Issue #197
Clues By The Thousands September 28, 2012

Paul Pfeiffer
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (07)
Digital duraflex print
48 x 60 inches
Collection Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman NY, Courtesy The FLAG Art Foundation
©Paul Pfeiffer
Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

View Gallery

Paul Pfeiffer

The Blanton Museum of Art, Austin

January 13, 2013
by Jessica Matthews

1) The ball may be thrown in any direction with one or both hands (Naismith).

Similar to any childhood gym class, visitors to the Blanton’s The Rules of Basketball: Works by Paul Pfeiffer and James Naismith’s Original Rules of Basketball have to know the rules of the game before they are allowed to participate. A sacred text, James Naismith’s Original Rules of Basketball sits in the center of the entrance gallery, nearly severed from the spectacle of Paul Pfeiffer’s photographs and projections. It is a humble starting point, freed from celebrity, fans, and the consumerist nature of present day sport. Two works from Paul Pfeiffer share the presence of Naismith’s document, almost as an initiation into the world of basketball today. They are the muffled cries of fans you hear just before you step into the thrill of the stadium.

4) The ball must be held by the hands. The arms or body must not be used for holding it (Naismith).

Mirroring Naismith’s rules of the game is Paul Pfeiffer’s projection John 3:16, a video loop closely following the movement of a basketball in play. The video’s central composition transforms the object of the ball into some sort of icon. The athletes become secondary, simply a means to achieving the ball’s destiny. Many of Pfeiffer’s works allude to religious themes, often through the title. In the context of sport, religious references call into examination the similarities in the behaviors found in both religion and sport.

6) A foul is striking at the ball with the fist, violations of rule 3 and 4 and such described in rule 5 (Naismith).

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a series of photographs throughout the exhibition, present basketball players idolized in moments of glory. The players are robbed of personal identity; Pfeiffer meticulously removes the numbers on the jerseys and faces are often out of sight. The images are not about personal fame. The role of the athlete is the monument and the individual players, themselves, come and go. The fans too are mostly faceless; distinctions are cast away to form a unified fan identity, a following.

8) A goal shall be made when the ball is thrown or batted from the grounds into the basket and stays there, providing those defending the goal do not touch or disturb the goal (Naismith).

Pfeiffer’s video projections dwarf in scale compared to the heroic sizes of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They are intimate, however brief, recollections of significant moments in sports history. A short video is played on loop, creating a slightly awkward sequence of imagery that immediately prompts speculation. Fragment of a Crucifixion (After Francis Bacon) replays an instant of intense emotion. A player is caught screaming, out of joy or frustration, while camera flashes throughout the stadium rush to capture the moment.

Guard is a video projection that takes a different stance. No idols are framed, simply the ordinariness of a guard. Although the environment surrounding the figure is almost identical, the video is lackluster. The crowd seems unanimated in contrast to the epic moments of athletic stardom.

10) The umpire shall be the judge of the men and shall note the fouls and notify the referee when three consecutive fouls have been made. He shall have power to disqualify men according to Rule 5 (Naismith).

The gallery of The Rules of Basketball gives the sense of a sacred space. This is in part Pfeiffer’s approach to the game, but also due to the installation of the work. The space is unobtrusive; each photograph and video is bestowed room to reflect, worship or meditate on the glory of the sport. Perhaps a slightly less intentional success to the aura of the gallery is the subtle Tibetan Buddhist chanting permeating the space from the neighboring exhibition. Upon exiting the space an excerpt from Paul Pfeiffer’s appearance in season two of Art:21 also plays on loop, providing further explanation of the themes and processes surrounding his imagery.

13) The side making the most goals in that time shall be declared the winner (Naismith).

Whether a Basketball fan or not, The Rules of Basketball, on view through January 13th, is worth your while. More than a review of epic sport moments, the exhibition is a complex investigation of new media, human behavior and the role of sport in contemporary culture.

Jessica Mathews is an artist and writer located in East Austin.


Naismith, James. Original Rules of Basketball. 1891.


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