Challenging the relationship of art and sport.
The challenger: The bi-annual Basil Sellers Art Prize, the biggest art prize in Australia, weighing in at a massive 100,000 dollars (twice the size of the 50,000 Archibald Prize). The contenders have been narrowed down from over 350 entries to 14 artists.
Defending the perception of sport is a team of popular opinions and stereotypes. In school I learnt that there are two types of people: arty and sporty and that it had been that way forever. I wasn’t taught this in the classroom, but in the playground, on the sports field and in the extra school activities. For most of my life I have lived with the division between people interested in the arts and people interested in sport.
How and when did this happen? This contemporary division could not be more pronounced but it was not always the case. Sport was seen as a physical art; in ancient Greek sports the athletes displayed their ‘arête’. Sculpture in ancient Greece celebrated the athlete and was created to commemorate their triumph. The ancient Olympic games combined both sports and artistic activities.
The Basil Sellers Art Prize aspires to recreate a relationship between art and sport, to legitimise the topic in art, not all at once but as the prize gain momentum over the year. They even have an ambassador to the sporting world, sports media personality Samantha Lane – the division is so extensive it is like another country.
Maybe it is another country, maybe there are two Australia’s geographically identical but with complete different populations that never interact, like two alternate worlds. You would think that if you were told that sports dominated Australian culture and you then visited the NGV to find no images of sport. It is this cultural disconnect, the absence of sport in Australian art that inspired Basil Sellers to fund this art prize. There is no planned outcome, just a series of prizes designed to develop a connection over a generation of artists. Basil Sellers says, “ My hope is that this prize will take lovers of sport and art into what may be unchartered, but ultimately reward territory leading to an engagement that will enhance their enjoyment of each other’s loves”. Can the challenger defeat the current perception of sports and the arts through the use of visual arts?
Nobody is taking any bets. Nobody is taking any bets either on who will be the winner tomorrow night; unlike the Archibald Prize there is no bookmaker giving the odds on the Basil Sellers Art Prize.
The media preview was a chance to look at the art without the prize-winning status hanging over the work. So what are we looking at with art about sport? Cricket, running, football, gymnastics, netball, cycling, surfing and boxing are all represented in the exhibition. The art deals with issues beyond sport of identity, gender, corporate branding, celebrity and movement.
Surveying the field:
Eric Bridgeman’s life sized footballer installation. Ponch Hawkes has staged photographs of female athletes in a series addressing gender, violence, power and alcohol. Philip George’s surfboard installation mixes Islamic art with surfing culture. Glenn Morgan’s automated diorama tableaus have a folksy charm recording sporting history. Noel McKenna’s is exhibiting three paintings of sporting celebrity profiles. Richard Lewer is showing hand drawn animation of ordinary sporting tragedies. Vernon Ah Kee has both a video installation and photographs of an all-Indigenous cricket team from north Queensland. Juan Ford has five images using anamorphosis. Grant Hobson’s large digital photographs depict surf culture and the environment. David Jolly with two glass paintings of cyclists in the Tour de France. Pilar Mata Dupont & Tarryn Gill present a video with a tongue-in-cheek look at fascist-style aesthetic present in Australian’s sporting culture’s history. David Ray’s trophy made from witty ceramics in a vitrine. Gareth Sansom’s painting about spin bowling. Tony Schwensen’s video documents the artist watching of sport.
What is the ground, track conditions etc. like? Four gallery spaces on two floors in the Ian Potter Museum of Art at Melbourne University giving the art a home ground advantage.
What are the rules? Art in all media is allowed and the selected artists are all paid a $3,000 participation fee and may present one or more works in the exhibition. The winner gets $100,000 and Basil Sellers goes home with a prize-winning work of art.
The winner will be announced tonight (see my entry And the winner is… ). Then there is the $5,000 People’s Choice Award that you can judge for yourself.