Living Large

Basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal may have thought the Acropolis was a nightclub in Athens, but when it comes to contemporary art, he’s in the game. The Cleveland Cavaliers center can now add curating to his many activities, which include a stint with the Los Angeles Port Police and starring in a reality TV program in which he tries to beat other professional athletes in their own sports. He makes his debut in the New York art world with "Size DOES Matter," a show of 63 works by 43 artists at the Flag Art Foundation, in Chelsea. On view February 19 through May 27, "Size" considers how scale affects our perception of art.

Founded by the contemporary-art collector Glenn Fuhrman (a co-managing director of MSD Capital), the Flag Art Foundation has had some impressive guest curators. Chuck Close put together its inaugural show two years ago, while in October 2008 the former Guggenheim director and current Sotheby’s vice president Lisa Dennison took over the space. Shaq’s project came about when Flag director Stephanie Roach flew to Cleveland to dine with the seven-foot-one-inch hoopster after a preseason game last October. She hoped to persuade him to organize a contemporary-art exhibition. "We wanted a curator who could personally relate to the idea of size and how one’s daily life is affected by issues of scale, both big and small," says Roach. Over dinner, they paged through a book of images of artworks by talents like Jeff Koons (whose Beach House (2003) is pictured), Ron Mueck and Jim Torok. Shaq began placing check marks next to the art he liked. It didn’t take long for him to say, "I’m in." One piece in particular floored him: Mueck’s monumental sculpture of a naked, bald and brooding man, Untitled (Big Man) (2000). "That’s hot, right there," he told Roach.

Mueck’s Big Man, on loan from the permanent collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, in Washington, D.C., is the highlight of the show. Also watch for works that participants made specifically for "Size," such as Richard Phillipss large painting of a buxom model viewed from child’s-eye level, microsculptor Willard Wigans tiny figure of the basketball player, which can fit in the eye of a needle, and an abstract glass sculpture by Corban Walker that plays on the dramatic difference in stature between the curator and the artist. There’s even a portrait of Shaq by Mark Wagner made entirely of dollar bills. Looking at pictures of the artist’s work back in Cleveland, Shaq mused, "I’ll call that one Money on My Mind."

"Living Large" originally appeared in the February 2010 issue of
Art+Auction. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Art+Auction's February 2010 Table of Contents.