Dayton art museum’s new exhibit combines art and sports

Andy Warhol’s Sport Celebrities on view, paired with highlights from the Art Institute’s collection.

You never know when a museum curator will come up with an idea for a new art exhibit.

Take Aimee Marcereau DeGalan, for example.

While boarding an airplane in Vermont on her way to an interview for her current job at the Dayton Art Institute last spring, she couldn’t help but note that all of the other passengers were decked out in red and blue University of Dayton apparel.

“These people are serious sports fans; I am definitely going to a sports town,” she told herself at the time.

When it was time for DeGalan to plan her first major exhibit as the Dayton museum’s curator of collections and exhibitions, she thought about that airplane ride.

The result is a two-part exhibit on the subject of sports that opened at the museum this weekend and will run through Sept. 1. The sports theme has occupied artists from cultures all over the world from ancient times to the present, DeGalan said.

On display are:

  • “Andy Warhol: Athletes,” a series of Warhol paintings featuring 10 sports superheroes.
  • “The Art of Sport: Highlights from the Collection of the Dayton Art Institute,” a grouping of more than 100 works related to a wide variety of sports — skiing and yacht racing, archery and hunting, bodybuilding and horse racing, mountain climbing and ice skating. The objects on display include paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, photography and textiles.


“About 85 percent of the pieces on display are things that have been off-view for many years,” DeGalan explained. “Some people will be surprised that some of these treasures are in our collection and others will be happy to see these treasures once again.”

DeGalan has organized the art in the exhibit into four categories: Games of Skill and Chance; Men and Beast; Man and Nature; and Games of Physical Prowess.

She’s chosen to include dance as a sport and also has highlighted mental dexterity through games such as chess, billiards and cards. A group of playing cards created by Salvador Dali is on display at the museum for the first time.

You’ll see a stone yolk once worn in opening and closing ceremonies for a ballgame that dates back to 500 CE, a photo of a diver taken with a high-speed Rapatronic camera in the mid 20th century, a raffia dance skirt from the Congo in Africa. In some cases, DeGalan has chosen to create interesting pairings of ancient and modern —a pre-Columbian ball player with a modern ball player, for example.

About Andy Warhol

A video explaining Warhol’s artistic process is on loan from The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, where the artist was born and is buried.

“Andy Warhol remains an icon and one of the most influential artists of the 20th century,” said Eric Shiner, director of that museum. “Even more than 25 years after his death, his artwork depicting consumer objects such as Heinz ketchup boxes, Campbell’s soup cans, and paintings of superstars such as Marilyn Monroe have been imprinted into our collective consciousness.”

Speaking of Marilyn, in the corridor leading to the exhibit, visitors will see six of Warhol’s Marilyn prints owned by the Dayton Art Institute. The sports connection, points out DeGalan, is that Monroe once was married to major league baseball player Joe DiMaggio.

The Warhol display is striking and colorful — gallery walls have been painted a vibrant turquoise.

“I was looking for a color from the 1970s and ’80s,” explained DeGalan, referring to the era in which the portraits were created. Though Warhol knew nothing about sports, in 1977 his friend Richard Weisman convinced him to accept a commission to create a series of 10 sports figures .

“You are so interested in celebrities, and sports stars are going to be the celebrities of the future,” Weisman assured the artist.

Sports celebrities

Those captured include boxer Muhammad Ali, Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill, soccer player Pele, jockey William Shoemaker, basketball superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, golfer Jack Nicklaus, pitcher Tom Seaver, hockey star Rod Gilbert, football player O.J. Simpson and tennis player Chris Evert.

The set of canvases on display at the museum are on loan from Weisman.

“I was working with Richard on a similar show for my previous institution, the Fleming Museum in Burlington, Vermont,” DeGalan explained. “When it became apparent that I would be coming to Dayton, I asked him if he were willing to have the paintings stop here and he agreed.”

Weisman, who was scheduled to come to town for a members-only preview event this week, is recuperating from surgery and hopes to reschedule the visit in July.

In a phone interview from Los Angeles, he said he has been an art collector all of his life.

“My mother and father both collected and by the time I met Andy Warhol, I was living in New York, already collecting, already involved in the art world,” he said. Weisman describes his friend Andy as “a little shy, reserved, sharp as a tack.”

Weisman still remembers Warhol’s initial response when he first proposed the sports series.

“You know Richard, I don’t know the difference between a football and a golf ball,” Warhol said.

“I’ll pick them out,” offered Weisman, who issued the first invite to his good friend, ice hockey player Rod Gilbert and accompanied Warhol to the sittings.

“We went to a gym in New Jersey where Muhammad Ali was practicing for a fight, and we did Dorothy Hamill in a hotel apartment complex,” remembers Weisman. ” Tom Seaver’s session was in the office of his agent, and for O.J. Simpson we went to upstate New York where he was playing.”

Each of the paintings incorporates an object identified with the sport — a tennis racket or a boxing glove, for example.

How were the paintings created?

Warhol’s artistic process began by taking a hundred Polaroid shots of the subject, then he and the sitter would place them all on a table and together pick one to use for the final image. The Polaroid was then re-photographed in 35 mm, printed as 8-by-10 inch acetates and eventually enlarged to 40-by-40 inches and made into a screen print.

A screen print of Pete Rose, commissioned by the Cincinnati Art Museum in 1985, was not part of the original sports series but is part of the exhibit. It’s on loan from the Carl Solway Gallery in Cincinnati; Solway was instrumental in suggesting that the Cincinnati Museum commission the Warhol portrait of the Cincinnati Reds player who was closing in on Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record at the time.

Ten sets with 10 sports figures in each set were completed. Weisman said one portrait went to each athlete as a gift and one went to an institution that represented his or her sport. The first showing of the complete set, interestingly, was in Columbus.

The Warhol exhibit also features cell phone audio commentaries on each of the sports celebrities by retired longtime Dayton Daily News sports writer Bucky Albers, who knew many of them personally.

QR codes throughout the show may be scanned to view videos related to select works.

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