By JACKIE ORCHARD
The UAlbany Art Museum is showcasing the fusion of athletes and artists in their new exhibit, “ACE: art on sports, promise, and selfhood.”
Corinna Ripps Schaming, the museum’s curator and director, says the exhibit is both current and relevant to students.
“The idea was to think about a subject that has a lot of currency in the contemporary art world but in the larger world, too,” Schaming said. “We started seeing a lot of subjects related to sports so that’s how the idea came together. As we move through the show you’ll see references to different sports ideas or themes.”
When you walk into the UAlbany Art Museum, the first thing you see is lots of white, wide open space. There is a wall made entirely of glass where the sunlight comes in and there is a master staircase leading to the second level. Footsteps echo on the clean, white floor and pieces of art off on their own draw the eye in a pleasing way. It is a calming atmosphere.
“I have been told that sometimes people come in this space and they feel that it’s very aspirational in the space itself,” Schaming said. “It’s like no other space on campus. When you walk in, it’s free and open.”
The exhibit includes 13 artists from all over the world. One from Puerto Rico, Radamés "Juni" Figueroa, has a piece sitting right on the floor when you walk in. Several hollowed-out soccer balls with plants sprouting out of them.
“He takes found objects and tries to give them new life,” Schaming explains. “When we were thinking about putting this exhibition together we tried to think about ideas of where arts and sports intersect and how there’s certain things that happen in both sports and art that artists and athletes share.”
For example, both artists and athletes require practice to become what people consider “talented.”
“They both have goals, they have perseverance, they have discipline,” Schaming says.
One might look at an artist’s painting and think, “Wow, they are so talented,” but it’s more than that. It took practice to reach that level of skill. The exhibit draws a line connecting football players running drills on a field and artists sketching and re-sketching to hone their skills.
“It’s really about a kind of mind-set that I think people with that kind of passion, whatever it is, share,” Schaming explains.
Darío Escobar’s piece, “Obverse and Reverse” shows inverted soccer balls grouped together to look like clouds. The instructions say to hang it just out of reach – because athletes and artists are always reaching for more.
“Most of us, particularly students, are just thinking about the idea of reaching goals. And sometimes those goals are just out of reach,” Schaming said, stretching her arm up so that her fingertips just barely touched a frayed soccer ball.
Schaming says people have preconceived ideas about both artists and athletes and how they are expected to act and what they are expected to be interested in. She wants to bring that conversation together in her exhibit.
“If you can’t have those conversations here,” Schaming asked, “Where can you have them?”
Emerging from the overall concept of athleticism and perseverance is another theme: black empowerment.
“There is that connection to race,” Shaming said. “There are quite a few artists of color in the exhibition. Other issues that come out are related to gender, too. What I love is that we show living artists. They’re figuring it out just like we all are.”
There is an alcove upstairs in which a video projection showing Sondra Perry's "IT'S IN THE GAME '17," about her brother, an NCAA basketball player whose stats were sold without his knowledge to video game companies.
“This entire video is about this idea of ‘What does it mean to commodify a black body?’ or ‘What does it mean to be used in a way that you’re not conscious of?’ and she makes that connection so as you watch it it’s kind of an omage to her brother and it also takes the connection to the idea of replication,” Schaming says. “They go to the metropolitan museum to the Africana wing and you see the idea of culturally appropriated statues and things that were taken without people’s own cognition.”
The most stand-out piece in the museum is an actual rock-climbing wall made of body parts. The artist is Baseera Khan and she titled the wall, “Braidrage.”
“The hand-holds are cast from the corners of her own body,” Schaming explained. “So she will be climbing this wall as a performance on October 22.”
The pieces are made from cast resin that is a translucent dark brown color, like skin. Bits of braided black hair and flakes of gold foil can be found scattered among the body parts.
Instead of using white climbing chalk, the artist uses black chalk on a white wall. After her performance, there will be black smudges, creating a trail of her journey on the wall.
“That idea of making her mark in this space very visible will become part of the overall piece- so that after October 22, it will feel very differently than it does today.”
The university facilities built a false wall in order to construct this piece and all are welcome to come watch the performance at 4:30 p.m.
“We want to reach every student on campus, ultimately,” Shaming said. “The goal is that you come into this space and you have an experience that you might not have in your classroom or anywhere else on campus. And you’ll come back and the next exhibition might not be a subject that you are initially interested in but there’s something there that reveals itself in the way that only art reaches others.”
The UAlbany Art Museum is free and open to the public. Students can stop by anytime Tuesday - Friday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. or Saturday between noon and 4 p.m. It has intimate spaces that would be great for a first date, and also a wide open atrium feel that would be great for a little reflection.
“I want you to stop. I want you to slow down,” Schaming said. “Take a moment. Take a look. Walk around. And just pause and give yourself five minutes in this space to think and then come up with your own reactions.”
Schaming says you don’t need to be an “artsy” kind of person to enjoy the museum.
“I feel like that kind of experience that you can have with a work of art, you don’t need to know anything about art but you do need to take the time to just slow down and think about what it is that your eyes are seeing. And just start there.”
The work on display is from well-known artists who are alive now and challenging norms. Schaming says it’s important to her that students have the opportunity to experience this exhibit.
“We feel like we’re bringing challenging work here for our students and for our community,” Schaming said. “Just a point of conversation even if you don’t know what you’re looking at. Bring a friend, bring a date, whatever, and take it from there.”
The coach of the UAlbany Women’s Basketball team has already stopped by the exhibit and Schaming hopes all of the other coaches, and players, will do the same and hopefully feel inspired by the work.
The Art Museum also hosts free yoga and free art labs periodically. For more information, you can go to www.albany.edu/museum.