This exhibit seeks to show not only the struggles of boxing throughout the history of the sport, but also to reveal the beauty in these boxer’s achievements. The life of a boxer can be incredibly tough and taxing. George Bellows’ depiction of the historic fight between Jack Dempsey and Luis Angel Firpo illustrates this beautifully. Bellows was not alone in his efforts of portraying struggling fighters, as many other artists also sensed the trials of professional boxing. Jean-Michel Basquiat expands the conflict by not only including the vocation of boxing, but also the race of the boxer. An unknown artist from the Hellenistic period elegantly constructs a sculpture of a fighting veteran where you can visually see the strain that boxing has left on him. Neil Leifer, along with Bellows, shows the defeat of a villain in the ring and how that allowed them to escape from the harassment of the world. Bellows has a recurring theme of boxing in his paintings, but a particular painting of his wonderfully displays the discrimination of boxers from the highest class in society. Finally, Cheryl Dunn ends the exhibit with a piece that presents how the pressures and stereotypes of boxing don’t only hurt males, but women as well.
Dempsey Through The Ropes, George Bellows, 1923, Lithographic Crayon, 25.107.1
George Bellows captures an incredible moment in boxing history with “Dempsey Through The Ropes”. He witnesses the historic Jack Dempsey and Luis Angel Firpo bout. The raw emotion conveyed by the use of hurried lines and detailed stress on the bodies of the fighters illustrates this triumph of struggle for Firpo, the winning fighter. However, Dempsey walked away a winner in some respect. Jack Dempsey was the villain of boxing, meaning everyone loved to hate him. He got this assumed title by being the best around with an arrogant swagger. By going down in a fight of this scale, Dempsey was freed from the public eye because he finally lost. This meant that his struggle as a villain was over, and that he could continue living his life in a more peaceful state.
The Boxer, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1982, Acrylic Crayon, Whitney Museum
Jean-Michel Basquiat uses “The Boxer” to show a victorious stance of a boxer after he accomplishes his goals. Basquiat illustrates a fighter with both hands, clenched as fists, raised in the air. However, the raised fists double as a black power salute. The painted boxer is black, and this pose that he assumes not only represents overcoming struggles that the boxing world itself presents, but also conquering the struggles that being a black man in a “white man’s world” presents.
Seated Boxer, Unknown, 100-50 BCE, Bronze, Museo Nazionale Romano (Rome)
An unknown Hellenistic Greek artist sculpts “Seated Boxer” to depict an old, defeated boxer. The copper is faded on areas of his body to show blood that has been shed and bruises that have been acquired throughout the years of fighting. Beauty is not being represented by a stoic physique of a young, handsome man, rather in the accomplishments that we assume this man has done in his lifetime. His hands are crossed, indicating that his fighting career is finished, and there is a sense of beauty in an ending of something involving copious amounts of training and hard work.
Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston, Neil Leifer, 1965, Photograph, Sports Illustrated
Neil Leifer captures a moment close to that of “Dempsey Through The Ropes” by George Bellows in his own photograph called “Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston”. Sonny Liston was the villain of boxing at the time, and everyone wanted to see him go down. Leifer perfectly captures the moment of Ali standing over his defeated opponent with a face that captured the emotion of the entire country. Leifer masterfully captured the unanimous enjoyment of the United States and Ali when Liston hit the floor, which is an incredibly overwhelming thing when you realize a feeling felt by millions of people could be explained by the face of one man.
Both Members of This Club, George Bellows, 1909, Oil on Canvas, National Gallery of Art
George Bellows attacks the upper class for discriminating boxers and looking at them as animals in his piece “Both Members of This Club”. Boxers would come to clubs and box for the elite group in society because public boxing was illegal and this was a way around that. However, the audience saw this as doing these boxers a favor and so they mistreated them, telling them to keep going even when they were physically destroyed such as the boxer on the left. Bellows draws the crowd in a contorted, charactercher-esque way to illustrate their twisted view of boxers at the time.
Peeka Boo Ring Card Girl/Atlantic City, Cheryl Dunn, 1993, Photograph, Unknown
Cheryl Dunn shows that the struggles of boxing not only affect men, but women as well in her piece “Peeka Boo Ring Card Girl/Atlantic City”. A scantily clad woman is being displayed to arouse the audience and to draw in more fans to the sport. This woman is being used as a means of expanding the sport, and that is completely degrading. However, the woman must do as her employers say because her paycheck is in their hands.