Friday, September 28, 2018

High Museum Fist Bumps with Artist Glenn Kaino and Olympian/Human Rights Icon Tommie Smith


Next month marks 50 years since Mexico City hosted the Games of the XIXth Olympiad.

In step with this five-ringed milestone, on Sept. 29 the High Museum of Art in Atlanta opens a new human rights- and Olympic-centric exhibition to remain on view through early February.

For an LA-based conceptual artist and one of history's most iconic Olympic gold medalists, the exhibition With Drawn Arms: Glenn Kaino & Tommie Smith marks the culmination of a six-year partnership.

In press materials for the installation and in conversation at the exhibition's media event, Kaino said he found inspiration from Smith before they met at the athlete's home in Stone Mountain, Ga., during 2012.

John Dominis, Time & Life/Getty Images
At his California studio, Kaino had a picture of Smith with teammate John Carlos and Australia's Peter Norman on a board, sort of in the background. The artist said once an opportunity to meet the athlete took shape, the process to arrange an introduction and discuss a collaboration moved quickly.

"My practices are process-based and so the conversation was really 'let's take a journey together and let's see where this goes," said Kaino.

Smith concurred, and according to Kaino, "The first thing I did was cast his arm."

After experimenting with several life-sized and miniaturized versions of Smith's outstretched elbow and fist, including a few thousand Kaino described as small G.I. Joe-like versions, the duo discussed the option to create a suspended sculpture.

The finished work titled "Bridge" -- featuring 150 gold-painted steel casts, fiberglass, wire and gold paint -- is now the centerpiece of the project, with the suspension elements connecting the past, present and an arm's length path to the future.

"The image of Tommie's silent protest on the victory stand has become an iconic symbol of resistance and unity for generations," said Kaino. "Our goal with this project is to ensure that Tommie's message resonates for years to come."

For Smith, who contributed several objects from his personal archives -- including photographs, uniforms, Olympic souvenirs spanning 1968 to present, and other mementos of his travels -- the exhibition is an extension of the pro-human rights messages he sought to convey before, during and since his record-setting 200m run of 19.83 on October 16, 1968.

Tommie Smith (left) and Glenn Kaino
"Mexico is a part of my life where [I] had to sacrifice to move forward," said Smith. "Dr. [Martin Luther] King said, 'there is no forward movement without sacrifice' and I believed in those words.

"In other words, take a chance, and that's what I did," added Smith.

With Drawn Arms fills the lobby and second levels of the museum's Anne Cox Chambers Wing, with an original 2018 sculpture titled "Invisible Man (Salute)" greeting visitors to the High's outdoor piazza.

The life-sized likeness of an arm-raised Smith is cast in blackened aluminum and mirrored stainless steel, inviting all to experience their own likeness "within a continuum of history since 1968," according to the High press release.

The lobby gallery features several works on paper including drawings, alcohol transfer prints and a colorful montage of silk-screened boards on view across from a framed black T-shirt with the message "UNITE" (the "I" in white ink is Smith's arm as captured in the 1968 Olympic photograph by John Dominis via Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images).

Visitors may also see brief excerpts from a planned documentary film about the six-year collaboration. It was interesting to watch edited images of Smith climbing Stone Mountain as part of the film.

In addition to experiencing the gallery-sized "Bridge," the second level spaces showcase Kaino's 2013 recreation of a 1968 Olympic medals podium.

The work titled "19.83" is a steel-and-gold-plated work "presented with related prints and drawings depicting frame-by-frame images of Smith's race" as it aired on ABC.

The alcohol transfer prints featuring the screen grabs are reminiscent of four treatments Kaino executed, on view in the lobby, with an enlarged Newsweek magazine cover that labeled Smith "The Angry Black Athlete" heading to Mexico City.

Kaino honed in on the magazine cover during his first visit to Smith's home, and Smith's copy of the July 1968 edition is on view in an upstairs gallery.

Some of the surprises in the exhibition are drawings Smith created, including one scrapbook collage featuring youthful track and field snapshots and hand-drawn captions. Kaino also asked Smith to draw himself, which the athlete, teacher and civil rights leader created as ink on paper illustration from the outside looking in at himself.

It is also fun to spot Smith's official 1968 athlete pin -- an oversized badge with an athletics ribbon that served as his accreditation for the Games -- in a shadow box filled with other Olympic pins he collected (Smith told me he had many more pins still at home).

A three-inch plastic button promoting the Olympic Project for Human Rights, which Smith launched months before Mexico City in order to bring attention to issues in Africa, the Americas and worldwide, is centered in its own frame near Smith's portrait in the Oval Office with President Barack Obama.

Smith and other 1968 Olympians will gather in Mexico City next week to celebrate 50 years since the Games, so I asked him whether there's a word to describe his feelings about this milestone.

"Fulfillment," said Smith.

For readers who catch this post in time, Smith and Kaino will participate in a conversation with the museum's modern and contemporary curator, Michael Rooks, at the High on Sept. 29 at 2 p.m. The event is free for High members, with non-member reserved tickets ($14.50) available online.

Exhibition photos by Nicholas Wolaver; 1968 image by John Dominis via Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images; top image via AFP

Glenn Kaino (American, born 1972) Bridge 
courtesy artist and Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago
Copyright Glenn Kaino. Photo by Mike Jensen
Glenn Kaino
(American, born 1972
fiberglass, steel, wire and gold paint
Courtesy of the artist and Kavi Gupta Gallery, Chicago.
Glenn Kaino. Photo by Mike

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