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Something for everyone at the SBMA

Brigid Mangano | Monday, November 14, 2011

Most people, if asked to identify the kinds of objects typically found in an art exhibition, would be quick to mention paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs. Very few would think to include skateboards in their lists. Yet from now until early January, visitors to the South Bend Museum of Art will encounter more than 300 skateboards on display in an exhibition titled “Full Deck: A Short History of Skate Art.”

Organized by the Bedford Gallery at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, Calif., the exhibition chronicles the development of skate art from the 1960s to modern times. The display presents an astonishing mix of artistic themes, styles and mediums that are bound to appeal to a broad spectrum of tastes.

Those interested in politics and world history will enjoy Chase Tafoya’s 2008 “Einstein,” a deck characterized by a black-and-white close-up of Einstein’s face. The piece is set against a colorful atomic explosion and features a bomb-like object to which a handwritten note reading, “I’m sorry” is provocatively taped.

Environmentalists will appreciate Todd Francis’ “Global Warming” series, which depicts Arctic animals that have lost their natural habitats. One deck features a lone polar bear atop a miniscule ice cap, while its neighbor shows four penguins standing below a brilliant sun, holding a handmade sign that says “Home melted, pleeze help.”

Pop culture aficionados will enjoy Corey Duffel’s “Edward Scissorhands,” a deck from 2003 that places Johnny Depp’s title character on an elaborate staircase in front of an arched window. Tom Ledin’s pieces “Hepburn” and “Monroe” will also draw viewers who appreciate his bold palettes of red and black and his use of iconic subjects.

Younger audiences will flock to the collection of Sam Smyth, which includes seven decks in the “Where the Wild Things Are” series. Each deck is devoted to a different monster Max encounters over the course of the book’s adventures. Children will also be attracted to Mike Kershnar’s “Good MedicineSeries” from 2007, which consists of decks embellished with various animals, including snakes, squirrels and birds.

Art enthusiasts familiar with traditional Dutch still life painting from the 16th and 17th centuries will recognize the genre’s influence upon the Stix and Jones “Vanitas”series.  They contain a sequence of four decks adorned with skulls, books, eyeglasses, roses, lemon peels and other paraphernalia.

Those who practice street skateboarding will surely marvel at the diverse assortment of decks on display, many of which were produced by famous skateboard manufacturers including Element, Enjoi and Krooked. Others were hand-stained by artists such as Skip Engblom or issued in limited numbers.

Photographs and video footage of skateboarders supplement the decks, and a gallery guide is available for visitors curious about the history of skateboarding and its entrance into mainstream American youth culture. Artist biographies and a glossary of technical terms are also provided for those who are unfamiliar with the sport.

The bottom line is that “Full Deck: A Short History of Skate Art” is well worth a visit, no matter what your background. There is something for everyone at this exhibition, which is free to the public and will remain on view through January 8, 2012.

Contact Brigid Mangano at bmangano@nd.edu