The Twenty-Ninth Bather
We look. We look not for but at, delighting in the unpredictability of a conscious object. Bodies move. Paintings, sculptures, films, texts move and unmove. Yet it’s entirely different—we seek the objectivity that art eludes us. Winners, losers. Actors of triumph and tragedy, not mere representations of. When anything can be made good or bad with a kaleidoscopic twist in perception, when everything begins and ends with taste, we begin to envy those whose achievements are physical, and thus visible, concrete, unassailable. So we watch. The Twenty-Ninth Bather references a passage in Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, in which a woman discretely looks on as “twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore.” Taking voyeuristic pleasure in watching these men play, Whitman’s subject becomes the twenty-ninth bather via her imagined participation while keeping her distance physically. Today, spectatorship functions similarly, serving as the engine that keeps the sports-industrial complex running, even while degrees of separation remain between athlete and viewer. Contemporary sport carries its own, distinct set of aesthetic pleasures; while the movement of bodies and geometric objects have captured the imagination for millennia, sport captivates through other means, an elusive gestalt. It is why soccer is referred to as “the beautiful game.” It is not the players that are beautiful, nor the ball or the field or the fans (though each may convey beauty in their own right), but rather the game itself. The artists in The Twenty-Ninth Bather consider the intrinsic value that sport and its objects yield by exploring the space between the game, athlete, and viewer. Both Rosie McGinn’s and Lyndon Barrois’ kinetic sculptures are composed of everyday found objects; while Barrois’ Black Jockeys Praxinoscope (2019) evokes a concealed history in American horse racing, McGinn’s The Boléro (2019) celebrates an iconic moment in British sports viewing history. Adopting sporting objects as sculptural material, Gray Wielebinski, Ilana Savdie, and Justin Cloud respectively position the baseball bat, the umpire’s gear, and the sneaker as aesthetic forms of intrigue. Ashley Teamer repurposes a fading symbol of fandom—the trading card—in her dynamic collages which, along with Andrew Kuo’s portraits of the fleeting NBA star Jeremy Lin, consider the effects of hypercommodification on the athlete. The stillness evoked in Evie O’Connor’s athletic encounters within pastoral scenes proves scopophilic. William Brickel’s intertwining figures address the fluidity of play and attraction, muddled amidst the physical intimacies of sports, and maybe even viewership. Like the twenty-ninth bather, constraints of gender and social conventions are momentarily cast aside.