TOPICS > Arts

NBA’s Shaq Sizes Up Art World, With Works Large and Small

April 22, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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The NBA's larger-than-life Shaquille O'Neal is making his mark on the art world with a new exhibit of art both large and small. Jeffrey Brown takes a look at the "Size Does Matter" exhibit that the basketball star helped curate.
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JEFFREY BROWN: Finally tonight: He dunks, he rebounds, and now he curates an art exhibition.

For sports fans, these are familiar sights. Shaquille O’Neal, now with the Cleveland Cavaliers, is one of the greatest basketball players of all time: a four-time NBA champion and 15-time all-star known for the size of his talent on the court and of his personality off it.

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL, NBA player: From this day on, I would like to be known as the Big Aristotle.

My new nickname is Wilt Chamberneezy.

Shaq, ahh, is the greatest of the universe.

JEFFREY BROWN: Shaq, the name he’s best known by, has been an actor…

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL: I am Kazaam.

JEFFREY BROWN: … rapper, and even trained for what he sometimes says is a future in law enforcement.

But a curator of contemporary art?

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL: A lot of people don’t know that I love art.

JEFFREY BROWN: Shaq recently agreed to curate an exhibition put on by the FLAG Art Foundation in New York. He picked the artworks from images provided by the gallery and he picked the show’s name, “Size Does Matter.” Remember, this is a man who wears size 23 shoes.

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL: So, I named this art show “Size Does Matter” because, when something is so big and so beautiful, people have to take a second look.

JEFFREY BROWN: A gimmick? Sure. But, for the foundation, a nonprofit that presents thematic exhibitions free to the public, it was a chance to use Shaq’s celebrity to bring more people to art.

STEPHANIE ROACH, director, FLAG Art Foundation: What we originally thought of is a theme that somehow addressed this idea of size in contemporary art. So, when we were going through this theme, we thought who would be this representation of size, not only physically, but in terms of just how he views life and his approach? Of course, Shaq came to mind, and he was number one on our list.

JEFFREY BROWN: “Size Does Matter” includes works by 44 artists, from the very small, like Maurizio Cattelan’s elevators, and Tomoaki Suzuki’s wooden sculptures, to the very large, like Robert Therrien’s Table and Six Chairs, and Big Man by Ron Mueck.

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL: This one right is titled Big Man, of course, but, if you look at this picture, you could always say, big miserable man, man that’s thinking, big man, what are you looking at? But I like this piece because it makes me feel small. See, I’m 7’1”, 350. This guy’s about 9 feet, 780, so it makes me feel small. Plus, it’s beautiful.

JEFFREY BROWN: One well-known artist who participated, Chuck Close, liked the focus on size.

CHUCK CLOSE, artist: I am interested in extremes, you know? And I always thought, why wouldn’t you want to make something big, and why wouldn’t you want to make something really small? Well, the juxtapositions make a lot of sense, given the premise of size matters.

JEFFREY BROWN: British artist Willard Wigan went small for Shaq’s show, very small, with microscopic sculptures made from fibers that fit inside the eye of a needle, including one he called Micro Shaq.

WILLARD WIGAN, artist: There is an old saying that less is more. So, I wanted to sort of bring that to this exhibition. Micro Shaq took me seven weeks to actually complete. The painting was very difficult, because I had to pull out one of the very fine eyelashes from the corner of my eye. And I had to place it onto the end of a needle with a little piece of superglue.

I had to slow down my nervous system. I had to work between my heartbeat to do it. And then I had to paint so gently, without making a mistake.

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL: When I first saw it — he told me how he did it — I was like, there’s no way he did that, I mean, because, I mean, if you think about a little pin, a little pin is very small. A lot people have to lick the thing to put it through. So, you know, he had to — I — that’s hard right there.

JEFFREY BROWN: Not the language an art critic might use perhaps. But Chuck Close, for one, says Shaq scored as a curator.

CHUCK CLOSE: I have to say, I’m really very pleasantly surprised. I think he put together a very interesting selection of work. And he did a whole hell of a lot better figuring out what I — to put in here than I would get shooting hoops. I’ll tell you that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you thought of an art-themed nickname yet?

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL: Not yet. Shaqasso?

JEFFREY BROWN: That doesn’t mean Shaqasso is turning full-time to the art world, though. O’Neal is back doing his on-the-court artistry, as his team now competes in the playoffs.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He’s tall.