ALICANTE.- Art and sport are two cultural expressions which are of ever-increasing interest for the general public. The exhibition The Avant-garde and Sport in the IVAM Collection, which Bancaja presents at its Cultural Centre in Alicante, is taking place thanks to the collaboration agreement between the IVAM and Bancaja which, every year, enables the Valencian museum to bring its artworks closer to the citizens of Alicante.
Art's relationship with sport is as ancient as the history of man itself as a producer of images. Ancient societies conceived the figure of the athlete as a superman of sorts, imbued with extraordinary physical qualities, qualities which relate their lineage to the military aristocracy and even to divinity. Artists extolled sport and its athletes as a metaphor of mankind's survival instinct and of the striving for progress and the improvement of communities led by an aristocratic elite. As is the case with art, external values are also reflected in sport, which highlight the evolutionary expectations of a determinate social model.
This present exhibition analyzes the complex yet fruitful relationship between modern art and sport throughout the XX century through a selection of works from the IVAM Collections, with special attention being given to the contributions made by historical Avant-garde artists such as László Moholy-Nagy, Karel Teige, Walter Dexel, Theo van Doesburg, Gustav Klucis or Alexander Rodchenko.
Throughout the course of the modern age, sporting events have occupied an increasingly more important position within the wide-ranging offer of leisure time activites of industrial cities and their public spaces. The participation in sport and its viewing in vast stadia and arenas have long ceased to be the preserve of a privileged- and male dominated- minority and has become one of the most spectacular phenomena of popular culture of our times. The development of mass means of communication such as the cinema, radio and the illustrated press during the first decades of the XX century contributed to amplifying, as never before, the impact of these human concentrations. This, in turn, has given rise to the emergence of new- albeit secular- popular legends: athletes. Values inherent to sport such as physical conditioning and technical preparation, the drive for self-improvement, rivalry and competition, team spirit and the mass dynamism of large competitions fascinated the Futurist and Constructivist Avant-garde, committed to the utopia of a social transformation through the arts.
In the emerging Soviet Union, artists such as Gustav Klucis or Alexander Rodchenko illustrated postcards, posters or journals such as USSR in Construction by means of radical photomontages, instant photos and typographic innovations. These artists of the Soviet Constructive Avant-garde chronicled and extolled the deeds and achievements of their young athletes in the Spartakiada as an example of the unyielding drive of the new society born of the revolution. These Spartakiadas, international sporting events promoted by the Soviet Communist Party, were organized as events of a friendly nature in a gesture of solidarity between peoples as a response to the Modern Olympic Games in 1896, which, in left-wing circles, was accused of using sporting competition to promote chauvinism and warmongering ultra-nationalism.
The 1936 Olympiad held in Berlin ended up becoming an authentic international showcase for the dissemination of the supposed achievements of Adolf Hitler's National Socialism. The German photographer and film director, Leni Riefenstahl immortalized the dreams of Arian racial supremacy in the bodies and deeds of German athletes in her innovative film documentary, Olympia. Acting as a counterbalance to this and in an attempt to offset Nazi propaganda, the artist, John Heartfield, undertook a series of photomontages for the magazine of communist affiliation, AIZ, in which he denounced the manipulation of information orchestrated by Goebbels and the appearance of a new architectural phenomenon: the sinister concentration camps designed by Nazism for racial extermination.