By Tara Bennett
Over 80 of the best drawings, paintings and prints from legendary sports illustrator Leroy Neiman are currently on display at the LSU Museum of Art in the exhibit, “Leroy Neiman: Action!”
Neiman is known as one of the most prolific sports artists of the 20th century, with a portfolio featuring artwork of some of the greatest legends in sports history, including tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath and boxer Muhammad Ali. Neiman’s work grew to become quite popular, and has graced the covers of Sports Illustrated and Wheaties boxes. This will be the first exhibition featuring Neiman’s work since his death on June 20, 2012.
“It was really wonderful for us to be able to have this exhibition,” said Museum Curator Dr. Katie Pfohl. “So many people, both in this community and across the country, have such a fond memory of him and his work so it was really wonderful for us to be able to celebrate him.”
Both athlete and spectator alike recognized Neiman by his ever-present cigar and handlebar mustache, but what made Neiman truly stand out was how up close and personal he got with his subjects.
“He’s famous for being up close with the athletes and capturing their every motion all across sports,” said Pfohl.
Indeed, Neiman would be there right in the field. His artwork was made on-the-spot on the sidelines of football fields, basketball courts, baseball dugouts, Olympic arenas and ringside at boxing matches. As Neiman once wrote, while reflecting on his career, “I’ve met and sketched most of the great [American] athletes…and their movement, grace and energy have kept me captivated.” Neiman’s own captivation would translate onto his art, which captured defining moments in the history of American athletics with an ability to make his artwork “jump off the page.”
Since Neiman was a child of both art and sports, the museum believed this exhibit would be perfect to feature just in time for the LSU football season. The exhibition opened on Friday, August 1 and will close on Feb. 15, two weeks after the 2015 Super Bowl.
“The LSU Museum of Art was really excited to explore the relationship between arts and sports, and we all live and work in a community that has a huge amount of energy around arts and sports with LSU, and LSU football especially,” said Pfohl.
According to Pfohl, in order to bring the University more into the exhibit, the museum is displaying installations of baseballs and footballs painted by Neiman, with over 90 baseballs signed by LSU baseball greats and footballs signed by championship teams and players from the past 30 years. The exhibit also includes other LSU sports memorabilia, including a drawing of Pete Maravich in 1970, three lockers from Tiger Stadium signed by past LSU stars and a painting of the Tiger eye.
“As part of the exhibition, we wanted to both celebrate Leroy Neiman’s work and also LSU,” said Pfohl. “We really wanted a chance to celebrate and give people a chance to come to the exhibition to learn about Leroy Neiman, but also to celebrate local sports culture.”