“Sidelined” curator Samuel Levi Jones, in some ways, takes up the conversation begun by Edwards. His two paintings in the show, convincing and comely as abstractions, are comprised of repeated ovoid shapes: sewn football pigskins that bear grass stains from where Jones rubbed the material on fields that he, a former college football player, once spent time on. Consider, for example, how the whiter of the two paintings, No Fucking Liberty (2017), which was made from the underside of the footballs, asks us to give substance to abstract concepts—like liberty, capital, and patriotism—to render the vague shapes these notions have in our minds as concrete as footballs, to stain these colorless abstractions with our own experience.
So, let’s start with liberty: Overwhelmingly white team owners, by forcing players to stand during the anthem, silence their right to protest speech. Is patriotism for the players a condition of employment? And if so, who decides what is patriotic? Certainly, those who control the money have a weighty say. If we decide to mark athletics off as a territory where speech is not quite free, what arena is next?
We might imagine the art world is a bastion of free speech, but even there money curbs our liberty. Recently, for instance, the director of the Queens Museum
was forced to step down by a conservative board, which controls the purse strings. Museum boards and acquisition committees also have an outsized say in what works get bought for and ultimately shown by museums, while the market itself punishes those deemed unattractively political. Since we all spend the vast majority of our waking lives at jobs—and even when we’re not actually at the office our behavior and opinions are subject to review by employers—how free to speak out are any of us? What sort of freedom exists when every aspect of life is subject to the market?
Those who ask if politics stain the beauty of art or, for that matter, the enjoyment of an entertaining football game are really asking, “Will it sell?” Will, as Trump has suggested, ticket sales drop? Whereas the more pertinent question is: Will we finally buy what these protests have to say?