Artist Norm Paris Imagines Monuments to Star Athletes
At his recent exhibition “Containerful,” first installed at TSA Gallery and then presented by fellow New York gallery The Proposition, Norm Paris presented crates and drawings designed around the transfer of valuable artifacts—a kind of Pop art archaeology. The artifacts in question are sculptures that commemorate star athletes. These objects of memorial, however, do not exist; instead, in the exhibition they are alluded to and represented by empty spaces in boxes and drawings, leaving it up to the viewer to imagine how these superhumans would be remembered through art.
For Crate for Sculpture of Earnest Byner (2014), Paris created a formally complex architectural structure of raw wood and dense, pale-blue foam, with complicated armatures meant to support an imaginary sculptural object. The work notes the career of the high-ranking but little remembered running back Earnest Byner, who played for the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns in the NFL. The space for the unmade object is about the size of a large man’s body and is shaped like a football player jogging across a field in full pads and uniform. Similar to the work of artists such as David Hendren and Rachel Harrison, Paris draws from popular culture and art history to make sardonic, haptic artworks that connect the imagination of the viewer to the perception of the body within the space of the sculpture.
Paris remarked in conversation with painter Greg Lindquist, “I see our search as artists as being an act of synthesis as much as it’s an act of contemporary recall. So synthesizing: I get excited in my work when I can look at Piranesi but then I’ll look at a contemporary stadium and I’ll think about Rem Koolhaas and I’ll find these unexpected combinations of things, from recent to distant sources.” In Pistol Pete and Father Press (2014) Paris has drawn a wooden armature supporting a crusty monument to Pete Maravich and his father, Press Maravich, both renowned basketball stars. The drawing—in ink, acrylic, and graphite—envisions a sculpture that will never be built for a monument that will never be made. But it ties together histories of art and popular culture into an interesting dialogue, as with Duchamp’s work, which sometimes imagined popular culture narratives using objects that were purely of rhetorical invention.
Paris’s work invokes sports as an aestheticized spectacle of memory and mental tallying. The personal histories of the players are woven into his artworks, lauding their triumphs, resurfacing their achievements, and foregrounding the act of forgetting.