Tim Laun is not obsessed with Brett Favre. Then again.... "I don't think of myself as an insane fan," says the 31-year-old artist, showing a visitor his collection of Green Bay Packers jerseys in a midtown Manhattan studio bathed in summer light. "I read the sports page every day, I go to the Packers' website at least once a day. It's habitual. When you grow up in Kiel, Wisconsin, this is just what you do. I guess there's some obsession."
In fact, an almost religious dedication to the Packers, and to Favre in particular, fuels much of Laun's work. His latest project is the Favre Era Video Cyclorama, a proposed 25-foot-high circular structure dedicated to Favre's 225 straight regular-season and postseason starts as a Packer. The installation would contain a television set for each of Favre's starts to date, each playing a tape of the game broadcast on a continual loop. The piece would be a shrine to every second of Favre's career as a Green Bay starter--a pulsating monument to, among other things, perfect attendance. "Sometimes sociopolitical work comes from a real obsession," says Laun, who'll present his proposal at a panorama conference in China next month. "Rather than trying to make a political work, I'm making something that deals with issues that are right in front of me. There's a more authentic resonance to it."
"American sports and avant-garde art have rarely shared the same playing field," says Lowell Pettit, a New York City art expert who advises collectors. "This work pays homage to the late-19th-century popular model of the cyclorama, which, like NFL teams, traveled city to city."
Laun's family has held Packers season tickets since even before Lambeau Field opened in 1957, and he has seen all of Favre's Packers games but one, either live or on TV. "The project is both personal and a shared experience," says Laun, an adjunct assistant professor of art at Hunter College in Manhattan. "It's coming from the perspective of a fan, and it chronicles 13 years of people watching the game every week. For me the piece connects childhood to adulthood."
In a 2002 Brooklyn gallery show Laun contributed a split-screen video project using a three-hour handheld recording of a Green Bay game that he made from the stands at Lambeau. His footage of the field action, the sidelines and the crowd ran on the left side of the screen while the commercial broadcast streamed on the right side. Last year in the same gallery Laun placed enlarged portraits of 22 players from the 1966 Packers on one wall and pictures of 22 players from the '96 team on a facing wall. "The portraits are taken from a cheesy poster my mom gave me," Laun says. "They're really grainy black-and-white photos, and they face off, which is kind of a formal theme of mine."
Laun is hardly the only artist exploring sports themes. Earlier this year at a Hunter College gallery he curated a nine-person exhibit concentrating on sports in contemporary art. In a group show at the Gladstone Gallery in Manhattan this summer, a California artist named Slater Bradley looped a 10-minute video of a lone drummer--shirtless and skinny--thumping Led Zeppelin riffs at midfield of Cal's Memorial Stadium while the Golden Bears football team ran drills. And well-known artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jeff Koons, Malcolm Morley, Gabriel Orozco and Matthew Barney work with sports imagery. "There's always been a relationship between sports and art," says Pettit, "but Laun is making public sculpture out of sport, which is fairly new terrain because the audience becomes the subject. He's taking your antisport art types and making them engage with sport."
Laun recently encountered the subject of his artistic interest out of uniform for the first time, when Favre was in a midtown Manhattan park to do a Sensodyne toothpaste promotion. "Every Cheesehead in New York was there, myself included," says Laun. "[Favre] looked trim and ready for the season. I think I smell another championship."
The Art of the Punt
At the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, N.Y., there's a 1,500-square-foot patch of sod lined like a section of a football field and so green that it seems to glow. Stand on that patch on any weekend afternoon until Aug. 7 and chances are a football will arc toward you, rocketed from a JUGS machine 60 yards away. "They advertise that the machine can do a perfect spiral for up to a hundred yards," says Tim Laun (above, right), who created this piece of interactive football art. "Take that moment out of the game, and the punt becomes very authentic in form--the arc, the height and the speed." Laun also photographs participants in the act of punt reception. "The alpha male of the group will stop, see what's happening and walk toward the ball," he says, "instinctively waiting for his turn to catch."