What do an injured Kelley O’Hara and “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by Italian Baroque artist Mattia Preti have in common? The exasperated soccer star and 1675 religious masterpiece find unexpected synchronicity thanks to LJ Rader, the creator behind the wildly popular meme account ArtButMakeItSports.
Since 2015, Rader has been cleverly pairing photos from professional sports with art historical works. What began as a personal project that involved visits to museums and some of the week’s most intensely emotional images from soccer matches or basketball games has evolved into Twitter and Instagram accounts with considerable followings. “At first, it was starting with the art and then thinking about what it could be if it were sports,” he says. “As time went on, I realized the ones that resonated the most were the mashups—and using sports images that were in the moment/news cycle played the best.” A running Megan Rapinoe might imitate Apollo chasing Daphne, for example, or a long, lean leg might evoke that of an Alberto Giacometti sculpture.
Beyond the obvious visual similarities, though, Rader’s mashups tend to go a step further as they masterfully draw the two seemingly diametric fanbases and cultures together. One comparison features an image of the late Celtics player Bill Russell and Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle Series, for example, because both the basketball great and American painter were highly active in civil rights work.
Now numbering upwards of 1,000, the all-star pairings are an internet sensation in their own right, and ultimately, Rader’s goal is to dive into “what art means and (explore) the intersection of culture between two sides—art and sports—that rarely meet.”
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