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The Sport and Spectacle of Basketball at the Blanton Museum of Art

The Rules of Basketball: Works by Paul Pfeiffer and James Naismith’s “Original Rules of Basket Ball” at the Blanton Museum of Art

The Rules of Basketball: Works by Paul Pfeiffer and James Naismith’s “Original Rules of Basket Ball” at the Blanton Museum of Art

The Rules of Basketball: Works by Paul Pfeiffer and James Naismith’s “Original Rules of Basket Ball”
Blanton Museum of Art
September 16, 2012 through January 13, 2013

This fall, the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin presents The Rules of Basketball, an exhibition of works by contemporary artist Paul Pfeiffer, presented in conjunction with a special display of James Naismith’s “Original Rules of Basket Ball”—the 1891 document that outlined the 13 original rules of the game. In a rare union, the exhibition considers the sport from a historical perspective, and, on a more psychological level, explores the phenomena and spectacle that surround it.

“We are thrilled to work with Paul Pfeiffer, “ states Blanton director Simone Wicha. “His investigation of the spectacle and mass media in today’s culture is uniquely engaging. We’re also fortunate that Suzanne and David Booth have generously loaned us James Naismith’s “Original Rules of Basket Ball’ to display along with the exhibition. Pairing Pfeiffer’s work with Naismith’s “Rules” provides an interplay of history, sport, and psychology that I think is thought-provoking and will be broadly appealing.”

In 1891, Naismith, then a young teacher at a Massachusetts YMCA, developed the game of “basket ball” as an activity designed to alleviate the boredom of his indoor physical education classes. He devised the game with two peach baskets and a ball, and drafted an accompanying set of 13 rules that he typed on two sheets of paper and nailed to the gymnasium wall. The rules outlined the fundamental structure of a game that would later become a national obsession—one that is explored in Paul Pfeiffer’s photographic and video work.

Pfeiffer emerged as an artist in the mid-1990s in New York within an art scene concerned with race, gender, and identity politics. He has since examined these topics through photographs and sculptural video installations that investigate mass spectacles such as professional sporting events, concerts, and horror films. In this unprecedented presentation at The Blanton, guest-curated by Regine Basha, Pfeiffer’s work will be installed in a dialogue with Naismith’s rules. Through eight photographs and six video installations, the artist frames basketball players as performers, with choreographed movements that are slowed down, erased, and frozen in order to underline the sublime potential of the game and the metaphoric undertones of athletic perfection. Also on view will be an exciting new video work based on Wilt Chamberlain’s 1962 100-point game.

The exhibition’s rare pairing of the historical document and Pfeiffer’s basketball works underscores the lasting and far-reaching impact of the game on the world of sports and culture. “One of this country’s most important contemporary artists, Paul Pfeiffer frames media, spectacle, and masculinity in a way that sheds new light on the game of basketball,“ states Basha. “We are proud to present this long-awaited installation of some of his most seminal works on the game.”

About Paul Pfeiffer

Paul Pfeiffer was born in 1961 in Hawaii. He attended Hunter College and the Whitney Independent Study Program. He has had solo exhibitions at the UCLA Hammer Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, among others, and his work is included in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. among other institutions. He is represented by the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York.

About James Naismith

Born in Ontario in 1861, James Naismith was a man of many interests. He received a degree in divinity from Presbyterian College in Canada, a degree in physical education from the International YMCA Training School (now Springfield College) and a doctorate in medicine from Gross Medical College in Denver. In 1898 he moved to Lawrence, Kansas to become the first basketball coach at the University of Kansas — a position he held for nine seasons. In 1936, he travelled to the Olympic Games in Berlin where he addressed twenty one basketball teams from around the world, solidifying the sport’s reputation as a truly international game.

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