Museums #2 – A Quality Start

In the Southern Hemisphere, 'sport' is a plural noun.


It’s a beautiful day for art here at the hallowed ground of the Ian Potter Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Melbourne. We have an intriguing match-up –  Art + Sport – in the Basil Sellers Art Prize.    Basil Sellers, an Australian businessman, has given 110% in this one.  He’s got $100,000 on the line, and this is winner-take-all.

There’s no love lost between the medium and the subject, but I’m expecting a real barn-burner. The sports-mad city of Melbourne has always rallied around sport, but art is a real up-and-comer.  A crowd of just one is one hand today, but you can feel the electricity for this battle of epic proportions.

The Commercial Break

Today’s match-up is brought to you by a populist blend of public transportation, a brewery, an articifial turf provider, and those television screens that play continually in office tower lobbies.  Our sponsors remind you that you can take the pigment to the people, but they might prefer a pigskin.

The Main Event

Collectively, these artists are five-tool players – they can do it all, from sculpture to film, dioramas to paintings.  I’d love to take this exhibition one piece at a time, but there’s not much time left on the clock.

At the end of the day, I’m going to have to go with the judges on this one – Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont prove there’s no ‘I’ in ‘Art’ with an incredible team effort.  Their Gymnasium 2010 is really the defining piece of the show. They’ve stuck to the fundamentals, but you can’t teach inspiration.  The beauty and gentle satire of Gymnasium is really something.

AFL Goal Umps rate art quite highly.

You also can’t say enough about the photography of Ponch Hawkes.  Today wasn’t her day, but a career in art is a marathon, not a sprint.  She’s on a mission to turn the testosterone driven world of sport on its head and someday soon she’ll be getting the respect she deserves.

The Sideline Reporter

Before the game, there were some that thought this exhibit was pandering to a popular audience. Potter Museum coach/Chair Julie Ann Cox, however, knows that a good offense is the best defense. In the play-by-play catalogue, Cox says that the Basil Potter Prize “emphatically challenges visitors to the Potter to reflect on a theme central to Australian history and contemporary society.” She really knows how to silence the critics.


I still don’t know the rules for cricket or why anyone would ever voluntarily cycle competitively, but there’s no question about it – these artists are hitting on all cylinders. Art + Sport has some inspired performances and, if the crowd gets behind them, it’s going to be a whole new ballgame.

Final Score: Like sport, Art + Sport is colorful, lucrative, and occasionally chaotic.  It’s also a critical look at the often-underexamined public ritual of sport.  As the promotional materials say, Art is the winner.

Thanks to and a childhood wasted watching Sportscenter for their invaluable contributions to banal language.

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