Surreal ‘Space Jam’ Art


By Henry Robertson

Photo courtesy of Riccardo Zagorodnev.

Basketball as a cultural phenomenon has implications beyond the gameplay itself. Devin Troy Strother examines the aesthetic legacy of the sport in his exhibit Space Jam now on display at Marlborough Chelsea in NYC. Strother builds upon the iconic 1996 movie Space Jam to depict basketball as a force that can inspire, unite, divide, and commodify.

Strother was pressed for time as he misunderstood his deadline, and thus in a sense the title Space Jam is a play on words–the challenge to fill a large “space” in a short time with explosive imagery (creating an artistic “jam”). The original film was also important to Strother growing up and it still resonates in the hearts and imaginations of countless Millennials. The movie made basketball accessible to a younger generation.

Honing in on the visual aspects of the movie and the sport, Strother focuses on what is peripheral to basketball: the lighting, shoes, cards, concession-stand cups, memorabilia etc. As Strother shared with Huffington Post, “I was more watching all the things that go around basketball, more so than the game.”

Photo courtesy of Riccardo Zagorodnev.

An essential concept of the movie Space Jam is suspension of disbelief (i.e. Michael Jordan entering a Looney Tunes world, extending his arm half-court for a game-winning dunk). The basketball court occupying one of the three rooms in the exhibit is askew, like it could be a prop from the movie itself. The holograms, gradients, and impasto sculptural paintings depict surreal images of basketball players.

The room that leads into the basketball court, covered in an outer-space themed carpet resembling a movie theater or day-care center, augments the childlike wonder that Space Jam and basketball evoke.

Strother’s sculptural paintings reflect growing up and mystery in childhood. The gradient paintings are perpetually in transition, switching from one input to the next but never resolving. Our perspectives of the holographic paintings change depending on where we stand. These paintings were inspired by the trademarked holographic images found on sports-affiliated clothing and memorabilia that ensures authenticity, bringing to light the commodity aspect of basketball.

Our universe, unlike the Space Jam world, is governed by physical laws and is shrouded in commodifying individuals. Basketball is a business and “making it” is an unrealistic dream. On Strother’s court stands a sculpture of a deflated, spray-painted gold basketball trophy. Aiming for the gold has a significant cost, especially among underprivileged children who see basketball as a route to escape poverty and may devalue education in comparison. College coaches perpetuate this narrative. When they draft promising students, what do they value more–educational or basketball achievement?

Whether you’re a modern art fan looking for deeper meaning, a Space Jam film fan trying to relive childhood fantasies, or just a basketball fan seeking entertainment, Strother’s exhibit will leave a lasting impression.