Martin Schoeller, Kim Harris, 2008, pigment print on Dibond, 94 x 71
SHE GOT GAME
JAN 13 - MAR 18, 2012
OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, Jan 13, 6 to 9 pm
PERFORMANCE EVENTS: Saturday, Feb 11, 12 to 4:30 pm; Saturday, March 17, 3 to 5 pm
In the past, professional sports and the visual arts have both kept women on the sidelines. For SHE GOT GAME, curator Jeffry Cudlin has brought together 11 artists—female, male, and transgendered—who explore shifting contemporary perceptions of women’s bodies, gender roles, and identities through the lens of sports spectacle. Some of these artists offer iconic images of strong women athletes; others use the trappings of sport as a framework for performances about competition, objectification, and popular culture. Painted murals, larger-than-life-sized photos, videos, and installations depict women in professional tennis, bodybuilding, cheerleading, and even competitive eating.
DC performer Holly Bass's Bootyballs are a series of sculptural costumes inspired by the objectification of women throughout history generally and in hip-hop music videos specifically. Bass has used these absurd prostheses in a number of performances, including "African Futures: DC," a piece commissioned by the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in conjunction with their 2009-2010 Yinka Shonibare MBE exhibition. With WNBA, a piece from her 2007 project, “Uppity Negroes on Parade,” Bass turned herself into an object to be dribbled, passed, and dunked by three other dancers.
DC artist Kristina Bilonick's "DC Cheer" project debuted this September at the (e)merge art fair in Washington DC. For the performance, Bilonick and a crew of male and female artists donned uniforms and performed cheers in the rooms of various galleries and in support of various events--literally cheering on the still-developing DC region art scene. "DC Cheer" seems to follow in the footsteps of a number of other "radical cheerleading" projects--including the “Art School Cheerleaders” formed in the 1990s at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, or Judy Chicago’s “C**t Cheer” project in 1970-1. Such projects have typically relied on the ironic appropriation of the conventions of a sport--or sport-related phenomenon--historically viewed as marginalizing or demeaning to women in order to advocate for leftist political action. Bilonick's project is less straightforward and perhaps more subtle: "DC Cheer" is more rooted in the social exchanges between participants and their efforts to create opportunities for genuinely non-competitive fellowship within a traditionally uber-competitive field: contemporary gallery culture.
Baltimore artist Sarada Conaway's ongoing “Friends and Family MAKEOVER” series asks groups to work together in order to alter one another's appearances--not for the sake of stylishness or aesthetic enhancement, but to change perception and challenge assumptions. This year Conaway has begun to work with women's sports teams, inviting members to dress one another in ways that either reinforce or undermine their team unity, athleticism, and personal identities.
Philadelphia artist Jenny Drumgoole inserts herself into marginal spaces for pseudo-celebrity within popular culture—most recently, by entering absurdly humorous videos of herself in a “Real Women of Philadelphia” online video recipe contest sponsored by Kraft. In her 2006 performance-based video, Wing Bowl, Drumgoole participates in a seemingly dubious sporting event: Wing Bowl 13, a competitive eating competition. Drumgoole becomes a “Wingette”—a scantily-clad participant tasked with feeding chicken wings to the contestants. In the video, Drumgoole obsesses over (and feeds) Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas—a diminutive Korean woman known for defeating men twice her size. Thomas’s participation becomes a flashpoint for gender-based anger. Thousands of men in the Wing Bowl audience jeer her, showering her with obscenities and pelting her with beer cans.
In Nancy Floyd's 2008 book, "She’s Got a Gun," the Atlanta, GA-based artist interviewed and photographed 50 women who owned guns. Subjects ranged from former Black Panthers, to housewives, to competitive target shooters. Floyd’s connection to these women is deeply personal: The artist purchased her first handgun in 1991, and formed a women’s gun club shortly thereafter at her local shooting range. Floyd is currently photographing women training in rifle, pistol, and shotgun disciplines at the USA Shooting Team headquarters in Colorado Springs as they prepare for the 2012 Olympics.
Moira Lovell is a U.K. photographer who creates staged portraits that deal with gender, class, and politics. In her "Stand Your Ground" series, Lovell defies the conventions of sports portraiture: She photographs each member of the Doncaster Rovers Belles women’s football team standing next to her male coach. Still in their loose-fitting training gear and clearly exhausted from the current practice session, these players do not present the false smiles or sex appeal that one might expect in images of woman athletes. These raw, slightly uncomfortable images seem to reveal much about the relationships of young working class women to their older male coach.
New York-based Tara Mateik battles in his work to, as he puts it, “overthrow institutions of compulsory gender.” His “Society for Biological Insurgents” is a group that uses pranks and other Situationist-style troublemaking to challenge expectations for bodies, beauty, and gender roles in public spaces. For Mateik’s Putting the Balls Away, the artist reenacted the 1973 Battle of the Sexes—an event watched by 50 million people in 37 countries in which Bobby Riggs, a former Wimbledon men’s champ, was defeated by female player Billie Jean King at the Houston Astrodome. Mateik’s staged recreation uses the competition’s original audio commentary by Howard Cosell and Rosie Casals.
Dewey Nicks is a Hollywood, CA-based fashion and commercial photographer. His photo series for the New York Times Magazine, “Women Who Hit Very Hard,” showed tennis players Kim Clijsters, Serena Williams, and Samantha Stosur playing while bathed in supernatural lighting; coated in glitter; and producing puffs of colored smoke with each swing of their rackets. The accompanying video, The Beauty of the Power Game, depicts these stars with windswept hair, hitting in ultra slow motion to atmospheric, pensive soundtracks—turning brute force into something balletic. The resulting images highlight the tensions between viewers’ desires for images of women athletes and the real athleticism of contemporary women on the court.
DC artist Cory Oberndorfer has a sweet tooth for candies, saturated colors, and strong women. Oberndorfer paints Pop Art-esque murals featuring flat track roller derby women in a high contrast, stripped-down vocabulary seemingly lifted from vintage silkscreened posters. While Oberndorfer’s depictions seldom seem gratuitously sexual or objectifying, they nonetheless turn women athletes into iconic confections.
German-born, NYC-based photographer Martin Schoeller is known for dramatic, detailed, yet decidedly unglamorous portraits of celebrities and unknowns, all shot in roughly the same up-close, unforgiving format. Schoeller's 2008 “Female Bodybuilders” series, featuring roughly eight-foot-by-six-foot photos of women bodybuilders are arresting, spectacular, and intimate. They depict skin damaged by endless tanning; dehydrated bodies knotted with improbable muscles, and faces exhibiting surprising vulnerability.
Amber Hawk Swanson
Brooklyn and Chicago-based video and performance artist Amber Hawk Swanson explores feminism, the body, and desire. Her “Amber Doll” project of 2008 involved commissioning a life-like sex doll in her exact likeness—which the artist subsequently married in Las Vegas, and used to help disrupt events at roller skating rinks, sporting events, and adult industry conventions. Swanson’s current project, “Fit,” refers to the artist’s involvement in the CrossFit community, which emphasizes powerlifting, sprinting, and moving cumbersome objects over short distances—as well as the artist’s general interest in what she terms “functional fitness.” For the project, Swanson creates videos in which she times herself digging chest-deep holes in a variety of places, always attempting to work faster and improve her performance, completing the task faster than in previous outings.