Curated by Anna O'Sullivan
Butler Gallery, in partnership with Kilkenny Arts Festival, is pleased to present an exhibition exploring the spirit of sport as captured by a selected group of twenty-eight artists using diverse media. Conveyed through video, photography, painting, print and sculpture, the exhibition features an eclectic fusion of both Irish and International artists, displayed in our Main Gallery. A programme of archive films of Irish sport by amateurs and professionals from the 1950s onwards, curated by Irish Film Institute, is on view in the Digital Gallery throughout the exhibition.
Sport is a global language that communicates positively with a broad audience. This exhibition does not profess to take on sport as a whole, and does not include some of the more obvious of choices. Rather, the selection attempts to showcase art of substance, grace and beauty—work that draws on elements of sport that stimulate and challenge the viewer.
Wide-ranging work by artists from Ireland, Denmark, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and the USA are included along with museum loans of work by Irish artists such as Charles Brady, Louis le Brocquy and Elinor Wiltshire.
The ground breaking work of American artist Paul Pfeiffer was the inspiration for seeking out art of this nature. In 2000, Pfeiffer began a trilogy of digitally edited video installations that captured the final rounds in Muhammad Ali’s three most famous boxing matches. Long Count (Rumble in the Jungle), 2001, is a video that depicts the 1974 fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire. The two fighters and referees have been digitally erased, yet leave a visual imprint of ghostly outlines set against the backdrop of the attending crowd. Pfeiffer shows that footage of an event can constitute proof of its authenticity even when the important subject matter is removed from it, and yet the momentousness of the occasion is lost without the main protagonists. Also by Pfeiffer is Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (31), 2017 from a photographic series in which Pfeiffer digitally erased identifiable details from photographs of professional basketball players. Pfeiffer uses the godlike appearance of athletes and iconographic images to imply a sense of awe and worship—but in such a way that the commentary is clear: that mass media can play a role in forming whom we see as icons.
Action is arrested in the life-size sculpture ALL HAIL, 2019, by Andy Fitz. A featureless figure is bent over, a football balanced on its back, almost performing a trick. Tribalism and representation are integral to football (whether national, club or community); this sculpture seems to heighten the impersonal aspects of such representation.
Josh Begley’s haunting short film Concussion Protocol, (2018), made in conjunction with Field of Vision and produced by Academy Award winning director/producer Laura Poitras, shows footage of every reported concussions (280) sustained during the 2017-2018 N.F.L. season. Shown in slow-motion reverse, the result is a harrowing essay that drains the sports footage of its usual testosterone filled power and focusses not only on the injuries themselves, but also on the way they are televised and exploited commercially. Begley’s portrait of the violence on the field, and the loneliness of getting hurt will change the way you watch the Super Bowl in the future.
Drawing on Gaelic games and the communities involved in them, Abú, beautifully celebrates in film the commitment, care and passion it takes to make a strong team. Created by choreographer Fearghus Ó Conchúir and filmmaker Luca Truffarelli with music by Murli Bo, the film was made with and for the Step Up Dance Project 2022.
In 2010, Jona Frank, a photographer living in Santa Monica, CA, began to make portraits at an amateur boxing club just outside Liverpool. Included in the series and book The Modern Kids, Frank also captured young boxers from a boxing club in Crumlin, Dublin. “Both heroic and violent, a boxing match is a story without words entered into by two opponents, physically and psychologically stripped down, and determined to express their power. The pain is temporary, the glory is forever.”
The work exhibited in The Art of Sport provides a visual pathway into a world where survival and success depends on courage and heart, passion and talent, and where sacrifice and guts prevail.
Including works by: Josh Begley, Charles Brady, Paul Carroll, Vincent Cianni, Michael Craig-Martin, Dorothy Cross, Vanessa Daws, Rineke Dijkstras, Andy Fitz, Jona Frank, Marcus Harvey, Nicolai Howalt, Nevan Lahart, Louis le Brocquy, Jeannette Lowe, Colm Mac Athlaoich, Colin Martin, Fearghus Ó Conchúir, Kenneth O’Halloran, Mandy O’Neill, Tony O’Shea, Julian Opie, Martin Parr, Paul Pfeiffer, Luis Alberto Rodriguez, Amelia Stein, Sarah Walker, Elinor Wiltshire. (See attached for further information on exhibiting artists.)