Critics’ Picks

Irving Penn, Duesek Brothers, New York, 1948, black-and-white photograph, dimensions variable.


“The Sports Show”

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
2400 Third Avenue South
February 19 - May 3

The straightforward title chosen for this predominantly photographic survey of the sporting life reflects David Little’s appealingly balanced curation. Those attending the exhibition for the sport rather than for the art will be amply entertained, while the wide range of superb historic and contemporary images will reward museumgoers who prefer A&E to ESPN.

Photography has long been a strength of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and for this sprawling show Little has selected a wide range of images from the nineteenth century to the present. That makes this a welcome opportunity to, for example, encounter Robert Mapplethorpe’s 1976 portrait of a Mr. Universe–era Arnold Schwarzenegger in the same room as Irving Penn’s Duesek Brothers, New York, 1948—burly men with their bare limbs entwined in a knotty four-way embrace. A few big pieces of video art have been shoehorned among this stately assemblage of images. Paul Pfeiffer’s The Saints, 2007, for example, is situated in a near-empty room and roars with the chants of a Filipino crowd impersonating the British hordes at the 1966 World Cup final. Although the film lends an appropriate sound track to the adjoining galleries, its provocative use of media is such an incongruous accompaniment for the conventional photography that comprises the bulk of the show that here, Pfieffer’s work is more apt to confuse than to challenge.

While the exhibition’s tone is generally celebratory, explicit and implicit critiques of the culture(s) of sport can be found throughout—particularly in the final gallery, called “Spectacle.” Tim Davis’s three-channel video installation The Upstate New York Olympics, 2010–11, fiercely satirizes the games’ international pomp: In this carefully refereed match between art and sport, Davis lands a punch below the belt.