Post by Katrina Kuntz
“The Rules for Staying Young,” the current exhibition at the New Wilmington Art Association of works inspired by the game of baseball, vacillates between form and expressive content. Some artists are drawn to baseball as a formal system which quantifies balls, strikes, fouls, hits, etc.; for them, the play of the game and its statistics serve as metaphors for greater degrees of formal order and structure. Other artists identify with the roaring crowd; they are carried away by the individual as well as team struggles that transpire on the field but also by the sense of belonging to a community of fans. Often fueled by nostalgic impulses, their works are autobiographical and/or anecdotal.
The very title of the exhibition, appropriated from Satchel Paige’s six famous witticisms, announces a preoccupation with rules, or formal concerns, in both art and baseball. This was exemplified by the opening reception performance directed by Lee Walton which culminated in a large-scale wall drawing. A three-by-six module grid, reminiscent in its geometric structure to a baseball scorecard, was built against a gallery wall to correspond to the eighteen batters of a baseball game. While the Giants and Mets game streamed live online, five volunteer assistants worked to Walton’s specifications according to a pre-established set of rules by filling in the modules with truncated and painted 2x4s, stretched bungee cords, and large circular red reflectors.
The frenetic activity of the assistants trying to keep apace with the game and to adhere to Walton’s rules was exhausting to watch. The assistants paused only once, staring at each other with bewilderment when a catcher’s interference was called. Evidently, Walton’s rules didn’t address that scenario. As the game progressed, the early simplicity of the piece gave way to an energized, complex system of lines and shapes. The detachment between Walton and the finished drawing called to mind Sol LeWitt’s artistic methods, employing assistants to execute large-scale drawings in order to divorce the work from personal taste and style and to root it purely in its formal qualities.
There is a strong showing of digital prints by Brian Patrick Franklin, Jacob Koestler and Christopher Motta. The path of the baseball in individual World Series Games is analytically recorded in Franklin’s two Game Day prints. Set against a stark background, the fluorescent lines generate vigorous patterns and layered color combinations to startling effect. In two untitled photographs, Koestler has dramatically cropped the schoolyard baseball diamond of his hometown. The most formal of the two works juxtaposes a crudely drawn on-deck circle against the light blue plane of the concrete block and cement dugout.
Similarly, the two prints from Motta’s Recreation Series, with their foggy atmosphere and empty ball fields, draw upon small town sensibilities but the formal elements and inherent systems of the work trump all overt sentiment. In all three bodies of work the forms in the photographs connect to each other in such a way that the content of the images is subordinate.
For many artists, baseball evokes an emotional as well as an intellectual response. The show’s curator Brookes Britcher, with his installation They Don’t Run Parades Through West Philadelphia, relies upon both collective and personal memory to shape his visual interpretation of a rainy tromp home from Citizens Bank Park following a game of the 2008 World Series. An inverted found children’s umbrella dangles above the pitcher’s mound amid fanciful forms of blue that puddle on the gallery floor. The waterlogged diamond shifts; its innards are malleable, made of mock-ticker tape stuffing.
Requiem, an installation by Peter Capano, memorializes Phillies star right-fielder Johnny Callison’s disappointing 1964 season. Whiskey bottles, candles, and baseball memorabilia are cordoned off from the main gallery space as a strange shrine to memories best left forgotten. As personal homages to the game, both Britcher’s and Callison’s installations immediately connect with the viewers.
It is in the distinctions between form and content, restraint and release, order and energy, and rules and play that allow the works in the show to speak to both art and the game of baseball.
The other artists in the show are Geoffrey Aldridge (courtesy of Conner/*gogo art projects), Thomas Buildmore, Mike Ellyson (part of the Grizzly Grizzly crew), Alex Gartelmann, Brandon Herman (courtesy of Envoy Enterprise), Tom Judd, Michael Kalmbach, Hiro Kurata , David Levinthal (courtesy of David Levinthal), Ahlen Moin, Roger Patrick, Daniel Potterton, Bryan Patrick Rice, Mark Stockton, Brian Stuparyk, and Morgan Thomas.
“The Rules for Staying Young”
New Wilmington Art Association, Wilmington, DE
May 7 – 30, 2010
–Katrina Kuntz is a doctoral candidate at Stony Brook University. Based in Brooklyn, she is an independent curator who also lectures at Dowling College.