Above: Artist Baseera Khan and her piece “BRAIDRAGE.” (2017-19) Photos courtesy of University Art Museum. 

Opened in late June, a new sports-focused exhibition at University Art Museum of the University at Albany, SUNY seems to have arrived at the perfect time. The undefeated World Cup win by the US women’s national soccer team in July sparked attention to the gender wage gap and what that means about our larger society as a whole. What do we value? What kind of structures are instilled in us? How to break them? They’re the very same questions the museum’s Interim Director and Chief Curator Corinna Ripps Schaming hope visitors will begin to explore after being introduced to the concepts, issues and works at “ACE: art on sports, promise and selfhood.”

The contemporary museum is hosting a season-long exhibition through Dec. 7. In addition to the works on display, the multidisciplinary show will include student-artist workshops, public art discussions and performances. 

“There is so much work happening right now that does involve sports because it’s such a huge part of our everyday culture…it’s a point of entry for understanding a lot of larger issues. We’re on a university campus with a large number of sports teams so we wanted to think about, ‘How can we make our exhibitions here, bringing in artists from around the world, involve interesting subjects that might be relevant to our students?’ Sports seemed like the natural fit,” Ripps Schaming says. 

Pieces like Baseera Khan’s “BRAIDRAGE”—an indoor climbing wall featuring 99 dyed resin handholds casted from the artist’s own body and embedded with wearable Cuban chains, hair and hypothermia blankets—offer a tangible way for audiences to engage in the artist’s story as well as overarching issues such as identity and cultural expectations.  Khan will be climbing the wall as a performance art piece on Oct. 22, as pictured above.

Other pieces will explore the pressures of career athleticism, gender roles, mental health and the intersection between our pastimes and socio-political structures. 

Over a dozen artists of a broad range in age, background, discipline and professional arts experience are involved in the exhibition, which the curator hopes will offer an abundance of opportunity for students to connect and learn from the featured work, particularly given the large population of student athletes at UAlbany. 

“There’s a connection between what artists go through as well as athletes,” Ripps Schaming says. “If you think of certain words that come to mind, it can be as basic as ‘practice, discipline, reach, failure, risk.’ Those are all unifying ideas. I feel like those conversations between artists and athletes don’t often take place. Our goal is to bring student athletes and artists together around some of those subjects and see where those conversations lead.” 

For the museum, the curator continues, the focus and advantage of being part of a campus is the ability to keep in touch with a young audience that is being molded, maturing and adjusting to a quickly changing climate, in the current state of societal norms and practice. There is a unique perspective in how artwork is communicated or interpreted through their lens.

“ACE” installation lobby featuring Radamés “Juni” Figueroa’s “Tropical readymade landscape.” (2019)

“That’s what I love about being a museum on a university campus. Fresh thinking, and I think the most profound thinking, is happening among our students. To be able to be a site for those kinds of conversations is exciting,” Ripps Schaming says. 

Students on the University at Albany campus will also have an opportunity to get an up close and personal look at a few of the artists’’ processes and their work.

The University at Albany Strategic Allocation of Resources (StAR) program recently awarded a micro-grant of $8,000 to fund a series of two-day residencies throughout the fall semester. featuring artists Radamés “Juni” Figueroa (Sept. 24-25), Baseera Khan (Oct. 22-23) and Ashley Teamer (Nov. 12-13) at the museum.

Their residencies will include on-site engagements with UAlbany students and faculty across the disciplines through lectures, cross-departmental panels, student workshops, class visits and programming and exhibition tours. Tuesday nights will consist of performances and artist talks open to the public and the rest of two-day block will be dedicated to student engagement. 

On any given day, Ripps Schaming says, the museum will be active with workshops, artist talks, performances and roundtable discussions. Students will have the opportunity to work with international artists who are sharing and developing their vision on site, allowing them to expand their worldview using art and athleticism as a common connection.

“We’re here. We’ve been redoubling our efforts to reach out to students, especially through faculty to bring in their classes to the space, coming in with an expectation and hopefully leaving with a very different one, looking to come back again.”   

Darío Escobar’s “Obverse and Reverse” (2011)

“ACE: art on sports, promise and selfhood” at University Art Museum, Albany will be on display through Dec. 7. An artist reception will be held Friday, Sept. 13, 5-7 PM.