ArtsinStark’s “The Eleven”: Looking Beyond the Some of its Parts
By Tom Wachunas
“Sport is where an entire life can be compressed into a few hours, where the emotions of a lifetime can be felt on an acre or two of ground, where a person can suffer and die and rise again on six miles of trails through a New York City park. Sport is a theater where sinner can turn saint and a common man become an uncommon hero, where the past and the future can fuse with the present. Sport is singularly able to give us peak experiences where we feel completely one with the world and transcend all conflicts as we finally become our own potential.” ~George A. Sheehan
Your mission, good readers, if you decide to accept it, is to click on the link here and read The Repository piece by Denise Sautters (from June 16). It’s about the third component of ArtsinStark’s “The Eleven” project – the ongoing installation of commissioned public artworks celebrating 11 key moments in the history of the NFL.
The article is a well-presented report on what Colorado-based artist David Griggs had in mind when he made his monumentally scaled, abstract steel and granite sculpture called “The Merger Moment”. He clearly explains what he wanted his forms to signify. All well and good. But what of those who in the future might never be privy to his explanation? They’ll need to arrive at their own interpretations and conclusions (assuming, of course, that they really want to know) as to if, and how well, the work speaks about a specific event in the history of the NFL.
Interestingly enough though, I think that on a purely formal level, Mr. Griggs’ sculpture is an intriguing, autonomous expression that functions remarkably well as a public art work even without knowing its contextual references to the NFL. In its asymmetrical, airy configuration of intersecting forms and its elegant balance of horizontality with verticality, it embodies a dynamic energy we could associate with purposeful movement in space, at once graceful and muscular, soaring and grounded. That said, I’m reminded of how art critic, historian, and curator Lucy Lippard once defined “public art”, calling it, “…accessible work of any kind that cares about, challenges, involves, and consults the audience for or with whom it was made, respecting community and environment.” From that perspective, this newest installation of “The Eleven” succeeds on all fronts, involving and “consulting with” art and sport audiences alike to one degree or another.
As to the sports audience, it’s no secret that Canton’s passionate love affair with the game of football is one of manic proportions, garnering constant, in-depth coverage and lavish attention in local media. Why, it’s enough to stir up the resentments of those pesky elitist art purists who feel surrounded by so many Philistines. Talk about feuding factions.
Given the centrality and relevance of the NFL – and sports in general - to Canton’s sociocultural milieu, it’s not so surprising that ArtsinStark should want to celebrate it with a project as ambitious as “The Eleven”. Yet what is really being celebrated here, you might ask? George Sheehan’s words about sport, quoted at the beginning of this post, are quite inspiring, and in some ways I think they could just as well be perceived as addressing the pursuit of art. But they’re also haunting. I’ve often noticed how deftly contemporary professional sports (not just the NFL) – worldly industries, actually - can distance themselves from the ideals and values that those words would seem to reflect. In these scenarios, there is the troubling abandonment of philosophic ideals in favor of catering to our grosser appetites for megalomania, fame, and profit. Does this mean that the sports world is hopelessly corruptible, failing more than succeeding in its endeavors to “…transcend all conflicts as we finally become our own potential”? Not necessarily, and certainly no more or less so than in the contemporary art world, itself prone to all sorts of failed and corrupted visions.
But not this time. For as much as Grigg’s sculpture addresses the historic coming together of once-feuding sport factions, arguably the more fascinating and important merger being embraced here is the harmonious joining of art with sport, both being vital and, yes, noble human pursuits, if only in an ideal world.
And speaking of feuding sport factions, The Repository article leaves it to the public to determine which side is which in Griggs’ essentially two-sided sculpture. I’m not going to tackle the question, so to speak. I’ll leave it to more passionate fans of the NFL, of whom there is definitely no shortage in these parts. I’m opting instead to drop back and punt.