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Fraser Davidson’s “A Guide to American Football”

The 2014 Super Bowl, also known as Super Bowl XLVIII, will be held on Sunday, February 2 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. That’s right, New Jersey: home of the Jets and the Giants (both New York teams, but they play at the MetLife Stadium), a belligerent governor, and possibly, the remains of Jimmy Hoffa. A well-timed “traffic study” the day of the game would short-circuit the entire nation, never mind Fort Lee.

What’s any of this got to do with art, you ask? As it turns out, there are certain distinct parallels between the high-profile athletes who patrol the chalky gridiron and the art stars who exhibit in the chalky white enclaves that patrol the art world. Fame and money come to mind, as does a propensity for violence, personal injury, and insult. What these high-stakes, market-driven professions — and the people involved in them — have in common is more tabloid than refined, yet far less of a stretch than you might think. Without further ado, a few NFL quarterbacks and their artistic-minded doppelgangers … 

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Michael Vick & Tom Otterness

(image via

Outrage regarding Tom Otterness (image via

Michael and Tom, tsk, tsk … The football player went to prison for torturing and killing dogs he used in the altogether repellant “sport” of dogfighting. Having paid his debt to society, Vick is once again a member in good standing of the NFL community, albeit in a back-up role. Otterness’s crime was more singular in nature. Gary Indiana sums it up in New York magazine: “A sculptor of limitless nonentity despite his demonstrated skill at conning public-art commissions and taste-impaired collectors into making him rich. Mr. Otterness, once upon a time, adopted a dog and then shot it to death for the fun of recording his infantile, sadistic depravity on film.” The once-upon-a-time was 1977, and the film is called “Shot Dog Film.” Otterness, like Vick, continues to ply his trade without restriction, despite the occasional burst of outrage each time the film is dredged up. Consider it dredged.

Eli Manning & Banksy

This pair is all about identity. Just who are these guys? Manning, who has won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants, just turned in one of the worst seasons a quarterback has had in modern memory. Sure, the Giants had a host of problems that can’t be attributed solely to him, but his performance was so wretched, one was left wondering, who exactly is Eli Manning? Banksy, on the other hand, had a stellar season. Indeed, it seems likely that if half of New York City hadn’t been busy chasing down the latest work by the mysterious street artist, Manning would have had a far worse time of it.

Tony Romo & Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons's "Balloon Rabbit (Red)" (2005–10) in the lobby at 51 Astor Place

Jeff Koons’s “Balloon Rabbit (Red)” (2005–10) in the lobby at 51 Astor Place (photo by Benjamin Sutton)

The Dallas Cowboys quarterback is the target of more animosity than perhaps any other cultural figure in the world — except for Jeff Koons. In Romo’s defense, he plays for a dysfunctional organization, has a catatonic coach, and a borderline insane star receiver. But for years now, Romo has failed to lead the Cowboys to a Super Bowl, let alone even a significant playoff victory. He also plays football in Texas, where high school games can draw 50,000 fans. To put that in perspective, imagine 10 days of lines for the Rain Room at MoMA. With regard to Koons — well, there actually isn’t any reason to like him.

Andrew Luck & Jackson Pollock

Luck is the highly touted young quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts. While he played well during two playoff games, he also threw 7 interceptions. In the dunce-parlance of the NFL, an interception is referred to as a drive-killer. Need I say more?

Mark Sanchez & Christopher Wool


Peyton Manning & Marina Abramović

Marina Abramović stares into someone's soul at MoMA (photo by Dan Nguyen, via Flickr)

Marina Abramović with her eyes wide open at MoMA (photo by Dan Nguyen, via Flickr)

These two are linked by the slavish devotion of their fans, a phalanx of corporate support, and a huge amount of press. Manning, who comes from a family of quarterbacks, goes to bed at 9 o’clock every night during the football season. Abramović, who runs a cult institute named after herself, seems to never sleep. In 2010 she sat opposite museumgoers for 736 hours and 30 minutes and stared into their eyes (aka souls), making many of them cry. 

Russell Wilson & Insert Any Young and Ambitious Artist Here

The sheer drudgery of the life of a young NFL quarterback is hidden away behind the pageantry of the games on Sunday. Practice, film-study and meetings (no, not AA), bellowing coaches, demanding owners and adoring fans, all collude to make life almost unbearable. Plus, the undersized quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks was drafted late and is underpaid by NFL standards, even though he’s had as much success as any of his larger peers. Sound familiar? Young artists, too, suffer their own indignities as they struggle to succeed — just getting a studio visit from the right gallerist/curator/collector can be trying, never mind talking to them as they constantly check their phones. But take heart: this year Russell Wilson is playing in the Super Bowl.

Robert Moeller is an artist, writer, and curator. His writing has appeared in Artnet, Afterimage, Big Red & Shiny, and Art New England. He lives in Somerville, MA.