Sports are not what you'd call a bohemian pastime. Athletes follow rules, beatniks scorn them. Sports speak to the crowd, art to the individual. Sports fans are fanatics, art lovers are blasé. Fans are followers, artists intrepid explorers. Jocks are dumb brutes with uncanny skills, while artists are . . . whatever, you get the idea.
Being a fan demands such abject devotion that it hardly seems possible for an artist to make "sports art" of any quality, and yet here we are, with a nice example of just that made by couple of top contemporary artists.
The artwork in question is Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait (2006), a 90-minute-long feature film by Philippe Parreno and Douglas Gordon devoted to the French soccer player Zinedine Zidane. Three years in the making, the film premiered at Cannes and played to an art crowd in Basel this June at the Herzog & de Meuron-designed St. Jakob Stadium during Art 37 Basel.
Filmed by 17 camera operators at a regular soccer game (Real Madrid vs. Villareal, Apr. 23, 2005), Zidane is no highlight reel. The artists had their cameras trained exclusively on the titular star, following the actor, rather than the action. With the camera focused on Zidane alone, we don't get much of the game's drama. The soccer icon says little and seems to do even less. Clearly, soccer is a team sport, in which any one player has possession of the ball for only moments at a time.
The film is, as promised, a portrait, an extended meditation on a single man. And Zidane is handsome, no question about that.
At Basel, while the soccer fans in the audience were happy as clams -- an hour-and-a-half of staring at your hero isn't too much for a typical sports buff -- a steady stream of viewers exited early, looking somewhat irritated. (This all made me think of Jacques Rivette's four-hour-long 1990 film La Belle Noiseuse, which demands that cineastes watch Emmanuelle Beart pose nude for substantial amounts of time -- which seems to fly past.) In the end, Zidane is a typical art production -- counter-intuitively made, elliptical, repetitive and rather dull.
As is often enough the case with avant-garde art, the quality of the appreciation here depends largely on what the viewer brings to the work.
Not that Zidane doesn't have a narrative arc. For those who manage to stay till the end, the film has a dramatic conclusion, as Zidane gets a red card and is sent off (that is, he commits a foul and is ejected from the game). Since the soccer genius knew he was being filmed during what was apparently a minor contest, some wonder whether he consciously gave the movie its climax.
In any case, the art film turned out to be a strange portent of real life, when the soccer 2006 World Cup final was played on Sunday afternoon on July 9, 2006 -- Italy won, but only after Zidane had again been sent off in the last minutes for headbutting an opposing player, the Italian Marco Materazzi. Despite the similar ending, the World Cup final was not an artwork but a sports event, and so was actually exciting to watch.
Zidane exists as a movie and as an artwork in an edition of 17. The artwork has a double picture, one side consisting of the portrait film and the other half being one of the 17 original camera feeds. It hasn't been exhibited yet -- some decisions remain as to the soundtrack, a space-age affair by the Glasgow band Mogwai -- but several copies have been sold for $200,000 each. The Guggenheim Museum, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, MUSAC in León and the Maya Hoffman Foundation have acquired the artwork, and the Museum of Modern Art is purchasing the feature film for its archives.
Manhattan movie houses are already showing the trailer for Stone's film, which opens Aug. 9 and stars Nicolas Cage and actor Michael Peña as two Port Authority cops who were trapped in the wreckage of the World Trade Center for 22 hours. Stone's footage is faintly ridiculous, with the hammy Cage emoting while pretending to be pinned under a pile of bricks, in a latter-day version of Ace in the Hole, the 1951 Kirk Douglas mine-collapse tale.
Moukarbel's film is now nowhere to be seen -- he has been enjoined from showing it by a Washington, D.C. federal court, at the request of Paramount -- but outtakes from his production are on view, legally, in an exhibition at Wallspace gallery on West 27th Street in Chelsea. The scant 11 minutes of footage show a young man in some kind of uniform, a flag patch on his jacket shoulder, covered with dirt and dust and lying in what seems to be a dark, rubble-strewn basement. There's no dialogue; the actor is prepping for his scenes, and the bits of footage are random and unedited.
Through some kind of weird esthetic inversion, the outtakes from Moukarbel's film have more emotional authenticity than the scene from Stone's phony movie.
Moukarbel's film seems to be a fairly straightforward copyright violation, but his "fair use" excuse is one of political commentary -- the artist is objecting to the appropriation of the 9/11 tragedy for profit by Stone and Paramount, which have already begun the film's $40-million marketing campaign. Earlier this month, Gerry Rich, Paramount's worldwide marketing chief (who contributed an affidavit to the suit against Moukarbel), solemnly told the New York Times how carefully the studio was promoting its new product. He has brilliantly gained worldwide hype for World Trade Center by providing advance screenings of the movie for New York City police and firefighters.
The Wallspace exhibition, titled "Data Mining," is organized by artist Joe Scanlan and includes works by eight artists that have some relation to the notion of the "index," whether it is Dora Garcia's masterful All the Stories, a thick book of one- or two-sentence story synopses; a commercially produced rug based on the design of a Gerhard Richter color-chip painting; or the voice of Robert Smithson describing how to make Asphalt Rundown, taken from a rare "sound art" recording made in 1969 and since found on eBay.
Scanlan himself, who is an artist (he used to show with D'Amelio Terras), a professor (he teaches sculpture at Yale) and a curator (formerly assistant director at the Renaissance Society in Chicago), is present via a self-portrait in the back room, a fairly widely circulated color photograph in which he poses wearing an insanely broad grin on his face, which is covered with shmutz. The picture is titled Pay Dirt (2002). Scanlan also has his own website, at www.thingsthatfall.com, where you can buy, among other things, a set of six Catalyst Acrylic Tears, for use at those times that "you want to give the appearance of having feelings." The price is $20.
Another emblematic Anastasi work, Untitled (En route) (1964), consists of 112 concrete bricks in a rectangular stack, while Beethoven's 5th Symphony (1965-2005), is a video performance of the music, unspooled and hung on the wall as if it were a picture. Both works are produced in editions of three; the sculpture is $75,000, while the symphony is $40,000. A series of drawings made by holding pencils in both hands against sheets of paper while riding the subway, titled Subway Drawings (1993-2006), are perfect recordings of the random everyday. They're $7,500 each.
I couldn't help but love Michael Heizer's large-scale versions of Paleolithic and Neolithic tools, sculptures ranging in size from five feet long to over 16 feet in length, made of pigmented concrete mounted on steel bases and now on view as a group for the first time at PaceWildenstein on West 22nd Street. Dating from 1988-89, the works seem to suggest that Minimalism's roots are in prehistory, not industry, and also prove that context is everything -- send an artist out to the Western wilderness, and you get a primitivist and ancient esthetic (Heizer lives in Nevada, where he has been building a sculptural complex titled City since 1970). Prices start at about $125,000.
Gotta love also English artist Dawn Mellor's show of monstrously offensive paintings at Team Gallery in May and June, violent and obscene parodies of celebrity culture such as, for instance, a mural-sized painting of seven young female stars in shit-stained orgy in front of a giant U.S. flag, on which "LOVE" has apparently been smeared fingerpaint-style. Especially good is Mellor's repellent painterly technique, whose ugliness is justified by her subjects. My favorite: the small painting in the front office of Linda Blair, as possessed by the devil in The Exorcist, wearing an "I ♥ NY" t-shirt. It's $6,000. Mellor shows in London with Victoria Miro.
I always loved Dana Hoey for her photographs of hippie girls gone wrong, like her picture of a tattooed woman tending a crystal meth lab, or a pregnant woman smoking. Last month at Friedrich Petzel she showed a group of new photos of earth mothers and wise old women clipped and laid out in patterns like quilts. The installation was being offered as a unit, Hoey said, but the 30 photos are also published in a new book, with text by Gretchen Rubin, titled Profane Waste, for $35.
And I had to love Adam Morosky's idea to sell grilled cheese sandwiches at the opening of "Anything U Can Do, I Can Do Better," organized by Anat Ebgi to inaugurate the grand new fifth-floor space of Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts at the Chelsea Arts Building at 526 West 26th Street. They weren't just any grilled cheese -- they had the image of the Virgin Mary visible in their golden crusts. Now that's real Wonder Bread! Morosky was selling the sandwiches for $1 each.
"Anything U Can Do" features works by about 20 artists, all grads of the BFA program at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y., which is headed by my old pal from Fashion Moda, Joe Lewis. A show of Alfred U's MFA grads opens on July 20, 2006, at three Chelsea galleries -- Florence Lynch Gallery, J. Cacciola Gallery and Lohin Geduld Gallery.
And if you really love Nancy Rubins' installation up on the plaza of Lincoln Center, a gargantuan corsage of brightly colored aluminum boats, on view all summer courtesy the Public Art Fund, you can pick up a collage-version of the work down at the Paul Kasmin Gallery in Chelsea. The price? $18,000.