Rainbow Kick – Wendy White, Pick Up a Knock at Andrew Rafacz
It is an image we all know well when we think of soccer. A player frozen in mid-air, as if swinging on an axis, legs outstretched, climbing above the head as the cleat reaches for the ball, seemingly out of reach and incredibly high and far away, until it makes that miraculous contact of an overhead kick. This image is remembered with the echo of a loud roar; it is the image sportscasters lose their voices to, where the crowd hits fever pitch – utterly spectacular and quintessentially European. But more than this, it is heroic and performative, a show of strength and superiority – it is, in a word, how sports culture codifies “male”. What is the opposite of this image? Wendy White’s (NAP #22, #28) exhibition Pick Up a Knock, currently on view at Andrew Rafacz, delivers the reverse (though not necessarily the antithesis) of the rainbow kick – the international soccer phenomena known as “flopping”. This image is almost equally as ubiquitous, though it champions the idea of failure toward success – the melodramatic falls, and frivolous collapses, all with the hopes of tricking the referee to call a foul. Within this idea of failure towards success – what has the potential to fail more than a young white woman taking on a canonized male subject matter, specifically that of a different race and language? White walks a fine line between representation and metaphor, quietly side stepping the urge to ask too many questions through the form of the exhibition itself. – Stephanie Cristello, Chicago Contributor
Wendy White | El Azteca, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, wood, enamel, 101 x 79 in. Installation view. Photo courtesy of ANDREW RAFACZ.
The exhibition is made up of three parts – the paintings themselves, which are factual references, each with a quote, location, or site to one famous event in soccer history, and equally as large photographic prints on vinyl, that depict players laying flat on the field, gripping their legs or bent over in expressions of agony, in soft transitioning gradients, all installed among wall-to-wall white astroturf. The photographs act as punctuations to the painted fields of color and text within the space, done in White’s usual fashion; stylized type floating on high keyed grounds of color and spray paint, faced with an architectural element. The scale is confrontational not only through the physical installation, but through the carefully edged frames that encase all or some of the sides, as well – adding a grid-like semblance to the surface of the works. Almost none of the gallery’s walls are left bare – the paintings and photographs installed almost side to side, creating a stadium affect within the center of the space. There is no choice but to be within the paintings’ field of vision. In El Azteca, a negative of the text is revealed in white – a reference to the Aztec stadium in Mexico City where Diego Maradonna famously scored the “Hand of God” goal and “The Goal of the Century” to win the 1986 World Cup quarter finals for Argentina against England. The quote issued by Maradonna after the game occupies one of the canvases to the right of the piece, another one on the opposite wall with “clavado” as the prevalent text – the Spanish term for flopping, literally translating to “nailed”.
Wendy White | La Cabeza de Maradona, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, wood, enamel, 98 1/2 x 76 1/2 in. Installation view. Photo courtesy of ANDREW RAFACZ.
Though the paintings themselves describe false failures, the metaphor of the tragic hero resists White’s work. The scale of the photographs alone, while they reference farce, and comedy on some levels, embodies the drama of winning in the loudest fashion possible, by White poignantly positioning herself a tier above her subjects. Where representation falters, likewise, is in our ability to believe the subject in White’s work. Relying so much on the ‘act’ of the sports moment – one that decidedly has all the appearances of being non-masculine, fragile, and weak, yet is also codified in this incredibly male dominated professional sports industry – we ask ourselves if White is just as knowingly cunning, and undercutting her own relationship with these paintings. Something tells me yes. The work in Pick Up a Knock does not mimic flopping, but uses it as a tool to critique the fall itself. Beyond failure, White’s gesture is instead frozen in the spectacular arch the player assumes before scoring the winning goal. The work in this exhibition is forever wrestling with that absent image; like a player in mid-stride, suspended in the air before making final contact with the ball, the body elongated along the horizon of the field.
Wendy White | Clavado, 2013, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, wood, enamel, 74 1/2 x 74 1/2 in. Installation view. Photo courtesy of ANDREW RAFACZ.
Wendy White (American, b.1971) lives and works in New York City. She received her MFA from Rutgers University in 2003. Wendy White has had solo exhibitions at Andrew Rafacz Gallery, Chicago, IL; Leo Koenig Inc., New York, NY; Galeria Moriarty, Madrid, Spain; Van Horn, Düsseldorf, Germany; Maruani & Noirhomme, Brussels, Belgium; and University of Tennessee, Chattanooga.
Stephanie Cristello is an artist, curator, and writer who lives and works in Chicago, IL.