Exhibit on sports obsession seeks to score new fans for art

Exhibit preview

“Score: Artists in Overtime”

Opening reception: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Friday. Through March 29. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. $5; $1 students and ages 65 and up. Museum of Contempory Art of Georgia, 75 Bennett St., Atlanta. 404-367-8700, www.mocaga.org.

Hope Cohn, the curator of a new Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia exhibition linking the worlds of sports and art, confesses that she’s not your average compulsive sports fan.

But as the art-obsessed daughter of a Brooklyn Dodgers loyalist who still shows off his boyhood baseball card collection at memorabilia shows, and as the mom of a basketball lover, she’s long thought about trying to bridge the two worlds in an exhibit.

That finally happened with “Score: Artists in Overtime,” which opens this weekend, featuring 23 artists working in a variety of media (painting, sculpture, photography, installation) who come at sports in ways from photo-realistic to abstract. Their works express everything from sentimentality to sharp social commentary.

Though she does not divide MOCA GA’s high-ceilinged galleries to fit the themes explored in the 120-work show, Cohn points to three recurring ones: “The Artist As Athlete” (the shared principles of art making and athleticism), “The Players” (the relationship between athletes and spectators and artists and viewers) and “The Commentators” (factors such as advertising, race and gender in sports culture).

Having formed a union between usually disconnected realms, Cohn wants to make sure visitors, especially those who are not museum or gallery regulars, get what the artists are trying to express. So all of the works will be accompanied by artist statements that explain their thinking.

“Maybe that’s a way to open a door to the arts to people who wouldn’t necessarily go to a museum,” Cohn said. “Because people don’t know. They go to a museum and the wall text just says ‘Untitled.’ That’s really no help. But if there’s information there, they might see it differently.”

For instance, viewers will find out that the 17 hand-lettered and individually framed names hung in football’s offensive “pistol formation” in one work by former Georgia Tech defensive back-turned-artist Michael Peterson is a lineup of players who committed suicide, some after a series of disabling concussions.

“These talented individuals never found the value in their lives outside of sports,” Peterson writes, “and chose to end their lives rather than face the fragility of mortality.”

Or, across the gallery, they can discover if Atlanta artist Meg Aubrey is honoring or tweaking (or both) fans who tailgate in matching team colors — “a tribe of followers,” as she refers to them — or parents who cheer their kids from the sidelines — “their children’s entourage” — in her robustly hued canvases that nonetheless convey a sense of near vacancy.

In his wall text, Atlanta photographer Jerry Siegel recounts how sports, while growing up in Selma, Ala., became “the fabric of my life.” That connection is clear in his series of pictures that document everything from a young boy in street clothes striding purposefully across a football field behind older, uniformed boys, clearly wanting to be one of them, to a kid dunking a ball through a crate-turned-basket nailed to an old tree.

“I asked every artist, really everyone I’ve met in doing research for this show: Why do you think people are drawn to sports?” Cohn said. “Is it the camaraderie? Because making art can be so solitary. Is it that we want to be a part of something? Is it nostalgia? Is it being patriotic? Is it reliving your youth? Is it seeing the superhuman things the body can do?”

The curator’s own conclusion: “I think it’s all of those things.” And she felt she knew the right artists to interpret it all, too.