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Let's Go: Sports through a lens
by Pat Minelli
Mar 10, 2012 | 7397 views | 2 2 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Burnsville’s Lindsey Vonn captured the gold medal in the women’s downhill event in Whistler, British Columbia, in 2010. (PHOTO COURTESY BRIAN PETERSON, STAR TRIBUNE)
Burnsville’s Lindsey Vonn captured the gold medal in the women’s downhill event in Whistler, British Columbia, in 2010. (PHOTO COURTESY BRIAN PETERSON, STAR TRIBUNE)
You don’t have to be a huge fan of sports or even photography to enjoy a new exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. But if you are, that’s definitely icing on the cake.

The exhibit, “The Sports Show,” isn’t what you might think — a collection of photos of professional athletes socking home runs or boxing their opponent in the nose. There are some of those. But it’s much more.

The exhibit examines the role of sports in society from the late-19th century through today. The goal is to examine the rise of a global sports culture from the late-1800s to the present with the use of scores of photographs and a few video and television clips. Many of the 200-some photographs are images of “regular” people — not just pro athletes — engaging in and likely competing in some sports activity.

Several of the early photos on display are of unknown origin with an approximate date but are nevertheless fascinating by their content. Some feature women and girls involved in sporting activities — many surprising — in the late-1800s and early-20th century. Among them are females playing traditional sports like basketball, along with boxing, baseball, trapshooting and shooting arrows. (Despite the hopeful signs of sports equality back then, the women were often partaking in sports while wearing ankle-length skirts or bloomers.) One of the best: A 1945 photo of a player sliding into third base, beating the tag, in a women’s professional baseball (not softball) league.

The early photographs lead to others that display images of more famous athletes, thus manifesting the exhibit’s theme: Ours is a sports culture that had its roots in the late-1800s and has blossomed to great significance today.

The exhibit is the stepchild of David Little, curator of photography and new media at the MIA.

“In the 19th century, sports were local events. As technology advanced and the ability to disseminate information on an international level increased, people were able to see images of important games and victorious athletes from around the world,” Little said. “Suddenly, millions of people were witness to athletic action and sports became and remain spectacles, pop culture phenomena and political dramas. At the same time, sports images became triggers for memories of significant and historic events.”

While the photographer of many images is unknown, others are from celebrated names, such as Andy Warhol, Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon.

Among my favorites in this section were a photo of a young Fidel Castro swinging a golf club and a photo of Jesse Owens — a young black man who shook up the 1936 Olympics by winning four gold medals in Hitler’s Germany — shot by Hitler filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.

If photos of unknowns engaged in various sports activities sound boring, fear not: There are tons of photos of famous athletes in action during sporting events, as well as rare photos of the famous outside the sports domain.

An important note: The national/international exhibit is on the second floor of the institute. On the third floor is the second part, featuring sports images from Minnesota. This part includes big-name Minnesotans involved in sports in the past century, but it doesn’t stop there: There are many images of Minnesotans engaging in leisure and off-beat sports as well, including — what else? — ice-fishing.

My favorite photo: The very first movement of dirt on the Bloomington prairie in 1955 for the new Metropolitan Stadium, which would be home to minor league baseball until it was expanded and became home to the Minnesota Twins in 1961.

The exhibit, which is open through May 13, is fascinating, no matter how you feel about sports.

This story originally appeared in Southwest Newspapers' Let's Go. Read more about local things to do at

Exhibit on display: Through Sunday, May 13.

Tickets: $8 adults; $6 students 13-17 and seniors; $4 children 6-12.

(Admission free on Target Family Days: Sundays, March 11, April 15, May 13).

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursdays; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays (closed Mondays).

Where: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis
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March 12, 2012
great story
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March 12, 2012
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