Going for the Gold

posted by – 02/22/14 @ 5:57pm

Ruth Miller - The Struggle - Silver Medal, 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, "Painting" category

Did you know that at one point in history artists could receive a gold medal in the Olympics?  Yep, between 1912 and 1948 art competitions were held alongside the athletic ones.  The United States racked up four gold and five silver medals through these competitions (1 Gold in 1912, 3 Gold and 4 Silver in 1931, 1 Silver in 1936).  Modern Olympic founder, Pierre de Fredy Baron de Coubertin, saw the presence of simultaneous competitions as a fulfillment of his vision to combine art and sport.  Divided into five categories – sculpture, music, literature, painting, and architecture.  The first art competition took place during the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games; unfortunately, only 35 artists competed.  The art component  gained some momentum after that initial showing, with 193 artists submitting works in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, and over 1,100 works exhibited in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.  The art competitions continued until 1948.  However, in the years to follow, some members of the IOC objected to the artistic competitions.  They argued that many of the artists who competed in the Games were clearly professionals, as demonstrated by the fact that they often sold their works at the conclusion of the Games, and this violated the strict amateur regulations of the IOC.  Starting with the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Cultural festivals and the idea of the Cultural Olympiads replaced the medal-awarding competitions.  While the implementation and interpretation of these festivals and exhibitions have varied in the years since, the cultural component of the Olympics has continued.  For example, during the 2012 London Summer Olympics, the organizing committee for the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics held an exhibition called “From the Margin to the Edge: Brazilian Art and Design in the 21st Century,” which showcased the country’s culture through the works of 33 Brazilian artists and designers.  Currently, an exhibition entitled “The Russian Avant-Garde and Sport” is running through May 11th, 2014 at the Olympic Museum in Switzerland.  The exhibition seeks to highlight how avant-garde artists in the Soviet Union portrayed sports through the 1920 – 30s.  Additionally, the relationship between art, culture, and sport has been perpetuated through the spectacular performances of the Olympics’ opening and closing ceremonies…and some would say fashion as well.  Have you been following American figure skater and 2008 bronze medalist Johnny Weir’s daily fashion tweets from Sochi?  If not, check out today’s Chanel brooch.

With the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics coming to a close tomorrow night, I’m curious to see not only where the United States will land in the medal rankings, but also what artistic and cultural performances Sochi has planned for the closing ceremonies.

Walter Winans - An American Trotter - Gold Medal, 1912 Stockholm Olympics, “Sculpture“ Category. Winans is the only Olympic competitor to win a Gold in both the artistic and athletic competition. He had previously won a Gold as a marksman in the 1908 Summer Olympics.


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