- Tension in the Union of Art and SportCompetition for Ownership of the Baseball Statuary and its Influence upon Design
"Public monuments do not arise as if by natural law to celebrate the deserving, they are built by people with sufficient power to marshal (or impose) public consent for their erection."
Kirk Savage, author1
"The purpose is not to make art; it's to show real people as they really were."
Henry Thomas, statue subject's relative2
"This is not just about sports; it's about art."
Omri Amrany, sculptor3
For professional sports organizations in North America, Europe and Australia, player recruitment is no longer limited to sportsmen and women. Since the early 1990s, stadium precincts and downtown plazas have been adorned with figurative sculptures of athletes, cast in heroic action or imperial eminence. The USA's national pastime of baseball has embraced this fashion enthusiastically. By 1 January 2016, 218 figurative statues of specific baseball players, managers, executives, broadcasters and even fans were in situ across North America. Such ubiquity reflects how sport sculpture now forms one of the most visible interactions between the cultural communities and businesses of art and sport.4
In this study we investigate the concept of ownership of sport statues, their role in proclaiming ownership of territory, history and a distinct identity, and [End Page 1] the interaction of ownership and design. Focusing upon baseball, we examine the tension between an artist's desire to express creativity and the often countervailing push of the commissioning organization's commercial imperative. We posit that the balance of power between the businesses and cultures of sport and art with respect to the construction of sport statues will contribute to homogeneity of design. However, through a close inspection of two recently-erected statues of atypical appearance, we argue that where the balance of project ownership departs from the norm, a greater degree of design innovation may occur. Furthermore, we consider the implications of recent commercial trends and legal developments on the future commemoration of sport stars and explore how changes in funders' profiles and motivations may result in a parallel reappraisal of design aesthetics.
the business of sculpture meets the business of sport
Sculptures of athletes are both an ancient art form, pioneered in life-size or greater by the Greek and Roman civilizations—yet also a modern phenomenon.5 The unveiling of over 150 statues of baseball players within the US since 1990 represents the first cohesive integration of public figurative sculpture and a contemporary professional sport, simultaneously sustaining a flourishing sport sculpture industry. Yet to what extent has this union been an appropriation of sport by art, of art by sport, or a meeting of equals?
Spotlighting figurative sculpture within baseball reveals the primacy of artistic inspiration over external commissioners in the infrequent early examples, which date from the dawn of the professional game.6 The first such monument located away from a grave was conceived and sculpted by Douglas Tilden: "The Ballplayer" was exhibited in Paris, New York and San Francisco.7 Early 20th century sculptures of Christy Mathewson and Babe Ruth also debuted as gallery pieces, with subject and design choice resting with the sculptors.
The genesis of the modern ballpark statue honoring a franchise's baseball hero can be seen in "Honus Wagner" (Forbes Field, Pittsburgh, 1955) and "Stan Musial" (Busch Stadium I, St. Louis, 1968).8 However these unveilings were interspersed with sculptor-led gallery-sited pieces (e.g. Rhoda Sherbell's "Casey Stengel," 1965); and civic commissions such as Joe Brown's monumental "The Batter" and "The Play At Second" (Veteran's Stadium, Philadelphia, 1975–77).9 It was the arrival of retro-styled ballparks, heralded in the major leagues by the success of Baltimore Orioles' Camden Yards, and accompanied by a cornucopia of similarly nostalgic decoration adjacent to and inside such facilities, that kick-started statue production on a far greater scale.10 [End Page 2]
There has been minimal academic discourse on sports statues until recently, in part due to the contemporary nature of this phenomenon, but also reflecting a broader lacuna of reference to visual artefacts amongst...