Warhol exhibit questions sports industry’s idea of masculinity

Warhol exhibit questions sports industry’s idea of masculinity
Art review
Wednesday, July 20, 2011

If ever there was an art exhibition that could get black-and-gold blood boiling, “Mixed Signals: Artists Consider Masculinity in Sports” is certainly it.

A national traveling display showing now through Aug. 7 at The Andy Warhol Museum on the North Side, “Mixed Signals” is most likely a different experience for citizens of each city it visits. For Pittsburghers, who often worship at two altars on Sundays, “Mixed Signals” may come off as baffling. For the average person, art and sports are as opposite as North and South.

‘Mixed Signals: Artists Consider Masculinity in Sports’

Where: The Andy Warhol Museum, North Side.

When: Through Aug. 7

Hours: Everyday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fridays 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Tickets: $15 for adults, $9 for seniors, $8 for students (with I.D.), $8 for children 3-18, free for members of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

“Mixed Signals” will be offensive to some because many of the artists critique an industry that sets and maintains socio-cultural ideals of masculinity, something Pittsburgh sports teams have represented for decades. From equating sportsmen to literal workhorses — Hank Willis Thomas’ “Scarred Chest” depicts an athlete’s skin branded with Nike swooshes — to barely comprehensible avant-garde film pieces such as Joe Sola’s “In the Woods,” this exhibition is essentially a highly diversified collection of media and artists that pointedly criticize or sometimes simply poke fun at the worldwide industry of professional sports.

The mixed messages about gender, sexuality and exploitation are consistent throughout but a bit diluted by the sheer number and variety of works. Sports are as essential to mainstream ideals of masculine identity as a certain part of the male anatomy (expertly placed and disguised as an oversized leg in Mr. Thomas’ “The Third Leg”). But some of the pieces on display feel as excessive as the inconvenience of a leg-sized member would realistically be. For example, the photographic samplings of Collier Schorr and Catherine Opie deserve exhibitions of their own and only feel constrained within their tiny relegated corner here.

Certain pieces such as Marcelino Goncalves’ “Receiver” are straightforward and effective. This small painting depicts the stereotypical football “jock” in an almost cartoonish fashion, on one knee with his mouth open. Yes, the connection you’re making between the words “knee,” “mouth open” and “receiver” are all spot-on.

Sam Taylor-Wood’s “3 Minute Round” is perhaps the most visually interesting piece in the entire show. A special projection system is used to display two boxers on a large wall. One sits with his eyes closed, breathing heavily and drenched in sweat after a match. The other simply stares straight ahead, but his eyes follow viewers as they walk around the piece. It is an immediately startling and altogether eerie effect, but Ms. Taylor-Wood’s work functions on a much deeper level than its haunting gimmick would suggest. Undertones of homosociality and bicuriousity run throughout the exhibition, and Ms. Taylor-Wood’s juxtaposition of two boxers serves as a play on the “active” and “passive” partners in a sexual relationship.

In this pseudo relationship between the two boxers, one watches like a cornered lion while the other simply rests with his eyes closed. Sports turns men into animals, and Ms. Taylor-Wood’s piece subtly allows us to see that.

There are 17 Pittsburgh-specific pieces from four different artists that were added to the exhibition. One of the most recognizable is Duane Rieder’s “Our Father” photograph depicting the Steelers kneeling in prayer. Eric Shiner, the recently appointed director of the Warhol, added these pieces to the exhibition for its showing in Pittsburgh because of their local connections. Mr. Rieder even supplied the museum with benches removed from Three Rivers Stadium, both of which are on display alongside the exhibition.

“Mixed Signals” is ultimately a touchdown. The extra point, however, is just short of the uprights.

Joey Nolfi jnolfi@post-gazette.com

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