Indianapolis Scores Goal: Art Museum of Sport

Works from Winslow Homer to LeRoy Neiman celebrate athletics

The midwestern city that prides itself on being the ''amateur sports capital of the world'' is now home to the nation's largest collection of sports-related art.

Indianapolis has become permanent host to the National Art Museum of Sport (NAMOS), which comprises more than 1,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures, and photographs. The artists represented include American icons such as Winslow Homer and George Bellows, along with living artists such as LeRoy Neiman, whose work has become synonymous with sports.

The leisure activities and sporting events displayed here are as varied as the mediums used to convey them: From the games of Inuit Eskimos to auto racing, from ice yachting to bowling, from tennis to football, from archery to track and field.

The collection was founded 35 years ago in New York by Germain Glidden, an artist and three-time national squash champion and former Harvard tennis player. He believes that the human figure is the basis of all art and that the marriage between sports and art is compatible. ''NAMOS is dedicated to the universal language of sport and art together,'' Mr. Glidden says.

The initial collection made its debut at Madison Square Garden but then moved to the University of New Haven in Connecticut in 1977. The Midwest relocation grew out of a special NAMOS exhibition in Indianapolis's Union Station during the Pan American games in 1987. Starting in 1990, the collection was housed in a gallery in the Bank One Tower in downtown Indianapolis.

The National Art Museum of Sport's board of governors agreed to an arrangement in which the art works are featured on two floors of the University Place Conference Center and Hotel on the campus of Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI). The conference center is linked by skywalk to the IUPUI sports-complex facilities that play a key role in the city's sports life: the natatorium, track-and-field stadium, and tennis center. In addition to the Pan Am Games, Indianapolis hosted the 1984, '88, and '92 US women's Olympic trials in synchronized swimming and in diving, and has hosted trials leading up to the '96 Olympics in Atlanta.

University Place officials estimate that the collection will be seen by about 150,000 people who attend the nearly 1,400 meetings there each year.

''Sports of any sort are not generally a theme in 20th-century American art,'' says Steve Mannheimer, visual arts editor of the Indianapolis Star and a professor of art at Herron School of Art. ''Most sports art is devoted to illustration. NAMOS has a fairly uneven collection of work done by accomplished amateur artists. [But] the collection has immense appeal on a popular level.''

The collection was compiled by purchase, donations from individuals, and from the artists themselves. Included in it are wood engravings, lithographs, acrylics, oils, bronze sculpture, watercolors, tempera, pen-and-ink drawings, silk-screened prints, tapestry, and felt-tip works. Particularly noteworthy are a group of Winslow Homer wood engravings; serigraphs by Neiman and some of his more understated art; and several outstanding bronze sculptures by R. Tait McKenzie, Alfred Boucher, and Joe Brown.

Holliday Day, curator of contemporary art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art says, ''If people take a broad view of art relating to sport, [the museum] will be appreciated. It's the artists represented that make the images interesting.''

NAMOS also has a modest amount of sports memorabilia -- a collection of photographs depicting baseball great Jackie Robinson -- given by Mrs. Robinson to the museum.

In the collection, women are not depicted very often in sporting activities because the works date from a time when few women participated in them. However, a group of engravings from the late-19th century show women in recreational sports such as tennis, golf, croquet, and archery.

On the other hand, a number of women artists are represented, including Faye Moore (hockey and football), Jeanette Capriano (boxing and skiing), and Marilyn Mark (baseball).

Ann Rein, spokeswoman for the museum, says they are looking to increase the number of recent sports heroes -- female and male -- portrayed by world-class artists. ''It's certainly something to be aware of in acquisition,'' she says about the scarcity of women subjects.

''There will always be an audience for sports art,'' Mr. Mannheimer says. ''The fate of the museum may be that it will be a curiosity. I believe that it will be an interesting social documentation and social history of American sports culture.''

* The National Art Museum of Sport is open to the public at University Place Conference Center in downtown Indianapolis. The weekday hours are 8 am to 5 pm. For weekend hours, large tour information, and special exhibits, call: 317-274-2339.

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