Fine Art of Football

Not natural sports enthusiasts, artists and musicians push their creative limits when it comes to the Ravens

January 25, 2001|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Never has professional football seemed so distant or foreign as in the grand, marbled lobby of the Maryland Institute, College of Art, where students sit cross-legged or sprawled out on the floor to sketch the larger-than-life Grecian statues in residence. One couldn't feel farther from a sports bar or sports talk radio.

Here, students study the shadows and light in such works as "Theseus: From the Parthenon." Their drawings attempt to capture classic human form in these monuments to strength, grace and beauty. Theseus, handless and footless, looks supremely victorious, as if this hero and king of Athens just slew the Minotaur - the half-human, half-bull beast from Greek mythology. Theseus' brute strength is admired and studied to this day.


Now, take your average football fan. Sitting among these stone giants, a guy could easily imagine Theseus suiting up in shoulder pads and a black and purple helmet. He might make a decent tight end or even outside linebacker. No, with those Jamal Lewis legs, this dude could be a running back. Either way, Theseus has got an attitude, a look that says: Bring on any and all giants. Get the trash-talking Theseus a beer.

Football and the arts have become strange bedfellows around town. In the most un-football-like settings, the most un-football-like among us are trying to get on-board the Ravens' crowded bus. It's easy for any sports bar to dress up in black and purple and flaunt its love for the Ravens; but try being a museum scrambling to do something Ravenesque. Beer posters and bull roasts are clearly out of the question.

Lately it's been a case of art imitating football in Baltimore - and it hasn't always been pretty, but it's always been purple.

In the median of Mount Royal Avenue at the art institute, Bob Alholm's familiar sculpture has adopted a Ravens motif. "Cloud 9" - Alholm's twister of twisted, rusty wire crowned with a lawn chair - now features a gigantic, purple, Styrofoam football. "It may well melt before the Super Bowl, for all I know," says Alholm, an institute alum and now facilities director. He doesn't see his purple football as a desecration but rather a fitting alteration.

"I'm a Ravens fan, and I decided to give them a little spiritual help."

At the Walters Art Museum, it was with sinking hearts that the staff learned the Ravens were headed for the Super Bowl. But not for lack of civic pride. It's just they had thought Jan. 28 was going to be their big day: The debut of their new exhibition, "Manet: The Still-Life Paintings." Who can compete with the Super Bowl?

Immediately, an internal e-mail conversation began at the Walters. How can we make this work for us? The museum staff knocked around these ideas, many of which were in jest:

Put a football helmet on the bust of Henry Walters over the museum's main entrance.

Hang a large, purple banner on the front of the building proclaiming: "Manet Maximus."

Illuminate the museum with purple lights.

Put a football jersey on the large statue of Apollo that stands in the museum's grand hall.

Decorate with purple flowers.

In the end, some staff members opted to wear purple T-shirts. Apollo, however, will be the one wearing nothing but a purple light. Perhaps the great French master Edouard Manet would approve.

In 1875, Manet produced an illustrated version of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." The Baltimore Museum of Art owns a copy of the portfolio, and - in solidarity with Goose, Mulitalo and friends - plans to put six of the Manet "Raven" images on display.

It's no Styrofoam purple football, but it could work for them.

Finding reasons to cheer

On one level (a stereotypical one, granted), football players and artists don't seem to mix. Remember football players in high school? They always got the attention, the shop classes, the girls. Did a cheerleader ever fall for the skinny, goateed, artist guy who always wore black, had a way with haiku and smoked unfiltered Camels? Only in his noir dreams.

Football players were named Brad or Randy, and they were all loud and all shoulders. After the big game, kids would wait at the Pizza Hut for them to arrive. Like it was BWI after the Ravens-Titans game or something.

The others (the pouters, smokers and lurkers) told themselves, that's OK, the jocks are popular now but when they grow up, they'll be slinging salsa at the Chi-Chi's while we open a gallery in So-Ho. Who wants to be on a school team, anyway? Rooting wasn't cool. Be a rebel, be an individual, and look down on athletes - even if they are 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds and you're 5-foot-6 if stretched on a rack.

"Many skinny artists may live in fear of football players," says Baltimore poet Kim Carlin, who is kidding but kind of isn't.

For some artists and others, maybe the subject of football pushes a button that was installed in high school, says Carlin, who works at the art institute. She senses a feeling on campus among some artists that it isn't cool to like the Ravens.

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