Imagining the potential of art’s return to the Olympic Games
Mon, Aug 13, 2012 (10:01 a.m.)
The Olympics are over for now, leaving us with nothing to do for the next two years but consider its history and transformations. For example: When the International Olympic Committee decides to cut a sport, one automatically wonders its affect on young athletes aspiring to experience the pinnacle of their career, winning the gold. Their dreams are crushed before years of training had even come to fruition.
But it's impossible to discern how many Olympic competitors were disheartened when arts were cut from the Olympics. The last art competitions were held at the 1948 Olympics, and art in the Olympics was really the odd duck. So out went the painting, sculpture, music, literature and architecture that briefly held places in medal ceremonies. Out went the dream of modern Olympics founder, Pierre de Coubertin (nee Pierre de Fredy), to bring art to larger audiences while integrating it with sports.
But suppose the arts returned in the 1970s and continued with the guidelines that the art must be engaged with sports, only this time, the requirement that competitors be amateurs was lifted. Moreover, artists could have freedom to interpret sport in any way they'd like.
In considering imagined dispatches from Olympic arts competitions, we found an argument for their return:
1972 Winter Olympics, Japan — Dennis Oppenheim (USA), the artist known for "One Hour Run," in which a snowmobile traversed six miles through a snowy landscape in a continuous track, wins the gold in sculpture for a similar piece involving a motorized bobsleigh.
1976 Winter Olympics, Innsbruck (rather than Denver) — On Kawara (Japan), a New York resident known for his “Date Paintings,” in which a date (month, day, year) is painted in solid letters onto a solid background, won the gold for his painting that marked the opening day of the Olympic games.
1980 Summer Olympics, Moscow — A US led-boycott at the summer games in Moscow led to a sparsely attended exhibition. But for the first time, photography was allowed and Robert Mapplethorpe's (USA) photos depicting nude male wrestlers wins the gold, alarming visitors.
1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano, Japan — Christoph Buchel (Switzerland), known for creating hyper-realistic room installations that are often socially or politically provocative, took gold in sculpture for “Athlete's Room in Olympic Village.” Judges remarked on his great attention to detail—uniforms, ski boots and hats strewn about the beds and desk.
2006 Summer Olympics, Beijing, China — The always controversial Damien Hirst, (UK), known for pill cabinets and other pharmaceutical-inspired artworks (and dead animals in formaldehyde) took the silver in painting for his renderings of performance-enhancing drugs. He would have won gold, but the IOC, concerned about "doping" issues and tensions, intervened.