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"In the Paint" at UConn Brings the Excitement of March Madness to the Art World

The display explores the symbolism and history of basketball, which is inextricably part of UConn's culture.

Credit Mallory ODonoghue
A pair of massive "Kobe 9 Elites" by Mache were designed for Geno Auriemma and the Women's Basketball Team. Jonathan the Husky can be seen on the heel.

As March Madness tips off on Tuesday, excitement over college basketball can be seen everywhere on UConn'sStorrs campus.

Nowhere is the creative energy around basketball culture more apparent on campus than at the exhibit “In the Paint: Basketball in Contemporary Art” at the William Benton Museum of Art.

The display explores the symbolism and history of basketball, which is inextricably part of UConn's culture. With nine NCAA Tournament wins for the women's team, and four championship rings for the men's, UConn is a staple for many a basketball fan's "brackets."

This year, the UConn men's tournament hopes are over after their upsetting defeat to Southern Methodist University.

But it's quite a different story for the Connecticut women. The returning champions have been ranked as a number one seed, and are one of the teams to watch.

UConn basketball moves from the court to the gallery space in a variety of mediums at "In the Paint." Fans, fashionistas, and political junkies alike will enjoy the display of basketball apparel, from a pair of special edition Husky Nikes of gigantic proportions, to Barack Obama's own UConn women's basketball jersey, signed by the commander-in-chief himself.

The exhibit includes commemorative Sports Illustrated covers of all-stars like Diana Taurasi and stoic photographs of Hank Willis Thomas. It also features two colossal murals painted by the 2014-2015 men’s and women’s UConn basketball teams. The exhibit comes across as a celebration of everything about the sport.

However, many of the pieces at the Benton make a nod toward broader social, racial, and economic issues which have become part of the world of college and professional basketball.

Awol Erizku's massive installation and Thomas's photograph are the undeniable "stars" of the exhibit. But pieces like those of Daniel Petraitis, below, lend the exhibit a sense of abstract realism.

The pieces are found objects, reflecting the humble beginnings of many professional and college-level players. One of Petraitis's pieces, "Basketball," is simply the sad plastic lining of a basketball.

Credit Mallory ODonoghue / WNPR
The cut-form of a basketball in "1/2 Basketball" by Daniel Petraitis hangs on the wall at the Benton.

Credit Mallory ODonoghue / WNPR
Daniel Petraitis's "Basketball" replicates the importance of the "found object" from the Dada movement. The sad plastic lining of a basketball reflects the humble beginnings of many professional and college level players.

Credit Mallory ODonoghue / WNPR
Ewok One Smph's "I'm Looking at You Son."

The found objects give an eerie glimpse into the Brooklyn playgrounds where Petraitis recovered them. They also and echo a reality for many basketball players far from the money and fame of wealthy, successful NBA players.

Ewok One Smph's "I'm Looking at You Son," at right, depicts sport's icon LeBron James. Smph captures the graffiti aesthetic found on street basketball courts by incorporating vivid colors and cartoon-like forms.  

"In the Paint" also recalls the frivolity and aesthetics of sport's culture, like the collection of murals painted on portions of the 2011 NBA all-star court.

Entrance is free to "In the Paint," and the exhibit is open until March 29.

Mallory ODonoghue is an intern at WNPR.

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