Minneapolis Institute of Arts: The Sports Show

7:01 AM

So the other night the spouse and I decided to be slightly less lame and go out for some culture – we hit the MIA’s newest installation: The Sports Show.  Essentially, it is a collection of photographs, sound, and video that, as the MIA describes it, tracks “the evolution of sport from pastime to spectacle.” 

It was an interesting look at how sports intersect with so much in life – race, gender, politics, popular culture.  I can’t possibly come up with any coherent thoughts on the exhibit as a whole, but there was one piece that I found incredibly intense: Paul Pfeiffer’s The Saints

You enter a huge room that is rigged with several powerful speakers, through which the sound of the 1966 epic World Cup game between England and West Germany is booming.  You are enveloped by sound, cheers that roll and swell, chants that emerge from the cacophony (“Oh when the saints…go marching in…”); the sound vibrates within your sternum creating a pull that is visceral.  Then, attached to one wall, is a small screen (perhaps only 2-3 inches wide) where a player runs and runs on the field…I can’t actually describe much of what is on the tiny screen, because I spent most of my time in the room just giving in to the sound.  In an adjacent (and quiet) room, you are presented with two very large video screens, one containing the match, and the other shots of a crowd of Filipinos roaring along to the 1966 game.  Sound without visual, visual without sound.

The room was an amazing reminder of the collectivity of sport.  Having moved from one minor sport to another throughout my athletic life (cross country running, Nordic skiing, and now cycling in the Midwest where its not unusual to have to explain “well, you do cyclocross on a bike…”), I don’t have much experience with large crowds and the potent momentum that can be created.  For me the spirit of the piece was contained in the thrum of the sound – the overwhelming wave that reverberated in my bones.

On a personal level I also found it perhaps not all that strange that it was a soccer piece that drew me, while the extensive collection of boxing photographs left me a bit thrown.  Experiencing The Saints was all about the singular emotion that sport can bring.  The additional layers brought out by the history between the two participating countries, the setting at Wembley stadium, the tactics of the game, and loads of other cultural context existed blissfully outside of my radar, allowing me to interact with it at a more elemental level.  Not so with boxing, where my awareness of the larger racial and political context, not to mention my own dislike of the sport in general, left me unable to view the photographs with any objectivity.

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