CHICAGO — Artist Paula Henderson calls professional sports “a complicated and fascinating” part of the American cultural fabric.
“I’m interested in everyone who plays, what countries they come and the history of race in our country. I’m interested in the relationships of viewers with these young athletes,” she said.
It’s a dynamic the Streeterville artist hopes to capture in a new public art project at the CTA Sox-35th Street station, part of the ongoing Red Line South overhaul project that will install new pieces of public art at nine South Side "L" stops from Cermak-Chinatown to 95th Street, where renowned artist Theaster Gates will overhaul the station.
While not exactly a baseball nut, Henderson said she has a special regard for the spectacle of sport, in which young athletes from across the globe are quickly catapulted into stardom through relentless media exposure.
"As an artist, I keep looking at the sports section in my paper. ... Let’s say it's basketball. They’re literally off the ground and in the air. They look like the kind of figures you’d see in a Renaissance painting in Italy,” she said.
One series of Henderson’s work, “Great Expectations," captures the essence of her approach.
Culled from images of athletes on the sports pages of daily newspapers, the paintings are abstract yet symmetrical, a method she said, “resonates with the peculiar reality of players who are reduced to a number, yet simultaneously elevated by the fetishism of their fans.”
That will more or less be the style Henderson will bring to the Red Line stop.
But instead of paisley, she plans to work with pinstripes, a nod to the baseball players at nearby U.S. Cellular Field. Soon, she’ll meet with representatives from the White Sox, who will educate Henderson about some of the team’s key players from the past.
Henderson’s work, expected to debut in December, will bolster the public art project installed at the station by Cody Hudson, who’s 2006 work “Magic Numbers” hangs there on panels on stairways and emblazoned on glass walls.
But where Hudson’s work was a playful approach to the game’s minutiae, filled with obscure stats and trivia, Henderson’s will be “very organic and figurative” with elements of the team’s colors, jerseys and the ball diamond.
“My intention is to complement what’s there,” she said. “What I’m making, really, is a celebration of the team and what it means to Chicago.”