"Subway Series"- "The New York Mets and Our National Pastime" The Queens Museum of Art" thru October 26, 2004- review by Emil Memon
"Subway Series" is a highly civically-minded show in two installments at the Queens and Bronx museums. Their proximity to their respective baseball teams, make the destination of the exhibition of Mets at the Queens Museum, and the Yankees at the Bronx Museum.
The concept of the show is the brainchild of curators Carlo McCormick and Thomas Solomon. That Carlo McCormick is involved with the show makes sense, because he is a long time observer and participant of so-called counterculture; dealing with the things at the edge, where high and low intersect. Baseball wouldn't at first glance strike you as counter culture, because what could be more main stream, it is its pure incarnation, but to bring everyman's passion without irony and with respect into the context of the Art world is in a strange way subversive. They brought with them on this operation of different shifting levels of meaning a good group of artists that they counterbalanced with the documentary material of baseball mythology. The interplay of art that deals with baseball and its historical documentation flows organically -- reinforcing each other. You can sense the curators invested a lot of energy, care and genuine love for art and as fans for baseball. The civic aspect of this show is education. Sport fans who normally don't visit art shows, attracted by rare memorabilia are meditating over art and on the opposite end people who follow art but are not inclined to follow sports have an unique chance to explore imagery and objects that are telling an intense human story. Obviously baseball has a very special meaning for Americans as its quintessential sport, and is especially important for New Yorkers, because it has a power of local folk epic. The art portion of the show is strong because the artists were able for most of the part to transcend this obvious narrative and bring in interesting perspectives.
A good example of this in the Queens exhibition is the painting by Kehinde Wiley of a young black man dressed in shirt and baseball hat emblazoned with Mets colors and logo. Every piece of clothing and every accessory like cell phone, etc. is carefully selected as is his pose, everything has a meaning -- the handsome face is not central, what counts is the perfect incarnation of a hip hop street culture. The Mets uniform becomes a uniform of subculture. The background is golden with abstract arabic patterns. The figure in the painting is isolated in lusciousness and glitter as an icon of a gangster rapper. The artist definitely had in mind religious representations of Byzantine icons. He uses esthetic seductivity and a sense of danger; that mix which sold millions of gangster rap albums. Here the artist who is black and male deals with the tradition of representation of a black male. The interesting thing about the painting is that he is serving it the same way as a record label is one of their rap stars, bringing the listener or the viewer into a forbidden world. How much is this strategy to bring in larger meaning of racial politics or as a pop product selling nicely esthetically packaged commodity. In this ambiguity lies the seductivity of this painting. I was never a fan of William Wegman but I did love his dog in the Mets uniform, because of the beautiful luscious colors of orange and green on the photographic paper. In the Bronx show I liked the classically conceptual, elegant sculpture of Devon Dinkeou, that in its nature and simplicity is totally set apart from the rest of the show. There is a hole cut into the sheet rock in the main gallery. From behind the wall there's a baseball (literally and semantically the most important object that if it doesn't have a signature of a baseball star is totally forgotten and taken for granted) put in to the hole that is smaller than the ball itself. When you walk around the gallery you are suddenly surprised by this white curve inside the wall that is suspended in space.
Also in the Bronx show there is a monumental drawing by Robert Longo who in his 80s signature drawing style excellently represents the sudden burst of energy and action on the playing field that is in the heart of baseball game. The figure of the Yankee player frozen in action is robust. It's an illustration done in a masterly fashion.
Seibu Dome Georgy Corcia
Back in Queens there is an impressive monumental photograph by George Corcia in the section of the show dedicated to stadium imagery. His work adds a whole new important dimension to the show, that of globalization and American culture that is producing universal visual imagery. The image is of the Seibu dome in Japan. The artist followed Mets into their first exhibition game in Japan, featuring Yankees future star Hideki (Godzilla) Matsui. In the middle of a concrete playing field there's a large electronic scoreboard with a video image of a player in the middle of action. This could be anywhere in the United States, except for the fact that the text on the board is in Japanese, and if you look more carefully behind the concrete opening outside the stadium you can see beautiful spring blossoming of cherry trees -- what could be more Japanese? The stadium itself has a clean grandeur of international modernism style -- metal, concrete and the playing field with a beautiful and luscious deep green. The spectators and players in their scale seem anonymous, but if you look carefully you can notice all these little details revealing pleasure in the game and the beautiful day that is being enjoyed by these Japanese baseball fans. At first glance this work would bring in mind Andreas Gursky, but it is different in terms of approach to the medium, in that it is less obsessed with cold technical perfection rendering it a more humane and warm work of art. In this article I mentioned only few works of interest, but there is much more to see; so hop on the train, bring a friend and be part of this unique New York "Subway Series."