New York


Kent Fine Arts

The stadium provides the thematic conceit around which Catalan artist Muntadas organized his quasi-architectural installation entitled Stadium V, 1990. The fifth version of a project that has been installed in various cities, the structure consists of an oval of columns spaced so closely that one cannot pass between them; on the floor within the colonnade, a circular projection like the light beam of an oculus shows films of spectators’ faces as they respond to unseen performances. Moving around the periphery, one is bombarded by slide-projected words and images, as well as fragments of speeches, music, and applause blaring from loudspeakers. For Muntadas, the stadium is a locus of social and political manipulation; spectators are constrained within specific spaces and their behavior reduced to uniform responses to ideologically charged “entertainment,” ranging from pro football to political rallies to bullfights.

The installation, which is based on a typological analysis of the stadium, consists of an accumulation of the artist’s findings on the subject. The projected images include ancient stadiums from architectural history texts; magazine, newspaper, and television shots of events ranging from Nazi rallies and Olympic games to rock concerts and car shows; and words such as “commerce,” “campaigns,” “emotion,” “hysteria,” and “manipulation,” suggesting the overt as well as the more subtle purposes served by stadiums. The installation as a whole generates a ricochet of associations linking and implicitly equating all manner of public spectacles and performances.

The message is clear: under the guise of mass entertainment and pleasurable diversion, audiences are coerced into passive conformity. Control is apparent at all levels, from the preprogrammed behavior (clapping, cheering, singing, weeping on cue) to the architectural barriers (fences, gates, and segmented seating) to the billboards flashing instructions about which exits to use to reach the parking lot. Social hierarchies are reinforced as well: tiered seating establishes privilege (or at least financial distinctions).

Stadium sounds a warning, but a rather simplistic one. Is all communal activity somehow fascist? Is all mass entertainment based on coercion and forced conformity? Is it always only a short step from team spirit to militant nationalism? The images meant to inspire paranoia about coercion also remind us that stadiums provide one of the few gathering places in modern societies characterized by media-induced isolation (a condition on which Muntadas has focused in earlier projects). Moreover, mass spectacles are inevitable byproducts of mass societies, and not purely tools of calculated manipulation. Unlike Muntadas’ earlier targets, such as The Board Room, 1987, (a visual investigation of the seat of corporate power), stadiums are shells for many types of events and as such voids capable of containing many types of meanings, from the sinister to the benign.

Lois E. Nesbitt