“The Art of Boxing” — “George Bellows” at the National Gallery of Art, Washington


I fought a guy he head-butted and cut my heart the blood was running to my eyes so I really couldn’t see I think he hit me with a right hand and I was against the ropes and when hit me with the right hand against the ropes I saw absolutely nothing after the right hand the art of boxing is to hit and not get hit and that’s why I’m able to sit here and talk to you guys right now these paintings are both powerful and brutal they they reveal something essential about human nature that is deeply attractive and that it that people respond to at the same time they do not shy away from really difficult brutal realities of what it means as Bello said he was trying to to paint two men trying to kill each other these paintings really go back into the days where how boxing actually started a lot of smoking and people on top of the ring they fought like this that’s how they fought with you know rolling the hands and stuff and you know move movements like this so he captures reality almost at every level kind of visceral reality the atmosphere of the Ring but also kind of psychological reality of how it actually feels and looks to see something like that happening in front of you I can relate to you know the blood and trying to get close in you know maybe him trying to tie him up so he can’t hit him anymore the ref is there trying to look like wants to get around here to see what he’s doing but break it up this is really the only place where you’ll ever see these three pictures together so this is a unique opportunity here in Washington to see what some what are you are the three greatest sporting pictures in all of American art together one of his most famous paintings is the great Dempsey Firpo fight of 1924 and in many ways it’s a completely different subject it’s not a backroom fight before a fairly modest audience it’s a huge public spectacle at the Polo Grounds in Brooklyn before 80,000 people when you look at the picture you think well Dempsey’s the loser but actually as many people knew he got up in the second round and subsequently knocked her out so it’s one of the most dramatic plates taking place over two rounds where the ostensibly the loser becomes the winner that their roles flip between the first round and the second round looking at paintings for Bella’s was not a passive sport he wanted people to be engaged he wanted them to be shocked and the last thing he wanted them to do was to be bored and not connected to what he was doing you

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