Artscape: "Hard Targets"
In the mornings at Oberlin College, he would sit through art lectures, hearing feminist professors dissect gender, sexuality and the ideal body. After class, he would head to the locker room, a bastion of machismo and aggression.
"I had a pretty unusual profile," said Bedford, who played football and studied art at the small liberal-arts college in northern Ohio. "Oberlin served both purposes."
Rather than butt heads, his interests eventually combined when he began to examine topics he knew first-hand: the athletic body, race and class in sports, the construction of masculinity and the allure of voyeurism.
His first sports-themed exhibition debuted at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where he worked for two years as an assistant curator. A slightly modified version toured the country soon after.
Hard Targets, his idea's third edition, opens Saturday, Jan. 30, at the Wexner Center for the Arts. It's the most elaborate version yet - and his first major show for the Wex, where he's been a curator of exhibitions since 2008.
"I think it's the most autobiographical show I'm ever likely to do," he said. "This is the ultimate incarnation. There were installations that would've been either too expensive or too big for other venues where I've presented the show."
Taking over four galleries at the Wex will be more than 70 works by 21 artists, including Catherine Opie, Andreas Gursky, Douglas Gordon, Paul Pfeiffer, Jonas Wood and Matthew Barney. Former football star Barney produced the acclaimed Cremaster Cycle, an artistic exploration of gender, sexuality, identity and sports.
"It was [Barney's] ability to parlay the materials of his sporting experience into an art practice that was, in large part, my incentive," Bedford said. "It gave me confidence that there was a constellation of artists who could probably speak to my concerns."
His concerns cut to the heart and through the aura of American athletics. Pieces force fans to reexamine how and why they cheer for their favorite teams, idolize sports heroes and gaze incessantly at bodies in motion.
Paintings, sculpture, photography, mixed-media work and extensive video installations will be included. Though many works are difficult and even antagonistic, Bedford's love of both arts and sports shines.
"It isn't supposed to be a pure critical enterprise," he said. "It's supposed to be an extension of my fandom as well."
Christopher Bedford shared more on three pieces you'll see in Hard Targets, his new show opening Saturday at the Wex.
Catherine Opie, "Josh"
"Beginning in '97, she started making portraits of high-school football players and concurrently what she calls 'landscapes.' The interest is partially in expressions of masculinity, but also in the ways communities form themselves around sports teams. She took a series of portraits at Bexley High School."
Jonas Wood, "Bullets"
"He's an incredible painter. He's very young. These are more pure expressions of sports fandom than almost anything else in the exhibition. [In Hard Targets] there are moments of sheer adulation, and Jonas Wood is a really good example of that. "
Hank Willis Thomas, "Scarred Chest"
"It's a really difficult image that really gets to the heart of some of the subjects in the exhibition, particularly race and the commodification of the body in relation to sports marketing. His interest there is making the idea of commercial branding very, very uncomfortable."
When: Jan. 30-April 11
Where: Wexner Center for the Arts, Campus