It's a Whole New Ballgame for Sports Art: Collectors Are Beginning to See Sports Art as a Wise Investment

By Pandolfi, Keith | Art Business News, September 2005 | Go to article overview

It's a Whole New Ballgame for Sports Art: Collectors Are Beginning to See Sports Art as a Wise Investment


Pandolfi, Keith, Art Business News


Sure, some might scoff at the idea of a self-proclaimed artist finding inspiration in something as daft as a football or basketball game. The fact that some depictions of these sporting events have about as much artistic merit as a velvet Elvis doesn't help either (we won't name names). Still, sports art does have a rather glorious past. Take, for example, those lovely Grecian urns once crafted to commemorate Olympic chariot races of yore. Even the Aztecs depicted their favorite sport of tlachtli--a mix of volleyball, basketball and football--in their ancient works. And let us not forget Degas and his penchant for horseracing.

"There are a lot of people in the art world who think [sports art] is wonderful, while others remain sort of quiet about it," says Ann Rein, administrative director of Purdue University's National Art Museum of Sport on the campus of Indiana University--Purdue University in Indianapolis. "But, I think people see its value in reaching those not interested in art. They also see it as a wonderful way to portray the human figure in action--they see the excitement and the emotion an artist can create in sports art."

Outside the museum world, some collectors and enthusiasts are beginning to see sports art as a wise investment. Popular New York-based sports artist Bill Lopa says sports art allows buyers to "put two eggs in one basket. A good client realizes that if you buy a bat signed by an athlete, and that athlete doesn't pan out, the bat is worthless. However, if you buy a painting of that athlete, you've got a shot that both the athlete and the artist will do well--it doubles your chances that something will work out for you."

Whether it's a love for the painter or the athlete being painted, sports art is getting an increasing amount of attention. "The market is growing, and it's becoming more and more serious everyday," says Danny Stern, an art dealer with the Los Angeles-based SPS Limelight Agency, which represents popular sports artists Stephen Holland, Opie Otterstad and Andrew Bernstein. Elliot Burns, president and chief executive officer of New York-based Soho Editions, agrees, saying sports art is part of a growing market that combines a love of art with a love of something else, such as, say, wine or martinis.

"It has a synergistic combination that creates a new passion among collectors," Burns says. "And when people get to combine their passions, it's a very powerful force." One Soho Editions' artist who is stirring people's passions is Malcolm Farley, whose prints sell anywhere between $600 and $2,000, and whose oils go for up to $12,000.

According to Stem, people are taking notice of the increasing quality of the work being produced, adding that the people making it aren't just creatively inclined jocks, but serious and well-trained artists. Holland, for example, started painting sports figures when he was starting out as an aspiring artist and couldn't afford to hire live models. Instead, he used images ripped out of boxing magazines. Although he later received formal training at the School of Visual Art and the Pratt Institute, both in New York, Holland never forgot his pugilist muses, and is now one of the most sought-after sports artists working, commanding up to $35,000 for his work. "For Stephen, it's the art that comes first," says Stem. "The subject matter comes second."

Its Only Natural

To Lopa, who has been painting athletic figures since he was 15, sports is the ultimate subject matter. "What better way is there to show motion than with a splatter of paint?," he asks. "You just can't get that with photorealism." To many of his patrons, Lopa is to athletes what Cezanne once was to apples and pears.

Dick Perez, whose images of baseball players can be seen at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, as well as the Philadelphia Phillies' Cooperstown Gallery, located inside the team's Citizens Bank ballpark, says the beauty of sports art is that it gives him an opportunity to recreate historical moments for which there exists no visual documentation.

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