Big Shaq Attack: “Size Does Matter” at The FLAG Art Foundation

When competing for the ever-shrinking entertainment dollar in this ever-struggling economy, art museums and galleries compete to find bigger and better gimmicks to catch the public eye. In the new exhibition Size Does Matter at The FLAG Art Foundation, they may have come up with the biggest gimmick yet—all 7’1” and 320 pounds of the one and only Shaquille O'Neal, basketball superstar and larger-than-life American icon. FLAG asked Shaq to curate a show with the theme of bigger (and sometimes smaller) is better. The results are surprisingly good. At the very least, FLAG has set a record for the biggest curator ever—one that may never be topped.

Size Does Matter reflect both ends of the physical spectrum, both the gigantic and the microscopic, in an attempt to meditate on what size really means and can say in the hands of a great artist. Using someone like Shaq, who faces the reality of being too big for the “normal” world, FLAG channels that unique perspective into a unique exhibition. In addition, they earn street cred with people who would never step inside of an art museum under normal circumstances.

The tiny works offer valuable perspective, but it’s an unavoidable reality that the humongous items draw the crowds. Chuck Close’s 2004 portrait Lynda provides a fine example of the many supersized, tightly cropped portraits that Close has painted in his career. Bound to a wheelchair since a tragic spinal artery collapse in 1988, Close grids off a monumental canvas and then paints a series of abstract images that, when seen from a distance, come together into a recognizable face. Seen close up, however, each square of the grid stands alone as a work of art. Whereas Shaq towers over the world, Close lives slightly below eye level, yet both of them have much to say about size and perspective.

Jeff Koons’ 9 foot by 11 foot 2003 painting Beach House examines bigger as a state of mind. You can almost smell the excess in this faux collage featuring a browned, busty babe at the center. If the American dream used to be a home in the suburbs with a white picket fence, the new American dream (or nightmare) might be the superfluous beach house in which we indulge our delusions of grandeur. That ideal is a fake as the endowment of the featured female.

Size Does Matter allows us to see all sides of the issue and bring them down to our level. I’d suspect that Shaq had a little help and guidance in selecting these pieces, which include other great contemporary artists such as Andreas Gursky, Anselm Kiefer, Elizabeth Peyton, and Cindy Sherman, but the selecting was just the tiniest part of the curating task here. The vision necessary was the view from above, which O’Neil and FLAG give with enlightening clarity.

[Many thanks to Roy for pointing out this big show to me.]

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