From its storied invention in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith as a recreational activity for "incorrigible" youth, to its current multibillion-dollar industry of franchises, stars, and merchandise, basketball has captured America's--and stolen North Carolina's--heart. To the Hoop is the exhibition catalog for the Weatherspoon Art Museum's spring 2020 exhibit featuring portrayals of basketball in contemporary art, which coincides with Greensboro hosting both ACC and NCAA tournament games. The book includes scholarly writing about the artworks by Curator Emily Stamey, and a personal reflection on the game by Coach Wes Miller.
Embedded in basketball's history are many of the topics fueling current social concerns. Divisions between rural and urban cultures can be considered in the distinctions between the sport's development in farming town gymnasiums and city playgrounds. Increasing commercialization can be traced through its intersections with fashion, franchising, and pop music. Issues of racial equity reverberate through the NBA and NCAA. And, the advancement of women's roles can likewise be considered through the early adaptations of rules for female athletes, the passing of Title IX, and the successes of the WNBA.
The game's golden era of the 1980s and 1990s coincided with an explosion of the contemporary art market, and the sport's celebrated players and signature orange ball appear in the work of many art world stars. That moment also corresponded with an artistic shift towards work that addresses so many of the social issues--race, gender, economics--that readily surface in basketball's widespread popularity. The game also has distinct visual qualities that make it an apt subject for artists: unlike a baseball concealed in a glove or a football buried under a pileup, a basketball is readily seen, and athletes wear relatively minimal uniforms on an indoor field where cameras easily capture their expressions as they soar towards elevated goals. Last, but not least, artists have seen the star power of so many players and the nearly religious devotion of fans to their teams as compelling markers of social values and aspirations.
To the Hoop explores these myriad facets of basketball's intersection with contemporary art and culture. Featuring the work of both internationally recognized and emerging artists, it offers an opportunity to consider the world in which we live through the overlapping lenses of sport and art.
Dr. Emily Stamey is curator of exhibitions at the Weatherspoon Art Museum at UNC Greensboro. She is a specialist in American art and popular culture.
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