Photos: Hard Targets: Masculinity & Sport at LACMA.

Shaun Leonardo’s Bull in the Ring. There’s nothing like the sound of crunching bones at a museum opening. (Photos by C-M.)

Sometimes sport is art. And other times, art is sport. In the case of LACMA’s newest exhibit — Hard Targets: Masculinity & Sports — it’s a bit of both. The show’s opening last week got off to a rousing start with a performance by Shaun Leonardo, in which the artist, dressed in black football gear, was rammed repeatedly by a bunch of real-deal players. Indoors, a video piece by Joe Sola broadcast a similar exercise: Saint Henry Composition showed the artist, wearing a button-down shirt and slacks, getting repeatedly tackled by members of a high school football team. (Both pieces led me to wonder if both Leonardo and Sola weren’t beaten up quite enough in their youth.) 

The show, curated by LACMA’s Christopher Bedford (who has played rugby and American football and still has all of his original teeth) takes a look at how contemporary art addresses the subject of organized men’s sports. The sneaker sculptures of Brian Jungen examine athletic regalia. Photographs of high school wrestlers by Collier Schorr look at issues of team dynamics and male adolescent sexuality. And a giant soccer ball sculpture by Mark Bradford, hangs like a nutsack in the corner. It’s a small, but potent show, that looks at a subject that is omnipresent in our culture, yet almost absent from contemporary art. The only bummer was that not a single work was devoted to curling. So, get on it all you Yale MFAs. It’s time you stopped gazing at your navels. And started watching ESPN.

The show is up until Jan. 18th, 2009.

Click on images to supersize. More after the jump.

Shaun Leonardo, in black, warms up the battering rams.

Some of the targets: Not so hard.

Prototype for a New Understanding #23 by Brian Jungen.

A Nike bag totem by Brian Jungen. I saw one of these up close at one of the art fairs (either Miami Basel or New York Armory) and didn’t see much more than a big stack of gym bags. But seeing the piece outdoors, and from a distance, makes a big difference. It feels much more like a totem. Although , it’d be nice to see Jungen work with a different brand every once in a while, ‘cuz the constant stream of Nike product smells a little too corporate. How ’bout Adidas? Or Vans? Or some nice Easy Spirits?

Study for ‘Heads,’ 2005-2008, a video piece by Collier Schorr.

In a side room, just off the main exhibit, is Harun Farocki’s Deep Play, 2007, a control room type set-up that features a dozen videos, playing simultaneously, of the 2006 world cup (the one with the famous Zidane head-butt). It includes control room footage and diagrams, as well as one screen that shows each of the players drawn as video game characters. I coulda sat in there all day. Especially if the room had come equipped with a coupla La-Z-Boys and Cheetos…

…which brings me to the subject of the food LACMA served at the opening. The offerings consisted of a taco bar, a concept my grade school cafeteria wore out in the ’70s. The tacos were chewy, in a rawhide kind of way, and brimming with not-very-well-seasoned ground beef. (Dudes, where’s the carne asada?) The biggest problem however, was that the food just didn’t go with the show. Hard Targets was about sports, mostly American ones. So where the hell was the tailgate chow? This thing needed chili dogs, hot pretzels and kegs of domestic beer. The only way to truly enjoy the sight of overweight men smashing into each other is with a Bud Lite in one hand and a foam finger in the other. Someone at LACMA needs to have a little sit-down with the folks in catering. Pronto.

Additional reading/viewing: LACMA’s blog, Unframed, has video of Leonardo’s pummeling.


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