Mitt Museum of Art

Bank One Ballpark collection doesn't quite cover all the bases

Baseball art is mostly cowboy art in soiled pajamas and cleats. Only a foreigner like Claes Oldenburg, who wasn't raised at the altar of the game's powerful tradition and sentiment, could come up with something like "Bat Column," in Chicago.

American artists too easily fall into the trap of commemorating great moments and heroes of the game. So you get the kind of schmaltzed-up hero worship seen in Jack Guth's painted collages.

Guth's six works at the stadium portray images like Willie Mays' sensational over-the-shoulder World Series catch and game- or record-winning home runs by Hank Aaron, Carlton Fisk, Bobby Thomson and Bill Mazeroski.

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For the moment, at least, they're on loan to BOB, and presumably for sale. Guth declined to comment about his arrangement with the D-backs. But he did say, through his wife, that he's working on pending deals with some of the ballplayers.

Though Guth's images, and baseball art as a whole, do little in the way of art, they inevitably highlight the game's own equivalent of great art--those moments when athletes have managed to seize the play, the clock and a bit of immortality.

Despite the advance of women's athletics, Americans tend to view sport and art as polarities of masculinity and femininity--the accomplishments in one having little or nothing to do with those in the other. But the Greeks grasped the link between physical and spiritual achievement and beauty. They knew that masters in each arena share an uncanny alertness about their surroundings--an ability to see and act decisively, to make the remarkable commonplace.

Who knows how many times Willie Mays imagined making an over-the-shoulder catch before he made the one we remember. Or how often Michael Jordan saw his most recent game-winning shot in his mind. But it was probably as often as Georgia O'Keeffe envisioned the pure forms of her early abstractions before she painted them.

We know that Colangelo and other sportsmeisters pay athletes to perform at that very edge of human ability. So why, oh why, do they put up with art that provides little more than flaccid athletic support?

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