The most recent exhibition hosted in the Naughton Gallery, Ready? OK!, puts in focus a facet of sport that is impossible to overlook these days. Sports media and fans alike love to hold on to a story, a scandal, a headline. A moment that grabs their attention and imagination. It is the raw drama of sport that pulls you in and tugs your emotions as well as any music or film could. And at the centre of it all are the actors – the athletes whose skill provide the art itself. Often the subjects of the pieces in this gallery, the players and athletes, are showcased throughout performing iconic feats, striving to be better at their craft and encapsulating the things we love about sport. This exhibition puts sport at the focus of its art, but it shows that sport is an art in its own right.
The gallery is made up of exhibitions from 16 artists, each with very different styles and using different mediums to present their art. Focusing on a number of different elements from the world of sport and athleticism, the pieces displayed cover sports from NCAA collegiate wrestling, fencing, baseball, basketball and football (soccer), and range from character pieces on specific athletes to depictions of iconic moments in sporting history. The first piece that immediately grabbed my attention rests upon the back wall of the gallery.
I was interested not least because I have been an avid basketball fan for many years now. That is the beauty of this exhibition, however; you do not need to be a fan of basketball or even a massive fan of sports to be able to appreciate the art on show here. This piece by illustrator Carly Jean Andrews depicts 3 of the NBA’s most iconic stars Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Dennis Rodman. The illustrations capture the athleticism and the individual characters of these men – Rodman with his leopard print hair and O’Neal’s powerful net shattering dunk – the moments we remember them most for and that make them so unique.
The next exhibition down is a series of photographs by Nils Ericson. The collection of images displays a candid view of collegiate wresting in the US during a tournament in Oklahoma, and once again focus heavily on the athletes themselves. It’s quite a visceral depiction of the sport and it alludes to the hard work and drive these competitors have. It compares to the adjacent photographic exhibition by Jessica Frankl, who focused her work on the declining state of men’s gymnastics in the US. Both pieces capture in a very frank manner the work that goes into being an athlete and performing at a high level, and these images really manage to portray that emotion. To me, the most striking exhibit following this theme is Ezra Shaw’s photographic gallery which puts Ibtihaj Muhammad as the subject. Muhammad became the first woman to wear a hijab for the US at the Olympics and took home the bronze medal in 2016. These candid images put the champion fencer at the centre and depicts a proud athlete in a subtle renaissance pose.
The other stand out pieces for me are Wells’ ‘Pixel Hall of Fame’ and Skelly’s cartoon style storyboard ‘Tonya,’ depicting Tonya Harding’s US national figure skating success in 1991, a funny and touching read with a vibrant art style. Wells’ work is a colourful retro themed ‘pixel art’ set based on some iconic sporting moments and inspired by sports video games. The main piece depicting one of the most important characters in all of sports Jackie Robinson, iconic number 42 for the once Brooklyn Dodgers, the first African American man to play professional baseball. The piece depicts Robinson sliding into steal home base and poignantly immortalises the great man.
To clarify, I am far from an art critic; my basis is firmly in sport and the perspective I enjoyed from this exhibition was its focus on the individual athlete. What I can say is that as a sports fan, this gallery is a must see. You don’t have to be an art critic to enjoy the pieces that are on show here or the stories they tell. You don’t even have to be a huge sports fan to enjoy it but if you have an interest either sports or art this is a great gallery that gives a unique perspective come and catch it if you can.
Ready? Ok! runs at the Naughton Gallery until 5th August 2018.