She Got Game

Please note: This event has already occurred.
She Got Game photo
Arlington Arts Center

Editorial Review

Women don't play the way that men do
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, March 2, 2012

An exhibition on the theme of women and sports -- which includes glossy portraits of female bodybuilders and a photo essay about Olympic rifle and pistol shooters -- sounds like a good fit for National Portrait Gallery or the Newseum. But make no mistake: "She Got Game" at the Arlington Arts Center is clearly an art show.

It makes its points obliquely, like lightly scratching around an itch.

Some parts of the 11-artist showcase - those that focus on photographic and video documentation of past events at the center - make their point perhaps a little too obliquely. Works by Kristina Bilonick, who led a cheerleading workshop at the gallery, and Amber Hawk Swanson, who climbed onto a CrossFit machine there while reading from some of her criticism, won't make much of an impression, unless you had been there on Feb. 11, when those performances took place.

That's not an indictment of performance art. It just illustrates the problem with putting it next to work that has more of a physical presence. Painter Cory Oberndorfer's wall-size mural "Bubble Trubble" - featuring a larger-than-life roller derby girl barreling through candy-colored bubbles - almost feels like a billboard advertising the show, instead of part of the show itself.

That itch that the show is trying to get at has less to do with the meaning of "game" as athletic competition than "game" as role-playing - and role reversal. Works by Holly Bass, Jenny Drumgoole, Dewey Nicks and others all explore this theme, with works that have both conceptual and visual heft.

In a series of photographs parodying Air Jordan basketball-shoe ads, Bass, a dancer and performance artist, appears in a variety of midair poses, with two "bootyballs" strapped to her rump. Her message - that women's athleticism is linked to erotic objectification - is also made, if less critically, by Nicks. In 2010, the photographer shot female tennis players for a New York Times article and photo spread. "She Got Game" features Nicks's slo-mo video from those shoots, in which such players as Kim Clijsters swat the ball in a studio filled with glitter and colored chalk dust. It's evidence, if unintentional, of the different - and in many ways limiting - scale on which we weigh women's athletic performance.

Drumgoole's documentary "Wing Bowl" looks at competitive eater Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas, a 98-pound Korean-born American who has often beaten men three times her size. In the nine-minute video, Drumgoole compares Thomas's appearance at the Wing Bowl, an annual chicken-wing-eating contest, with the artist's starkly different role at the event. (Drumgoole auditioned for, and was chosen to be a "Wingette," a scantily clad food server.) The contrast between Drumgoole, in a get-up one step away from a Playboy bunny, and Thomas, who takes her "sport" very, very seriously and who is shown being heckled by male fans who see her as a usurper of traditional sex roles - is, by turns, funny, sad and sharp.

By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, March 2, 2012

Sarada Conaway is represented in "She Got Game" by "Makeover," a series of works in which the Baltimore photographer invites subjects to reinvent themselves, not just in the traditional sense of a more flattering outfit, makeup and hairstyle, but also in a way that expresses personal aspects - or aspirations - that may be otherwise hidden. Among the works are several pictures featuring members of a local girls soccer team, whose makeovers range from vampy goth girl to shy tomboy.

Other than the fact that some of her subjects are young athletes, the works don't have much to do with sports. Rather, they're reminders of the games that all of us - men and women, boys and girls, jocks and nonjocks - play and that we need not be boxed in by other people's expectations.