In 1977, Richard Weisman was a New York investment banker with a passion for sports and visual art, a vision for how the two could intersect, and the money and connections to make it happen. And did he ever: Weisman commissioned his friend Andy Warhol to create portraits of 10 prominent athletes of the day, including Muhammad Ali, Pele and O.J. Simpson.
A complete suite of The Athlete Series is now installed at the Museum of Contemporary Art Calgary, on loan from Weisman, a prolific collector who now lives primarily in Seattle. Warhol knew his way around a soup can, but sport was another matter, so Weisman handled athlete selection and liaising. "As Richard says, Andy wouldn't know the difference between a golf ball and a football," says Jeffrey Spalding, artistic director of MOCA. Warhol and Weisman travelled around the U.S. so Warhol could photograph the athletes; he later created eight unique versions of each portrait in his studio. The result is a true snapshot of that time. "They are incarnate what Warhol is all about," Spalding says. "He captures people in their prime and holds them at that moment." Nowhere is this more eerily evident than in the portrait of Simpson – then a beloved football star, now a disgraced criminal.
Andy Warhol: The Athlete Series and Great Moments in Pop is at MOCA in Calgary, Jan. 12-30.