Category Archives: Sport

There is money in fandom

We all know there’s lots of money in fandom: all those tickets, scarves, t-shirts, badges, and hospital bills for cracked skulls, squashed faces, and broken teeth. When I think of fans, and especially fans of popular games, I imagine a legion of happy bartenders, dentists, and Chinese exporters of fake club paraphernalia.

Ever since men first united for a mammoth hunt, they’ve been happy to splash on tools and tokens that would help them reach their cause, even if it was another evolutionary dead-end.

Fans, and especially male fans, are a treasure trove for any trade, because men get irrational when it comes to being a club member, especially when this club encourages mad behaviours, idiotic hats, and girls’ getting topless.


Men frown at their wives when they want to change curtains bought ten years ago (“nothing’s wrong with the old ones!”), but are happy to buy club shirts that change design each season to make fans keep buying them, and then pay for tickets to stand-up shows to be informed by comedians of how stupid they all are.

Fandoms keep everyone happy. Except artists. 

Artists celebrate sports and sportsmen, but ignore fans and their fandoms.

My dear fellows, why do you turn your back on an opportunity that’s more generous than Donald Trump in his promises?

The global art market features precious few artworks that celebrate fans (if you take wedding cake toppers off the list).


Throughout art history fans only feature in supporting roles.

Alexandre Falguiere Lutteurs Борцы 1875

Alexandre Falguiere Lutteurs, Wrestlers, 1875

George Bellows Stag at Sharkey's (1909), oil on canvas

George Bellows Stag at Sharkey’s (1909), oil on canvas

And only occasionally, in preparatory drawings or sketches, fans take centre stage:

George Bellows, Preliminaries of the Big Bout (1916), lithograph

George Bellows, Preliminaries of the Big Bout (1916), lithograph

In the examples above, artists used the audience as a backdrop to enhance contrast in their work. The strained body of the fighter becomes all the more strained when contrasted with a relaxed pose of a spectator. The honestly of the fight becomes accentuated with a fat cat watching it with a betting interest in his eyes. Still, it’s never about fans themselves!

In my search of artworks dedicated to sport fans, I couldn’t walk past Toronto.

There, Michael Snow, a renowned polymath artist, mounted sculpted fans high up on the wall of a stadium. This is a rare case when sculptural caricature is paid for by the caricatured (indirectly via taxes, of course).

6732492143_b84b2b6617 The Audience (1)

I find it strange. Is there nothing to glorify about fans?

Fandom can be a good thing, you know. There are decent values in there, hidden beneath all the violence and stupid acts we get in the news.

First, fandom is about equality. It is about people being equal in the ecstasy of victory, in the drunken gloom of defeat, or in their meaningless fist-fights with men from other fandoms. Second, fandom is about togetherness, being a part of the pack. Give me a third or even fourth if you are a fan of anything, but even equality and togetherness alone are enough to cheer up the fandom concept.

Where is art that would celebrate this?

So far, I could find only a single artwork that would not be a mockery or social critique of fans. It is a work by a Latvian sculptor, Olita Abolinya.

Olita Abolinya, 1971 Latvia Болельшики.preview

Olita Abolinya, Fans, 1971

I assume this is a group of Soviet soccer fans. Soccer championships in the USSR were taking place in winter because sports were meant to build character rather than entertain.

It’s a good piece. It shows fans in cold weather but the pink clay somehow radiates warmth that the group generates by being connected to each other.

And this is it.

Just. One. Piece.

So, if you are an artist and want to sell to the profitable fan community or get over a creative block, look into the fandom good sides.

Show fans resolved to support their team when it lost.

Show a family, in which husband and wife support opposing teams, and do not fight over which club their kids will support when they grow up.

Show fans united not through a goal or win, but through deep understanding of tactics and strategy in football, soccer, hockey, golf, or sack jumping.

It’s all out there, waiting for your talent to crack it.

PS If you are not an artist, but have artist-friends, forward it to them. Make them rich!

Modern Russia’s imperfect mirror

Sports in the Soviet Union used to be a fight promoting the Big Idea of Communism. As a kid, I was certain a communist man was better than a capitalist one, both morally and physically.

Look at these optimistic runners by Alexander Deineka, a chief realist painter in the Soviet Union. What a happy bunch of athletes! They sport breasts, thighs and bottoms of the same attractive sizes – and all this sex appeal is coming toward and past the viewer, creating a tidal wave of emotional response in men, who never fail to register the absence of bras. As observers stand in front of this painting, the wind from the runners brushes their faces, tickling their noses with the smell of sweat, set midst the endless rolling expanse of Soviet Socialist nature. A new dawn, a brave new world, a bright future devoid of the trappings and shackles, and certainly the underwear, of corrupted and polluting capitalism.

Alexander Deineka, The Expanse, 1944

Alexander Deineka, The Expanse, 1944

Weren’t the girls superior to a typical decadent American pin-up mistress?


Of course they were.

Until I realised the Deineka girls were fake. Which happened about the time the Big Idea of the Just Communist Society turned out to be a bluff.

In the real sports, that superiority idea was just as bad as having a mosquito tattooed on your shoulder. Unsuspecting nations wanted to slap Russia all the time, thinking they were, in fact, helping. Russians would kick back. The already suspecting nations would retaliate with more force. And a full-blown anabolic-fueled battle would ensue. That was sports back then.

People learn from their mistakes. Nations don’t.

Today, Russian authorities try to push the same agenda, but there’s no big idea to ground it on, except Russia’s historic predestination to uphold the virtuous heterosexuality of Mankind.

However, that’s not a fool-proof pedestal to mount the New Russian Athlete on. What if he/she comes out as, you know, “deviant”? What if he/she wins?! imagine Putin having to shake hands with someone whose heart – according to the Russian Goebbels (Dmitry Kiselev) – shall be burned. Shame.

No Martini – No party. No big idea – no mouth-foamed zealots.

Indeed, believers in the Russian uber-might are now few and comical. Consumerism has become the true religion of modern Russia just as everywhere else. The L’Oreal Generation puts money and sex in the front row (“because you’re worth it”). Today, Russkies are more famous for their extravagant parties in St. Tropez rather than ballet or chess, unless, of course a ballet director is assassinated or a former chess champion is busted at a street protest in Moscow.

Eventually, art mirroring the modern Russia’s view on sports and itself must have been created by someone.

A Russian illustrator produced an alchemic mix of the modern Russian values (or, as many Russians believe, values imported from the capitalist West), traditional Soviet poster style, and pin-up philosophy to arrive at an erotic, sexist, homophobic, and funny 2014 calendar dedicated to the Sochi Games.

This is the equation:


This is the result by Andrew Tarusov (some of the translations are awkward, but in Russian they rhyme OK):

Pinning this calendar up an office wall may not be a good idea in countries where sexual harassment is frowned upon, but the girl is obviously over 18, so it must be OK to have the images stored on a personal computer.

Now, if you made it this far, there’s a bonus.

Russian jokes about CALENDARS. 

Will you sync your google calendars? Will you create a joint account on Facebook? Will you keep creating content for your family website until death do part you? You are now husband and wife. Exchange your social network passwords.

What exactly were you doing at 7:30 pm on January 28, 2001? – I was sitting in my chair holding a calendar and watching the clock on the wall, of course.

When the Maya Calendar came to an end, the calendar of Junea began.

Wall calendars at the office are needed to perfect counting black days until the red ones.

“Good Morning” is when it is 1 pm on the clock, Saturday on the calendar, and an ocean view from the window.

Is this a real Picasso? – No, this is a calendar with Picasso reproduction… But what made you think it was a real Picasso?! – Its price.

Asking a girl who she is according to the Chinese Calendar can help the man establish her age without asking it directly. The margin of error is plus or minus 12 years.

You understand you overstayed your welcome when the hostess begins to look up – every now and then – at the wall calendar rather than the wall clock.

First time visiting this blog? To sample it, click on About at the top. It has links to some of my best or typical posts. There’s an Art & Fun shelf if you feel like in need of a laugh.

Sports to help Soviet defence

In my previous post on Sochi, I mentioned that in Russia athletes are often seen as soldiers defending the honor of their country, and treated as such. If they fail, they let the whole country down and should publicly tear their hair off and repent. If they win, the President invites them to the Kremlin to decorate them with Medals and Orders. The 15-yo figure skater who rocked Sochi in team tournament was immediately nominated for a government medal by the governor of her home region, as if her Olympic Gold were not enough. A friend of mine/offline asked me about the origins of this attitude to something that should be more about joy, celebration, and spending time in a great way than a mortal fight.

Sports have had a twisted history in the Soviet Union. After the revolution in 1917, physical culture (phyzkultura, in Russian) was seen primarily as a means to growing an army of healthy workers and strong soldiers.

Grenade Throwing was a sport taught at school.

Soviet posters leave no doubt as to what purpose people were pushed into sports. It was not about joy. It was about taking the fun out of it.


Physical Culture is the servant of the defence of the USSR! 1927 Poster promoting fitness.

Yes, the monstrosity above a peaceful poster promoting “the summer fete of physical culture”.

Some sports (like boxing, skiing, shooting, and grenade throwing) were “militarised”, that is meant to grow good soldiers, and others were meant to clone strong (weightlifting) or happy (cycling) workers.

This weightlifter is shown against the background of factories and the text says, “On to the new victories in sports and labour!”


Soviet leaders thought athletes were also nice to watch at parades, and to bed, occasionally.

Some really, really foul-mouthed agents of the global Imperialist forces believe this tradition of occasional bedding is still in use in contemporary Russia.

Alina Kabaeva, a former gymnastics champion, rumoured to be now the Official Clandestine First Lady.

But, as a popular counter-argument in Russia goes, “Bah! What have YOU done to make your girlfriend happy?!”

At some point Commie rulers understood that delusions of grandeur alone did not help to win sports races (unlike delirium of persecution).

So, sports factories churning out professional athletes were set up (this is what they do in China now, except that it is even more industrial there).

On paper all professional athletes were workers, engineers, and peasants, getting salaries from factories and farms they had never been to, Publicly, the Soviet Union was vehemently opposed to professional sports, seeing it as an attribute of capitalistic lifestyle.

Again, even in the absence of immediate danger to Soviet borders, the logic was that if athletes were being spent money on, given free uniform, pills, coaches, doctors, and increased rations, they should die, but pay back the bill.

And then the Soviet Union collapsed.

But the “win-or-die” attitude to athletes stayed.

Mud-fighting shall be made Olympic Sport

All World Records Shall Be Ours! Soviet poster of 1948

All World Records Shall Be Ours! Soviet poster of 1948

In totalitarian-minded societies athletes, willing to sacrifice their health for the prestige of their country, are seen as heroes. Like soldiers, dying to expand the empire or to protect its size, sportsmen serve as living proof that the Supreme Ruler or Ideology of the Empire is doing the right thing.

The Ruler’s policies make his country stronger than its adversaries; his care fosters men and women who are mightier, faster, and jump higher than people from enemy states.

When I was a kid, each sports event was a war waged by the soldiers of athletes. Commies vs. Imperialists. I guess it was the same on the other side of the great divide. Did the West feel Russkies were enemies during Olympic games?

I was so relieved when I thought it was over (not least because China made it meaningless).

I was wrong.

It is no longer Socialism vs. Capitalism, though.

It is the Eastern Capitalism vs. Western Capitalism now. How ironic.  

Once again, Russian television foams with hysterical commentary about the achievements of Russian sportsmen and failures of Team US or Team GB. I want to watch the Olympics, but I can’t, unless my TV is on mute. I want to watch sportsmen from different countries doing mogul skiing. not listen to a commentator chupa-chupsing the assumed grief of a skier from the US who didn’t make it to the top three in the finals.

From what I hear about television in the US, it is not that much different. It keeps savouring the twitterised failures of Sochi: rusty water or two lavatory bowls installed instead of a lavatory bowl and a bidet, and the ring that failed to open, of course. The news of an athlete who got stuck in the elevator make front pages. It must be pretty sour from the US end too, I guess. Again, it is all hearsay, so correct me if I am wrong.

If there’s a sport these Games are missing, it is Mud-Fighting.

I understand why it is happening. Putin wants to project the image of Russia that – in the opinion of most foreigners and a sizeable share of Russians – is not the real Russia, but his vision of the Great Russian Empire. A vision that no one outside of Russia wants to see re-emerging from the heap of the USSR debris. These games are seen by many as an illusionary screen, a mask, constructed and manipulated to hide a great ugliness. Like the one used by Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible IV to sneak up to a security guard inside the Kremlin.


Who wouldn’t love to poke the illusion and see it collapsing?

A lot of it is true. Sending an unlit torch to a space station does look a perfect illustration to “empty ambition”. Having a former Olympic champion who lately became infamous for twittering a racist Obama photo and voting for the law that banned adoption of Russian children by Americans (and whose children and grandchildren, accidentally, happen to live in the good ole’ U.S.A) carry the torch to its final ceremonial destination was a perfect example of bureaucratic callousness.

So, I understand it.

It doesn’t mean I appreciate it.

A lot of money’s been spent on making a grand sports event when few – if any – other countries could afford spending the equivalent amount of money. Even if a half of it was stolen, the facilities are there. Athletes from across the globe are there.

And still this Cold War rhetoric threatens besmirch the two weeks when Mankind should be rejoicing through peaceful competitions, the joy of being human, and promoting respect towards each and every nation and race populating this planet. Even those nations that cut heads off gay men. Even those nations that believe prostitution is OK. Even those nations that believe setting a few countries on fire by the torch of democracy is a noble deed. Even those nations that can’t do anything without pocketing a half of everything to fuel their personal flame for greed.

I know the mud-fighting won’t stop, but I hope it just may subside.

That was politics, but this is an art blog. Artistically, I am disappointed that Sochi is an imported product. 

Ninety nine percent of everything in Sochi was planned, done, made, produced by European or US designers. From slopes to the design of uniforms to the opening ceremony. It was financed by Russians, no doubt about that, but I am saddened by the lack of local talent, or rather the lack of trust in local talent.

Previously, when the Soviet Union was young and was organising its own Olympic games, called Spartakiada, Russian artists were at the forefront of things.

It was 1928.

Varvara Stepanova, Rodchenko’s wife, produced designs for sports uniforms:

Varvara Stepanova. Uniform design, 1928

Varvara Stepanova. Uniform design, 1928

A Moscow gallery is exhibiting uniforms that they made according to some of those designs:


It was a fashion bomb in 1928.

Posters, promoting the games were the topmost achievement in collage (author: Gustav Klutsis, Postcards for the All Union Spartakiada Sporting Event, 1928)

A weaving mill near Moscow was producing sports-themed fabrics – and the design, I have to say was revolutionary:

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And of course, like as now, a lot of what was done for the games back then was a smoke screen. With the only exception: people genuinely believed in what the screen was showing, not in what it was hiding.

It is different this time: with all the grandeur of the Sochi games, few people believe in what is painted on the facade of Russia.

It is all right.

Can we have some Olympic fun now?

To sample this blog, click on About at the top. It has links to some of my best or typical posts. There’s an Art & Fun shelf if you feel like in need of a laugh.

PS You may want to check Sochi’s unofficial sexist (but sexy) calendar that continues the sports&arts series.