Canton’s Hall of Game
By Tom Wachunas
“The function of football, soccer, basketball and other passion-sports in modern industrial society is the transference of boredom, frustration, anger and rage into socially acceptable forms of combat. A temporary subsitute for war; for nationalism; identification with something bigger than the self.” - Edward Abbey
“Rugby is a beastly game played by gentlemen, soccer is a gentlemen's game played by beasts and U.S. football is a beastly game played by beasts.” - Henry Blaha
“Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness and respect for authority is the price that each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” - Vince Lombardi
EXHIBIT: Scrimmage – Football in American Art from the Civil War to the Present / at the Canton Museum of Art, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton, Ohio / THROUGH OCTOBER 29, 2017 / 330.453.7666 /
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My most recent visits to the Canton Museum of Art (CMA) continue to stir up complex reactions in me, stemming from the fact that it’s so impossible to ignore that towering football mural at the Market Avenue entrance to the Canton Cultural Center for the Arts. If you need a refresher, here’s a link to my original commentary: http://artwach.blogspot.com/2017/07/leveling-cantons-cultural-field.html
In one way, the location of the mural is an unabashedly bold public declaration that Canton, the birthplace of the NFL, is so passionate about the game of football that it regards playing and watching it to be just as important and enriching as the making and viewing of fine art. On the other hand, the mural’s placement suggests something perhaps unseemly and incongruous in the same way, say, a pentagram painted on the side of the Basilica of St. John the Baptist (in downtown Canton) would be unseemly and incongruous. I realize that such a perspective seems to imply a perceived disparity between art and sport, or art and entertainment if you will, as if they’re mutually adversarial cultural pursuits. But are they, really? For the moment, at least, this impressive public artwork on the outside of the Cultural Center for the Arts is a perfectly placed program note for what’s currently on view inside the CMA.
With nearly 80 works to view in a diverse array of paintings, sculptures, original prints, photos and artifacts, football fans and aficionados alike (and there’s certainly no shortage of them in these parts) should be sufficiently enthralled. Important to realize, however, is that this exhibit, which premiered in 2015 at the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art at Colorado State University, is not an exhaustive analysis or glorification of the game as such. Think of it as a thought-provoking narrative journey into how football has become such an embedded and potent component of American popular culture. Max Barton, CMA Executive Director, has written, “Visitors will find the works aligned with themes such as Race, Class, and Ethnicity; Gender in Football; Football and Violence; Athleticism; and Celebrity Culture. It is my hope that visitors will experience both the excellence and debates of the game through art.”
“…debates of the game through art.” So it is, then, that the art lovers in our midst – including those flummoxed by our culture’s gluttonous adulation of football - will find truly fine art here aplenty to whet their appetites.
If we consider art to be (on one level anyway) the ritualized expression of human aspirations, the disciplined application of physical and mental skills, and the persistent desire to engage and elevate the emotions of viewers, then maybe football and art aren’t such strange bedfellows after all. Football and art. Two sides, one coin – the currency of Canton culture.
PHOTOS, from top: Fumble in the Line, acrylic on canvas, by Ernie Barnes / Forward Pass, lithograph, by Thomas Hart Benton / Junction, oil and silkscreen on canvas and metal, by Robert Rauschenberg / 1st Down, oil on canvas by Clyde Singer / Touchdown, Yale vs. Princeton, oil on canvas, by Frederic Remington / Jack Beal Watching Superbowl, etching and aquatint, by Red Grooms / Fran Tarkenton, painted vinyl, by Red Grooms