Sports and art rarely coincide. Only a handful of contemporary artists come to mind that have utilized sports and athletes as a primary subject. Paul Pfeiffer’s wonderfully jarring videos of basketball star Larry Johnson in perpetual celebration, David Hammon’s exaggerated basketball hoop covered in bottle caps erected in Harlem are now iconic works. And while other artists might liken their practice to “event aesthetics” (see Pierre Huyghe) that might parallel the obsession and excitement of athletic events, few artists have produced work with specific ties to local sports teams. In her recent exhibition, “The Game”, Anna Fidler explores this largely unexplored terrain.
Perhaps the biggest difficulty in approaching basketball as subject is the danger of becoming kitsch. No serious artist becomes a painter to make frivolous, vanity inspired works that portray sporting legends as demigods, or in the emotional and thrilling moment of their heroism (see Edgar Brown) On the other hand, artists looking strictly at the social and cultural effects of sports often forget, or marginalize, the real attraction fans have to their teams, making the work feel condescending and smug. Anna Fidler approaches these concerns with a surprising strategy: as a fan.
Fidler’s large scale pictures start with photographic images culled from news sources and the internet, which she then enlarges and reconstitutes through a series of mix media techniques: spray paint, obsessive line drawing, layering with an assortment of pastels and pencils. The results resemble something between paint by number exercises gone awry and a Laura Owens painting. Each of the images represent the local Portland Trail Blazers and it is this localizing that most distinguishes this project from Paul Pfeiffer’s. While Pheiffer always obscured, or perhaps “neutralized”, the player’s teams when he subjected them to his video edits, Fidler insists on individual recognition. In “Injured Brandon Roy” it is nothing but anguish to see the team’s star player withering on the ground with a concerned trainer looking on. In “Rasheed with Mics”, it is difficult to imagine a more fitting image for the always quotable Rasheed Wallace than the close up of the star’s face surrounded by anxious press microphones. These larger works, along with a series of smaller head portraits, showcasing some bizarre drawing techniques of virtually every Blazer, firmly root Fidler as a knowledgeable fan, if not a rabid one.
Fidler’s insistence on localizing this project is perhaps its’ most daring aspect, opening herself to criticisms of a naïve regionalist pandering to locals. However, Fidler does have concerns beyond connecting to a local fan-base. Next to “Injured Brandon Roy” is a crowd scene in which fans with blocked-out eyes stare seemingly into nowhere, oblivious to anything else but the game they are slapping their “Thundersticks” for. Across from this work is “Rebound,” a large, haunting image that pictures players gathered on the court and eagerly awaiting the ball to fall from the rim. The eyes of each of the players are neon lit, making the players seem possessed and alien, transfixed by something they cannot help but to be enraptured by. This obsession is what often drives good players, good fans and good artists alike. It seems Fidler might identify herself with all of those things.
“Anna Fidler: The Game” is on view from November 14 to December 20th 2009 at Disjecta, Portland, OR.
All images are courtesy of the artist.