3.23.17 / New York / New York

At Fort Gansevoort, March Madness Takes On A New Meaning

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[Deborah Roberts, ‘Fight The Power’]

It’s March Madness, and that means that sports-lovers are infatuated by the NCAA basketball tournament. It might be the furthest thing from the world of independent art, but inspiration can be found anywhere. And Fort Gansevoort took just that, naming their latest sports-focused exhibition March Madness. It isn’t just branding – athletics represented in art isn’t common, but competitive sports are as reflective of society as anything else. Curators Adam Shopkorn and Hank Willis Thomas saw that, and decided to focus the entire exhibit on female artists, showcasing their take on the male-dominated activity.

The necessity of this perspective, apropos athletics, is clear. As millions of eyes tune into games featuring students who aren’t burdened with the economics and politics of professional sports, thus allowing for ‘pure’ competition, the role of women in equal positions becomes interesting. Beyond that, it’s also a place where the ideas of masculinity come into full view, from both players and viewers alike. Ironically, sports are also one of the few avenues of culture where it’s acceptable for those ideas to be broken down: drama, failure, tears, all of which are met with embrace. This range of emotion is often overlooked in women’s sports entirely. Artists like Collier Schorr and Catherine Opie, with their photographs of adolescent boys highlight an idea of masculinity, while Jean Shin’s altered trophies featuring idols performing mundane tasks humorously reflect on what it is we actually deem important in society. Race is also equally key to sports culture, and March Madness covers all grounds. Holly Bass’s acrobatic photographs of a female basketball player is aptly title NWBA, while Gina Adams takes on a more historical context by showcasing team photos of early 20th century assimilation schools. Other pieces like Sylvie Fleury’s Formula 1 dress, Ashley Teamer’s WNBA trading card collages, and Renee Cox’s ‘Raje For President’ print simply imbue the same degree of lionization that male athletes receive.

But the politics of the show are subversive, and above all it’s both a celebration of women in sports and a fresh look at the culture-defining industry. At the very least, it’s an entertaining exhibit, with enough variation that makes roaming around the three floors a joy. But for anyone who wants to look closer, these are ideas that have been bubbling under the surface, and finally have a space to breathe.

March Madness is on view until May 7th

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[Kristin Baker, ‘Back in Black’]

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[Howardena Pindell, ‘Video Drawings: Football, 1976’]

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[Rosalyn Drexler, ‘Last Furlong’] 

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[Rosalyn Drexler, ‘Number 3’]

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[Pamela Council, ‘Flo Jo World Record Nails’]