Hard Targets

The Wexner Center for the Arts aims to bring sports and art aficionados together with this exhibit on how athletes are perceived by artists and the public.

Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio

Through April 11

Sports fans and art aficionados often belong to “two disparate camps,” said Jeffrey Sheban in the Columbus, Ohio, Dispatch. “Sports are seen by artists as superficial entertainment for the masses,” while the arts have a reputation for being elitist and inaccessible. The Wexner Center for the Arts aims to bridge the gap with “a provocative exhibit on male athletes and how they’re perceived by the public and themselves.” Many artists represented here seem to be fascinated by athletes as celebrities and icons of culture. Brian Jungen’s sculptures, for instance, transform Michael Jordan’s iconic Air Jordan sneakers into ersatz tribal masks. A Sam Taylor-Wood video simply shows soccer star David Beckham shirtless and sleeping.

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At its best, Hard Targets captures “boys, men, and even artists trying to figure out exactly what ‘masculine’ is,” said Tyler Green in Artsjournal.com. That question is posed most clearly not in the flashy portraits of professional athletes but through images of relatively anonymous amateurs. Catherine Opie’s Josh shows a high school football player staring boldly at the camera with a look “that’s either confrontational or, well, a sexual challenge.” Collier Schorr’s photographs of high school wrestlers, on the other hand, show young men who are much less self-aware. “There’s no posing, no posturing, no self-conscious presentation.” The most admirable thing about Hard Targets, though, isn’t its grand themes. Rather, it’s the way this show succeeds in courting a wider public for contemporary art, without either condescending to museumgoers or pandering to their tastes. The experiment suggests that artists like Opie and Schorr, when they attempt to reach beyond their usual audience, can “free themselves to make their strongest work.”

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