Sports and art don’t often mix, but basketball is something of an exception. Shaquille O’Neal curated two art shows (“Size DOES Matter” and “Shaq Loves People” in 2010 and 2014, respectively) pulling in big-name artists like Ellen Gallagher, Ron Mueck, and Cindy Sherman. Former NBA stars Amar’e Stoudemire, Grant Hill, and Elliot Perry are big-time collectors. Carmelo Anthony once sat for a Kehinde Wiley portrait. And Wiley making the portrait proves that artists are equally inspired by the game of basketball, its personalities, and its aesthetics. That’s the premise behind “Momentum,” a multi-sensory exhibition staged in collaboration with the NBA that will be on view at the Nautilus by Arlo hotel in South Beach during Art Basel Miami Beach.
“You look back at 1977 when Robert Indiana did the MECCA Floor for the Milwaukee Bucks: art and basketball have always had a relationship,” says Justin Montag, co-founder of Franchise magazine, referring to the basketball court painted by the late artist. Montag and Chris Dea, who curated “Momentum” together, launched Franchise in 2016 as a way to explore the deeper connections of the NBA through a cultural lens. Their latest issue features Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo on the cover, photographed by Nigerian-born British artist Ruth Ossai, as well as a mix of artists inside, from Lauren Halsey to Devin Troy Strother.
“Momentum” will be like a live version of the magazine, says Montag. Strother, Andrea Bergart, Andrew Kuo, Ashley Teamer, and Eric Yahnker—all of whom have employed basketball as a subject—will show work in a centerpiece group exhibition, “Center Court.” Montag hopes that it will attract lovers of both art and basketball to the exhibition, and perhaps educate those who love one more than the other.
“It’s really similar to what my hope is for the magazine,” he says. “If someone picks up a magazine or someone comes to exhibit, and they’re a fan of the NBA, maybe they’ll learn about Andrew Kuo or Devin Troy Strother. And vice versa: if someone’s a fan of one of the artists and comes to the show, maybe they’ll have a new appreciation for the game.”
Visitors in Miami will come across works like Yahnker’s portrait of LeBron James and Yoda (Shut Up & Dribble You Must Not (2019)); Bergart’s colorful acrylic on canvas basketball-based designs; and Strother’s multimedia painting of a pick-up game being played with a Tyrannosaurus rex (let’s have a game of jungle ball (2019)).
“I think some artists love the game, and they actually continuously watch the game, and they are inspired by the game, and it influences their work. While I think other artists at times might not necessarily be the biggest basketball fans but from a visual point of view, they have an appreciation of the motion, the court, the movement, the players, the league itself right now,” says Montag.
And visitors may even run into a basketball player or two if they stop by. Montag says that there are two Miami Heat home games during Art Basel—versus the Chicago Bulls and the Washington Wizards—and that one of the players they’ve featured in Franchise, Rui Hachimura of the Wizards, has been personally invited.
Beyond the art exhibition, the show will also have four other sections, including “Tunnel Vision” (a recreation of the tunnels players run through to get to the court) and “Celebrating NBA History,” a mix of memorabilia and jerseys, plus a chance to see the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy—the trophy given to the team that wins the NBA championship—up close and personal. Montag says the genesis of the show was actually spurred by a visit to the NBA head offices in Secaucus, New Jersey; he left wanting to share this archival material with the world.
Sneaker fanatics will flock to “Beyond the Arc,” which will display historically notable footwear, from the Jordans worn by Michael Jordan during the “flu game” (in which he scored 38 points during the NBA Finals despite being ravaged by illness) and the pair of Nikes worn by Liz Cambage during her WNBA record-breaking 53-point performance.
Elsewhere, fans can experience a video installation of famous dunks slowed down and zoomed into to create a kind of multimedia dissection of these gravity-defying moments. It’s moments like that, for Montag, that showcase basketball for what it truly is: a genius-level control of the body that’s akin to dance. “When you watch that motion on the court,” he says, “it definitely feels like an art form to me.”
“Momentum” will be on view December 4 through 8 at the Nautilus by Arlo hotel at 1825 Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. Admission is free, but tickets must be reserved in advance.
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