Summer of sport…and art

29 Oct 2018
Shaun Gladwell The Archer
Shaun Gladwell, The archer (after Chuang Tzu), 2014, single-channel HD video, 16:9 ratio, colour, sound, 10:47 minutes. Courtesy of the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery

“Ten years ago when we launched the Basil Sellers Art Prize, a project that brought together two great passions of mine, art and sport, we could never have anticipated how enthusiastically it would be embraced by Australia’s most talented artists, as well as by an audience that continued to grow in size and diversity with each iteration of the Prize. Looking back on the five exhibitions, I marvel at the exceptional work that has been presented by artists from around the country; it is testament to the strong connections between art and sport.” — Basil Sellers AM

While you may have once been forgiven for thinking art and sport were unlikely bedfellows, the Basil Sellers Art Prize – the distinctively Australian biennial exhibition that explores the significance of sport and sporting culture – has done much to shift this perception.

Opening at UQ Art Museum on 24 November 2018, Play On: The art of sport will feature the winners and other key works by leading Australian artists from all five instalments of the prize, encompassing painting, sculpture, video, drawing, and mixed-media installation.

The artworks respond to an equally extensive range of sporting genres, including community footy, women’s boxing, ground-keeping, gymnastics and AFL by the following leading Australian artists:

Tony Albert, Richard Bell, Lauren Brincat, Jon Campbell, Daniel Crooks, Gabrielle de Vietri, Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont, Shaun Gladwell, Josie Kunoth Petyarre and Dinni Kunoth Kemarre, Richard Lewer, Fiona McMonagle, Kerrie Poliness, Khaled Sabsabi, and Gerry Wedd.

According to Kelly Gellatly, Director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art, the University of Melbourne, where the five iterations of the prize were exhibited, parallels can easily be drawn between the life of the artist and the sportsperson.

Both experience success and failure, triumphs and disappointments; and to succeed, each needs to train and to bring to their work a sense of discipline, dedication and commitment. Yet one of the lingering differences between the art and sporting worlds is the art world’s discomfort with the notion of ‘winning’ and with the necessity, in a prize context, of the singling out of one artist at the expense of others.

The Basil Sellers Art Prize aimed to support contemporary artists in the creation of ambitious new artworks, with the winning artist awarded a prize of $100,000. For many years the Basil Sellers Art Prize was the richest in the country and made a significant difference to the life and career of the recipient. In addition, one finalist of each prize was awarded $50,000 and the opportunity to undertake a National Sports Museum Basil Sellers Creative Arts Fellowship at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Nick Mitzevich, Director of the National Gallery of Australia, has previously commented that art prizes succeed in registering with the broader public (something a majority of art museums contemplate and aspire to) and are generally well attended. It is in the context of the prize that art and sport are most alike:

The art prize is the art world occurrence that best resembles sport – there’s a triumphant winner, debates about the rules, plenty of media speculation and a spirit of competition. Most importantly, these factors lead to a culture of armchair spectatorship where even those who rarely comment on art have something to say.1

UQ Art Museum Associate Director Dr Holly Arden expected the exhibition to be popular over the summer sporting season.

Play On: The art of sport offers audiences fresh and sometimes challenging perspectives on a national obsession. It asks complex questions about the intersection of sport with culture, politics and human rights so it’s not just sports lovers who’ll find the ideas and artworks presented intriguing.

The free exhibition runs from 24 November 2018 until 9 February 2019 at UQ Art Museum.

Play On: The art of sport is a NETS Victoria and Ian Potter Museum of Art, the University of Melbourne touring exhibition.

Text adapted from the Play On: The art of sport catalogue.

1. Nick Mitzevich, ‘The turbulent world of the art prize’, InDaily, world-of-the-art-prize/; accessed 11 July 2016.