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Fan Cave fuses art, baseball cultures

NEW YORK -- You could criticize Brett Myers in his Indians debut for throwing a two-out mistake pitch to Edwin Encarnacion, who then launched a three-run homer to break a tie in the fifth inning of Cleveland's 10-8 loss at Toronto.

But that was the on-field stuff Thursday night. That was one of the many live Major League games that were being watched live on the 15-screen Cave Monster. Amid the considerable din of such drama, a large group of observers inside the MLB Fan Cave also was transfixed on several beautiful paintings, mingling over wine and cheese, a curious new Manhattan scene that will become a trend.

It was the grand opening of the Fan Cave Art Gallery, a springtime fusion of the baseball and pop culture worlds. Art connoisseurs mingled with the nine Cave Dwellers. It is right up front at the MLB hub on Fourth Street and Broadway, a feel-good presence in an art community. As some watched Myers struggle in his Indians debut, others were attuned to the varied use of mediums in a collection by Thierry Guetta (a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash), including a powerful image of Jackie Robinson blasting color amid a monstrous hue. Some of the pieces feature baseball, some not at all.

"I'm looking at the crowd that's here, and when we talked about bringing art to the Fan Cave, you are the people we expected to show up," MLB executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan said to the assembled crowd. "You've kind of put proof to our theory and that pleases us a lot. ... This is the first of many different shows, and we expect you to be back here for the next show and bring two friends to that, four friends to the next, and just remember that this is Major League Baseball that did this, and put baseball in part of your cultural set for the summer time."

The new gallery will showcase a collection of unique pieces of artwork from a rotating selection of artists featured throughout the year, curated by Kerri Lisa of Bravo's "Gallery Girls." The first artist featured is a Los Angeles-based pop artist who is one of the most prolific and talked-about artists today, having designed the cover of Madonna's greatest hits compilation among his works.

For Lisa, an aspiring art dealer, this is a match made in heaven. As "the son my father never had," she grew up with baseball, specifically Yankees baseball. In recent years, she acquired a serious taste for art, and before long she was on TV, her two passions brought together in a way she could not have imagined before.

"Baseball is a huge part of our culture, and so is art, so to bring them together is exciting," Lisa said. "It's groundbreaking. I really think the contemporary art scene right now is different from what people perceive art to be, and it's just important to put art in front of the younger demographic, show them how much fun it could be. It inspires you. You look at a piece, and it might make you more creative, might make you want to try something new. That's what it's about, putting art in front of people in a different way and exposing artists who are really breaking the cliche idea of what art is. It's taking risks.

"It's also the community around here. It just makes complete sense to bring in art. There are thousands of emerging artists in the area, and it kind of inspires them to keep doing what they're doing. Like: 'Wow, there's art in a baseball Fan Cave? Never thought that would happen.' But that's what our generation is really into, now. We want it all. We want music, art, sports, pop culture, all in one place. It really brings people together at the end of the day."

Much of the conversation Thursday night centered on that topic. "People want to know what's going on there inside the Fan Cave," Lisa said.

"It's something I'm so happy to be a part of, because it's not just an art gallery. An art gallery is a room with white walls and art on the walls. It's so much fun here. It just brings a whole new element into art and baseball. I have friends who may never come in here, and they hear someone screaming, and the energy is like nothing else."

Brosnan said Lisa "epitomizes who we're trying to attract to the Fan Cave." As he spoke, there was a painting of The Beatles behind him, the Fab Four all wearing colorful bandanas. There was a Charlie Chan painting, and in it he is leaning with a mitt to make a catch. Meanwhile, there was another shout, another home run, and another chance for the Cave Dwellers to go down the big orange home run tube slide.

"A younger demo now, their entertainment set is huge, it's instantaneous and it's huge," Brosnan said. "It's what they feel the relevant popular culture is at any time. The art exhibit is really what the Fan Cave is all about. This is supposed to be an engine for social media, not just for baseball. Being relevant on social media, you have to be current and popular. ... It's restoring cool to baseball on social media."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.