27 July - 14 September 2012
part of Pursuit of Perfection: The Politics of Sport
South London Gallery, London
Sporting celebration given an artistic twist in two exhibitions taking the rare step of addressing another side of the Olympics.
Most of the Cultural Olympiad is concerned with matching the sporting achievements of the coming weeks with artistic excellence but these two exhibitions, neither of which features in the London 2012 Festival, take the rare step of addressing sport head on.
The Design Museum offers a fascinating analysis of human sporting endeavour and the technology which lets it flourish. In a display based around a central bamboo corridor evoking the feel of a velodrome, we see the changing design of everything from cricket bats to a Formula 1 car, bobsleighs and bicycles, surrounded by salient facts and figures.
Among the best moments is the section devoted to controversies, particularly “technological doping”, where design gives athletes an unfair advantage — a full-body Speedo swimsuit, for instance, led to unprecedented record-breaking in the pool, forcing it to be outlawed.
At the South London Gallery, Aleksandra Mir’s Triumph (2009) is among the summer’s most show-stopping installations. A collection of more than 2,500 trophies gathered in Sicily, shown on tatty plinths and piled up in corners, it is hilarious yet melancholy, a graveyard of abandoned kitsch and a testament to easily forgotten minor triumphs.
I also loved Paul Pfeiffer’s Caryatid (2008), in which footballers’ falls and diving histrionics are digitally edited so that they appear to be engaged in contemporary dance.
The show invades the gallery’s near neighbour, Southwark town hall, the highlight being Michel Auder’s amusing but creepy video focusing on the crotches of Olympic athletes at the games in Los Angeles in 1984.
The disparity between sport’s celebratory nature and art’s scepticism and ambiguity means they are uneasy bedfellows but this show thrives on that tension.