You've never seen sports look like they do on the walls of this L.A. art gallery
Gallery 1988 sits on Melrose Ave. in Hollywood, Calif. It’s the type of space made for this town -- one whose walls are regularly filled with images from films, cartoons, TV shows and anything else that makes people fall in love with entertainment and move out west in the hopes of making more of it. If you’ve ever had intense feelings for "Ghostbusters", needed portraits of characters from "Bob's Burgers" or wanted to top your Christmas tree with something from "They Live," this was the place for you.
But their latest show was something different: The theme was Major League Baseball, and artists were challenged to meld the sport and its imagery with a more artistic sensibility. At first blush, it seemed like an odd fit. It turned out brilliantly:
Our pal and Dodgers superfan Ken Garduno created this painting for our official Major League Baseball art show, and it’s a hometown favorite. Pick up the Dodger Dog and see all of the work in the @MLB show here: https://t.co/7wED9bKwht pic.twitter.com/6WMa3qc84a— Gallery1988 (@Galleries1988) November 20, 2019
Sara Richard's work often graces the cover of comic books and features a kind of dreamlike quality that is far different from anything you would see hang in someone's sports den.
After checking out the kind of sports pieces that hung in her brother's room, Richard said that she was "far out of my comfort zone."
"I'm very stylized in my anatomy, and drawing a very athletic person is very tricky for me," Richard said in a phone call. She asked herself, "what take could I bring to this?" and so she decided to juxtapose a very art deco and "elegant" woman with "the idea of what people have" in sports imagery.
"Baseball's such a dude-heavy topic," Richard said with a laugh, "I wanted to bring some female energy into that, as well -- you know, give some of the ladies going to the show some representation."
While the marriage between the gallery and the sport -- the first between the space and a sports league -- may seem strange, it's actually "in the gallery's DNA," Gallery 1988 co-owner and TV writer Jensen Karp wrote in an email.
"First off, the main reason we're called Gallery 1988 is because of the 1988 Dodgers. I am born and raised in LA, and that was such a massive year for me," Karp wrote. "I grew up a Dodgers die hard and so many of earliest memories involve going to games and watching that classic series with the A's."
And really, when you get down to it, sports are pop culture like anything else.
“We really celebrate fandoms more than movies/TV," Karp wrote. "We appreciate dedicated fanbases and baseball clearly has that.”
That's obvious in Doug LaRocca's piece.
A lifelong Yankees fan in a family of Yankees fans, LaRocca wrote in an email that he “wanted to do something more personal when I heard about this project. Baseball meant a lot to me growing up, so it was a no brainer to go this route. This image kind of encapsulates my childhood — I did actually have a wall of pennants in my bedroom.”
Larocca also didn't see much of a difference between this work and his other pieces, which include prints of Super Mario Bros. and "Star Wars."
"I pretty much approached the project the same way as my other work," Larocca wrote. "I think the two are actually very similar. It’s really all about fandom and passion for a subject matter. Whether it’s movies, comics or sports, it all comes from a place of love."
Elisa Wikey embraced that with her decidedly sassy take on Dinger -- the Rockies' delightfully purple dinosaur mascot. “I don’t think I’ll ever be designing anything for Topps cards or anything like that," she said with a laugh.
While attending art school in Denver, Wikey would sit in the famed purple row to watch the Rockies, where she fell in love with the big plush triceratops. So, for this show, she knew what she wanted to do. "From the start, I always wanted him to have a really smarmy attitude," she joked.
Tom Valente went a different direction. He decided to interpret MLB team names extremely literally for the six prints he created. This led to some difficult decisions: How do you put clothing on a manta ray? How could a snake slither its way into a uniform top despite the whole lacking arms thing?
And here are the rest of ‘em! pic.twitter.com/cEVHBN15Jj— Tom Valente (@TomValente) November 14, 2019
"I [wanted to] capture the feel and fan of going to a baseball game and the icongraphy," Valente said. "I was hoping the prints would appeal to fans of all ages. Baseball is such a family sport, so I was hoping that there would be something about the images that kids would enjoy, but adults could also really gravitate toward."
That's what the show accomplished: showing just how varied baseball fandom could be, and how many ways there are to enjoy the game and all of its weirdness.
"I was looking for artists who could encapsulate the feeling of watching or going to a baseball game," Karp said about the artists he tasked with interpreting the show's mission. "There is a cathartic feeling for baseball fans to watch the game. I've grown up to be a huge NBA fan as well, but I can still admit there's something wildly unique about a fan's relationship with baseball that you don't find with any other American sport. It's an experience. And I wanted artists to get that message across."
Wikey may have said it best. Describing a Minor League game she attended this past summer, it wasn't strictly about the game -- she remembered the fireworks she saw, the beers she drank and the heckling they took part in.
"The other great thing I really love about baseball is it's not just a sport," she said. "You can watch someone play a sport, you can interact with a giant mascot of who-knows-what-it's-going-to-be, you've got the walk-up music, bobblehead giveaways ... it's checking so many entertainment aspects. It's a really strange Venn diagram and I love the randomness."
You can check out the Gallery 1988 x MLB art show at 7308 Melrose Ave until Nov. 30. You can also view all the pieces online here.
Michael Clair writes for MLB.com. He spends a lot of time thinking about walk-up music and believes stirrup socks are an integral part of every formal outfit.