"Size DOES Matter"

Shaq's shot at curating bangs off the rim.

  • Willard Wigan, "Obama Family: Victory Night"

  • Jim Torok, "Self Portrait with Yellow Glasses"

Willard Wigan, "Obama Family: Victory Night"

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Collisions between celebrity and contemporary art have most often taken the form of artists becoming celebrities or celebrities impersonating artists; think of Andy Warhol guest-starring on The Love Boat or Farrah Fawcett’s collaboration with sculptor Keith Edmier. A few of the glitterati, such as Madonna and Steve Martin, are serious collectors and patrons. But the celebrity as curator gives the genre a new twist, one essayed by “Size DOES Matter,” an exhibition at the FLAG Art Foundation, “curated” by basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal.

This group show of 44 artists sets out to explore scale in contemporary art, but it also wants to trade on the status of its nominal organizer—his celebrity stature as much as his physical size. A full-page ad in February’s Artforum magazine pictures only O’Neal, his name much larger than those of the artists, and publicity materials list Shaq’s NBA nicknames without mentioning any expertise in the field of art.

According to published accounts, O’Neal’s curating consisted mostly of him choosing from images of works selected by the FLAG Foundation, yet the exhibition manages moments of curatorial finesse. Immediately upon entering, you confront Maurizio Cattelan’s Untitled (2001), a pair of knee-high, aluminum-framed elevators that wittily echo the ones opening onto the space. To one side hangs Chuck Close’s impressive nine-foot-tall 2004 visage of Lynda (as in Benglis), composed of his signature painted grid of little abstract ideograms, and on the other, Jim Torok’s similarly frontal but meticulously finished two-inch-square Self-Portrait with Yellow Glasses (2002). On a side wall, a pair of microscopes allows us to see two of Willard Wigan’s minute sculptures, each constructed inside the eye of a needle. The first features a recognizable, if somewhat blobby, Obama family; the second shows a minuscule figure of Shaq, a mote of a basketball hanging above him, as if in midair. The contrast between big and small in this opening salvo may be a little obvious, but the appealing mix of famous and lesser-known names, slick production and folksy obsessiveness also represents one of the show’s high points.

The play between several figurative sculptures installed around the Foundation’s two floors marks another. Ron Mueck’s Untitled (Big Man), from 2000, sits glowering in a corner naked, compellingly lifelike, if abjectly gigantic—more than six and a half feet from his sagging, mottled ass to the crown of his bald, wrinkled head. The oversize goateed man in Evan Penny’s bust Stretch #2 (2003) has real hair, similarly convincing skin and a glassy, fishlike stare; pulled vertically like taffy to a height of nine feet, however, the man seems, disconcertingly, a little out of focus. Richard Dupont’s 2008 Untitled (Terminal Stage) engenders the same uncanny sensation. The artist distorted the three fleshy pink resin figures—each a slightly larger-than-life self-portrait—by computer so that they appear nearly normal from front and back, but attenuated anamorphically from the sides. And the distortions in Tim Hawkinson’s headless, stitched cardboard figure Scout (2006--2007)—enormous hands like baseball mitts; bulbous, protruding scrotum—apparently embody the relative sensitivity of nerve endings in various body parts. Together, these works discuss scale, proportion, body image and dysmorphia in a way we might suspect would be of interest to the 7'1" curator.

Equally concerned with stature—or lack thereof—Corban Walker’s Off the Glass (2010), a wall drawing in adhesive vinyl, pairs geometric forms that dynamically progress along the gallery’s stairwell. We can easily see the tall navy blue rectangles as standing in for Shaq and the short, squat green ones for the artist (who is Irish and four feet tall). Their changing proportions apparently derive from Walker’s mathematical formulas for abstractly representing the relationship between the two subjects descending a staircase.

Still, despite the formal and psychological rigor of Walker’s site and theme-specific piece, the exhibition abounds with plenty of art that is far less relevant to its premise. Paul Pfeiffer’s altered photo of a basketball game, Brian Jungen’s mask sewn from Air Jordans, provocative images of women by more than half a dozen artists and several commissioned portraits of the curator seem to belong to a different show entirely. While we can imagine that O’Neal might enjoy all of these works, they feel gratuitous here. Much of “Size DOES Matter” is far too intelligent for us to see it as merely a vanity project, but as a curator, even a carefully guided Shaq comes across as an amateur. In art, at least, the dunker is a dabbler.

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The FLAG Art Foundation, through May 27