The Pan Am Games Meet the Art of Boxing in Oshawa


Clinton Griffin, Superpunch (2002–10), ink, acrylic and oil on board, 42.9 x 60.5 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo: Lesli Michaelis Onusko

When the Oshawa Sports Centre was announced as the boxing venue for this summer’s Pan Am Games, staff at the adjacent Robert McLaughlin Gallery decided they wanted to be part of the celebration of sport.

Linda Jansma, Senior Curator at the McLaughlin, accordingly put together Boxing: The Sweet Science. The focused exhibition of 20 works — including sculpture, photography, video, and painting — depicts boxers in the act of fighting, or using boxing as a way of illustrating an idea. Taken together, the works demonstrate just how significant boxing has become in mainstream culture.


“When we settled on boxing as a theme and starting doing a little research, we quickly realized just how many boxing images there are out there, and knew we had a show,” said Jansma in an interview with NGC Magazine.

The National Gallery of Canada has lent the McLaughlin Eadweard Muybridge’s Boxing, open hand (1885–1886; printed 1887). Muybridge was a British photographer famous for using photography to study motion. His work illustrated, in one famous instance, that all four legs of a horse do, in fact, leave the ground during a gallop. 


Eadward Muybridge, Boxing, open hand (c. June 1885 – 11 May 1886, printed November 1887), collotype, 16.2 x 44.8 cm. NGC. Gift of Benjamin Greenberg, Ottawa, 1981

Boxing, open hand shows two near-naked pugilists as they spar, capturing the fighters from many different angles. “He’s using the boxers to look at how a body moves sequentially,” says Jansma. “He’s trying to get those minute movements that you normally cannot pick up with the eye. So that’s why I thought this work is such a fascinating look at boxing; it captures the action from all different angles. It’s artistic in its composition, but there is this interesting crossover with science.”


Pete Doherty, The Docks Nightclub, Toronto, Ontario (2005/2015), gelatin silver print, 28. x 35.6 cm. Collection of the artist, courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery. Photo © Pete Doherty

Historical works such as Boxing, open hand will be exhibited alongside others with a more contemporary take on boxing, including six works by Canadian photographer Pete Doherty. A retired amateur boxer and graduate of the Ontario College of Art, Doherty has a knack for capturing brief moments inside the boxing ring, inside the training gym — or outside of both — conveying the drama and force of human will. In The Docks Nightclub, Toronto, Ontario (2005), for example, a boxer sits in the corner of a ring, shoulders slumped and eyes closed. The water sprayed on his body appears to vaporize as soon as it hits the heat of his torso, without the fighter seeming to notice. The impression of exhaustion is unforgettable.

Another work in the exhibition is Canadian artist Kristan Horton’s Marty and Klaus (2012), a large inkjet print depicting the sweaty, distorted faces of two men glaring intimidatingly into the camera lens.

“I was reading an article in Canadian Art, says Jansma, “in which Kristan explains that, after he produced the work, it gave him this feeling he was staring at the two brothers from the Martin Scorsese film, Raging Bull [about boxer Jake LaMotta and his brother, Joey]. The two men in the photograph are not boxers, but it doesn’t really matter; the artist’s reference to the film changed the way I saw the image.”


Kristan Horton, Marty and Klaus (2012), archival inkjet print, 127 x 240 cm. Collection of the artist, courtesy of Jessica Bradley Gallery. Photo © Kristan Horton

Coral Short’s video Stop Beating Yourself Up (2013/2015) is the only video piece in the exhibition, although the finished piece was not intended as a video at all. Short is actually a performance artist who trained as a boxer. Lacing on the gloves, she proceeded to punch herself in the head for three hours. By the end of the three-hour performance, she had a concussion; the video is a five-minute edit of the full event, which was filmed by Morgan Sea. “She is a feminist and a queer,” says Jansma, “and is making the point that women are always beating themselves up, whether it’s about body image or sexual identity. And she’s made that a literal act for this performance. It can be hard to look at, but it’s very powerful.”

In keeping with the boxing theme, the Robert McLaughlin Gallery has commissioned four regional artists to produce work for the accompanying exhibition, Motor City Boxing Stories. Philip Nuttall, Dani Crosby, Joaquin Manay and Karolina Baker will visit Oshawa’s Motor City Boxing Club, and create works based on their experiences there.

Boxing: The Sweet Science is on view at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery until September 13, 2015, with a special talk and tour for boxing fans on June 28. Motor City Boxing Series will be on view at the McLaughlin from July 14 to August 2, 2015.

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