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Full Court Press

A group exhibition celebrating basketball's artistic side.
By Daniel Herborn
August 12, 2013
By Daniel Herborn
August 12, 2013

Having been a teenage basketball player, collector of basketball cards and aficionado of the brilliant and ridiculous NBA Jam video game, Full Court Press, a new basketball-themed exhibition curated by Alaska Projects director Sebastian Goldspink, hits a nostalgic sweet spot. The Sydney-based artist and gallerist has talked of the 80s and 90s NBA boom as providing some of his fondest memories, including the ritual of watching games with his father. Yet this collection goes way beyond rehashing past glories, though it certainly does that through an enviable stash of vintage sneakers and trading cards, but instead fashions a kind of alternative mini-history of the sport's growth spurt and re-imagines the game's familiar visuals as art objects.

The main exhibition room has been transformed by Biljana Janic into a basketball court, complete with a regulation hoop. On one wall hangs Phil James' series of oil paintings which place basketballers in flight against a glossy black background, highlighting some of their most balletic moves from the NBA slam dunk contest. The image of an airborne Michael Jordan, legs pinned back and majestic in flight is iconic, but the series also includes his great slam dunk contest rival Dominique Wilkins as well as the largely forgotten Boston Celtics forward Dee Brown, a player who excelled in the artistic arena of dunk competitions (this work depicts his distinctive 'no-look' dunk) but was less effective in the grind of day to day NBA competition.

The slam dunk competition is an interesting focus: completely divorced from modern basketball, a multi-billion dollar business where every athlete's action is measured, scrutinised and crunched through computer analysis, the annual dunk context takes place during the game's All Star weekend, the NBA's equivalent of an end of term party. It stands as a rare, possibly unique example of the sport played for purely aesthetic reasons: the prettiest, most eye-catching dunk wins. This competition, and Michael Jordan's domination of it, is also one of the themes Goldspink discusses in a video interview with Tristan Chant.

The competition highlights the kind of spectacular action and outrageous showmanship which elevated basketball from something of a second tier game (the first finals series Magic Johnson played in wasn't even televised live) to the crossover commercial behemoth it became during the 80s. Goldspink has long had an interest in the power of commercials and in this interview he talks insightfully about how Nike latched onto Jordan's artistic style, adopting a silhouette of him in mid-flight, as a key branding strategy to sell the game to non-believers.

Other contributors include Danny Morse, whose acrylic work En Court reproduces the court markings with a striking colour scheme, suggesting the line markings aren't just functional but also aesthetically pleasing. Mark Whalen contributes a basketball-like sphere transformed into a magic orb, while Nicole Breedon's beaded basketball net freezes that perfect split second as the ball swishes into the net. Hamishi contributes a portrait capturing Magic Johnson's infectious grin, another key image from the game's push into mainstream acceptance.

The intersection between sport and art is far from an obvious one, but this is an inspired and cohesive collection. The common theme here is that within the 100 games a year grind of the NBA, the sport contains the possibility for eye-catching spectacle and almost otherworldly moments of magic. Interestingly, the NBA would later adopt the marketing slogan 'Where Amazing Happens', suggesting the game's marketing gurus recognised, as this exhibition does, that the game's moments of artistry and flair remain its strongest selling point.

Artereal is open Wednesday to Saturday, from 11-5. Image: Danny Morse, En Court.

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