The final installment of the Gallery of Crossed Destinies at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) opened on Monday with an installation from Head Football Coach Aaron Kelton. Now in his second year at the College, Kelton was awarded NESCAC Coach of the Year honors in 2010 after football completed a perfect 8-0 season. In an attempt to bring his experiences as a coach to the gallery, Kelton’s selections, titled “From the Coach’s Seat,” feature a mixture of inspirational quotations and art pieces that he described as working together to form “reflections of the different stages of athletics.”
The coach agreed to participate in the project in an effort to expose himself and his team to new ideas. “I like to be engaged in everything that’s going on, and this was outside my comfort zone a bit, but it was a great experience,” Kelton said. Community engagement is something that Kelton also emphasizes with his team, and he viewed this opportunity to marry sports and arts as an example of his team becoming immersed in the community. “It’s important for our guys to be involved in the community because we’re one of the biggest teams on campus,” Kelton said. “I try to expose them to different ideas, and I want the community to see the great things they’re able to do.”
Kelton’s eclectic selections of paintings and sculpture were paired with quotations from a range of major figures in athletics, from Muhammed Ali and Michael Jordan to John Wooden and Tommy LaSorda. The artwork and quotes were divided based on five major themes that Kelton considered integral components of the athlete’s psyche: passion/commitment, desire/success, motivation/determination, faith/dreams and achievement.
The gallery’s main wall, featuring pieces that Kelton identified with passion/commitment, included a large red and blue oil painting titled “Game” (1978) by Phillip Guston. The work features a pack of circular shapes in the lower half of the painting juxtaposed with a single triangular shape cresting atop the circular shapes. Kelton associated this triangular shape with Michael Jordan because of its unique conformation and its position above the group of circular shapes. “I looked at the painting, and I knew I wanted it,” Kelton said to a full crowd of student athletes, colleagues and community members. “I picked a quote from Michael Jordan because it reminded me of him; he was different and above all the other players.” Consistent with the design of the gallery, Kelton matched the piece to an inspirational quote from the all time great: “I failed over and over again. That’s why I succeed.”
In addition to several pieces that were not overtly related to sports, such as a still life by William Michael Harnett called “Deutsche Press” (1882), Kelton found several pieces with clear connections to his role as a football coach. “I wanted to relate football and being a head football coach to artwork,” Kelton said. “Football is an art, and what we do every day is an art form.”
In this vein, Kelton placed a large sculpture of an inflatable yellow ice pack titled “Ice Bag – Scale B, Yellow” (1971) by Claes Oldenburg in the center of the gallery. He paired the sculpture with a quote from Penn. State University’s Head Football Coach Joe Paterno: “The will to win is important. The will to prepare is crucial.” With its obvious allusions to the physical devotion necessary to succeed in athletics, the sculpture is indicative of the fusion of arts and sports.
The gallery also features a two-foot bronze sculpture of a nude woman with an outstretched arm by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth titled “The Star” (1918). Accompanying the piece is a quote from an unknown author that reads, “Dreams are why you get started; discipline is what keeps you going.” The precision of the woman’s pose and the grace of her physique recall the strength and composure required of successful athletes, reinforcing Kelton’s assertion that sports are art forms in themselves.
While the artworks themselves are not cohesive, Kelton’s application of inspirational quotes helped the viewer to understand each piece as an athlete might. A sculpture of an exultant bust such “Head of a Devotee” (10th-11th century) from central India might not immediately recall a quarterback scrambling out of the pocket. However, when viewed alongside the quote from golfer Arnold Palmer, “Always make a total effort, even when the odds are against you,” one understands the qualities of complete abandon and dedication carved into the sunken face of a religious zealot as congruous with the tireless practices that a star receiver turns in before finally snaring an end zone pass to win a championship.
In the Gallery of Crossed Destinies, what first appears as radically irreconcilable, the idea of emotion translated into canvas wall hangings and the concept of a defensive lineman hurling himself headlong into an unsuspecting quarterback, harmonizes to challenge our conceptions of essential artistic themes. The exhibition will be on display until Dec. 4.