March Madness is the second of two exhibitions that focus on the culture of sport as represented in the visual arts. Curated by the duo, Hank Willis Thomas and Adam Shopkorn, this year’s exhibition centers on the realm of athleticism from the perspective of women.
The show features a roster of 31 artists, all women, whose artwork subvert masculine archetypes, and challenge more docile notions of femininity by highlighting the qualities of strength, fitness and agility that are characteristic of physical skill and capability. These aesthetic observations of the physical form become metaphors by which to consider broader issues about empowerment, gender roles, beauty, politics, labor, popular-culture – as well as ethnic and racial histories.
For many, sports are a vehicle for upward mobility. The glamour of the professional athlete has attracted the ambition of young people for generations, and the ritual of competition liken the atmosphere at sporting events to that of a religious experience. For these reasons, the collective activity of participating in sports is imbued with the sensation of transcending physical and mental limitations.
The title of the show, March Madness, is appropriated from the name of the popular, national college basketball tournament, and speaks to the emotional fervor generated by sporting events. This exhibition also coincides with Women’s History Month, and the recent political activity designed by and on the behalf of women to call attention to social justice issues connected to race, gender, sexuality, immigration and the environment.
Thomas and Shopkorn, who are both sports fans, are well aware of “the history of the intersection of sports and politics.” The previous March Madness exhibition, for example, “reflected the classic spirit of the black power salute at the 1968 Olympics.” This year’s exhibition expands on this theme by “celebrating the position of women as artists and citizens who are central in pushing critical issues forward.” The artists in this exhibition are using the action, symbolism and elements of sport to call attention to narratives that are overlooked, and as a method to innovate beyond the social and cultural circumstances of everyday life.