- Joe Sola, "St. Henry Composition"
Christopher Bedford knows his football; he went out of his way to play it at Oberlin, a liberal arts school not exactly known for athletics. He also went the traditional Oberlin route, taking courses on sexuality and visual arts. Not unsurprisingly, he took different lessons from the different disciplines; Hard Targets, a Bedford-curated show opening Friday, Feb. 3 at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (iMOCA), reflects the conflicts and convergences between the on-field and academic world.
““Masculinity as performed in sport is not really understood as a performance,” says Bedford, chief curator for the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. “It’s understood as a natural expression. Whereas we’re taught in the classroom that gender and sexuality are both far from natural; they’re constructed, performed, socially determined states that we select for use and then perform. So I wanted to bring those two positions into dialogue around the question of the male body as a visual part of American culture in the sporting arena.”
The video “St. Henry Composition,” by Joe Sola, which is included in this exhibition, might be seen as an example of such a dialogue. In the opening shot, you see a high school football team gathered in a classroom, putting on their helmets.
This video works as a series of short vignettes; each one fades to black before being replaced by another one. Watching the video, you follow the team out from the classroom to the football field to see the coach coaching—and getting tackled by—his players. There’s not a word of explanation to guide you through this hyper-masculine setting where impacts, tackles, and grunts take the place of plot. But due to the familiarity of the setting to the average viewer, you can argue that no explanation is really necessary.
Sola, a Los Angeles based videographer and artist, filmed this video in St. Henry, Ohio. “I was able to work with high school boys who play football which is a very complicated, violent, aggressive sport,” he says. “I worked with players I was also able to take video portraits of the team in some of their classrooms where they learned how to read and write in math class and computer science class. So I was equating football with some of the other things that young men and boys actually learn in high school.”
In addition to video, Hard Targets will include photography, painting, installations, and sculpture. A number of works included in this exhibition subvert the stereotypical male sports imagery seen in razor and underarm deodorant commercials, for example, to reveal something more varied and complicated.
- Hank Willis Thomas, "Scarred Chest"
Some of the work makes larger points about social justice. “Scarred Chest,” by Hank Willis Thomas, is a photograph that depicts a man’s torso branded multiple times with the NIKE logo.
“It’s actually dubbed through Photoshop so there’s no actual scarification on that chest,” says Bedford about the image. “It’s a pretty brazen and obvious image to unpack and it has to deal particularly with the use of the black male body as a device for selling a particular image of masculinity through sport. Hank Willis Thomas has committed his career to looking closely at the way the black male body is used for capital gain. And he’s very interested in the idea that while basketball players and football players are incredibly highly paid, their bodies are used in a way that begins to link in his conception back to racism of the mid-century going all the way back to the slave era. So that piece, and his work in general, has a lot to do with institutionalized racism.”
Other artists featured in this show are Mark Bradford, Cary Leibowitz, Catherine Opie, Paul Pfeiffer, and Jonas Wood.
Hard Targets will open its final show at iMOCA two days before Super Bowl kickoff. Bedford feels that this is a fitting finale to this traveling exhibition that he has curated, in somewhat different incarnations, in nine different venues across the country. He also feels that this particular exhibit has something to offer your average Super Bowl fan.
“I hope that it would be more accessible to them than the vast majority of art exhibitions,” says Bedford. “I would think that the familiarity with the subject matter would cause them to look for longer than they usually would. I would hope too that it might spark their interest in contemporary art.”
“I’m a huge football fan myself,” he continues. “I think another really important aspect of the show is that I don’t have some sort of deliberately arch-critical relationship to the subject matter. I’m very much an athlete and still a fan as well as being a curator.”
The Hard Targets opening reception is Feb. 3, 6-11 p.m. The exhibit will run through March 17.