Fitness History

Art and Fitness III

In the late sixties, the artist Bruce Nauman created a number of videos based on “an awareness of yourself” that comes from “exercises” rather than simply thinking or reading, as he said in an interview from the period. His current show features seven video installations that look back on one of those pieces, Walk With Contrapposto (1967-8). I wrote about it here.

Political Bodies in Egypt

An especially interesting article in The New York Times today reports that in Egypt, among the young who swarmed the streets some five years ago during the Arab Spring, “a fitness craze has taken hold.” A really excellent turn of events for a country that ranks as the 17th most obese in the world. However, the really fascinating part are the causes that the writer, Rod Nordland, adduces for this new exercise movement. Some see it as Egypt merely catching up with increasing worldwide enthusiasm for fitness, which is to say it’s an inward turn, a “withering of the political revolution under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.” Other comments—that, for instance, the revolution gave people permission to occupy public space in a new way–suggest that it represents a transformation of political energy, one that retains its connection to politics. I’m betting on the latter. As I note in LIFT, fitness has…

Art and Fitness II

Pictures of people doing handstands in exotic locations, usually while on vacation, have become a mainstay of the fitness world in the New Frontier. I’ve been guilty of a few. Here I am on the Parthenon, for instance: One can make the argument that this particular strand of selfie culture has its origin, or at least an early exemplar, in Conceptual Art, Robert Kinmont’s 8 Natural Handstands (1969). Depictions of people engaged in fitness activities and sport are among the very oldest in art. Here, unlike those first images, there is almost no emphasis on the physique; rather it’s on the performance itself, which in this case feels like something of a party trick—and that’s probably why there’s a whiff of narcissism about it. That sense of showing off is only strengthened by the fact that it’s a self-portrait, one executed in a notably heroic setting, balanced on a rock…

New LIFT excerpt

I am really honored to have an expanded excerpt from Lift published on The Paris Review Daily. I spent most of my twenties working at what was then just a literary magazine, first as an intern and eventually as the managing editor. During that time, George Plimpton, whom I miss dearly, was my mentor and friend, and so I’m especially pleased to be able to write a bit about him on a blog I read every day.

Art and Fitness I

What follows is the first in a series of what will be intermittent posts on fitness and art. Flex Time A single evening forty years ago can be viewed as a pivot point, a banana peel on which the entire subsequent course of fitness and contemporary art slipped. A symposium followed by a bodybuilding performance held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, “Articulate Muscle: The Male Body in Art,” began with the question of whether or not bodybuilding ought to be considered an art form. One of the panelists, Vicky Goldberg, had in fact published an essay in The New York Times magazine the previous November raising just that issue, so bodybuilding was in the air, even though it was a maligned and suspect practice. The evening, which was attended by some 2500 people, also served as a very successful fund raiser for what would become the documentary Pumping…