New York flag, and a McDonalds flag. I'm not sure if the curator of "The Sports Show" had planned for the audience to walk away with a smile on our faces and unease in our hearts, but success is what you can get.

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