When I first heard that the High Museum of Art was organizing an exhibition called “The Art of Golf,” my reaction was: Good grief. What’s next? “The Art of Puppies”? But I resolved to see it with an open mind: after all, the High’s first partnership with the National Galleries of Scotland brought us “Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Painting.”
Alas, as I wrote in the AJC, the exhibition is even sillier than I feared: “Golf, or so it seems from this parade of minor works by major artists and portraits of important golf figures, has not been a source of inspiration in the history of art. Even the centerpiece, Charles Lees’ 1847 “The Golfers”— though carefully conceived, to judge from the lovely studies Lees made of each character — is hardly a great artwork.
“… You know the theme’s a stretch when a tiny Rembrandt etching, ‘The Ringball Player,’ is included because it was once incorrectly thought to be about golf. Don’t ask about the Snoopy cartoons.”
The exhibition’s relentlessly PR-ish tone, especially the multiple undistinguished portraits of Atlanta golfing great Bobby Jones (Harold Edgerton’s fascinating stop-motion photographic series of Jones’ swing, a highlight, would have sufficed to make the hometown connection), would seem to confirm the suspicion that “The Art of Golf” is an exercise in niche marketing. Seeking wider audiences and new funding sources is what museums must do, but not at the expense of quality and substance. Art can be both accessible and good, as the High’s “The Allure of the Automobile” so entertainingly proved in 2010.
What we have here is a failure of imagination. Instead of straining to find art about golf, why not curate an exhibition in which golf tells us something about ourselves and our lives? The late Tim Hetherington’s photograph (below) of a soldier decompressing at Outpost Restrepo in Afghanistan, now on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, is an excellent example.
If it’s fun you’re after, why not commission local artists to design a miniature golf course, like this one on YouTube, only better?
It’s a shame to waste time, money, real estate and credibility on such a flimsy curatorial premise.