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Fan Mail: Victor Solomon

For a year, Victor Solomon apprenticed with stained-glass masters who taught him everything he needed to know about this oft-forgotten craft. Solomon is not a stained-glass artist, and though he doesn’t particularly aspire to be one, an idea took a hold of him and compelled him to take up this traditional medium. Literally Balling is an ongoing project in which the San Francisco-based artist explores the parallels between the world of sports and the world of art, with a subtle side commentary on religious history.

Victor Solomon. We Skrong Then, 2015; glass, mirror, lead, 24K gold-plated high polish steel, wood, Swarovski crystal; 44 in x 40 in x 20 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Victor Solomon. We Skrong Then, 2015; glass, mirror, lead, 24K gold-plated high-polish steel, wood, Swarovski crystal; 44 x 40 x 20 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Using the well-known symbol of the basketball hoop and backboard as the centerpiece of this series, Solomon’s interest in stained glass speaks to notions of practical finesse, technical rigor, and excessive opulence. In relocating basketball into the space of contemporary art, the artist seeks to highlight the intense level of discipline required of both players and artists in pursuit of their practice. Within this spectrum of similarities, however, there is also an implicit critique of the extravagance that comes with celebrity culture in both realms, as exemplified by the use of an ostentatious medium such as stained glass.

Victor Solomon. How Can I Not, 2015; glass, mirror, lead, 24K gold-plated high polish steel, wood, Swarovski crystal; 44 in x 40 in x 20 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Victor Solomon. How Can I Not, 2015; glass, mirror, lead, 24K gold-plated high-polish steel, wood, Swarovski crystal; 44 x 40 x 20 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Solomon’s choice of medium complicates the narrative. Stained glass is abundantly present in religious structures and institutions, and the church is the predominant entity that incorporated the craft within its architecture, so creating a permanent association between stained glass and worship. Historically, the rigorous craftsmanship required to produce this detail-oriented technique also meant that it was a costly endeavor that only the church could afford. In this vein, stained glass also becomes a symbol of status and power. To use it as a medium in the context of this project, then, can also be seen as a testimony to the celebrity culture cultivated by the purveyors of the sports industry, as well as the adulation and fervor that surrounds artists and their work, be it basketball or art.

Victor Solomon. How Can I Not, 2015; glass, mirror, lead, 24K gold-plated high polish steel, wood, Swarovski crystal; 44 in x 40 in x 20 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Victor Solomon. How Can I Not, 2015 (detail); glass, mirror, lead, 24K gold-plated high-polish steel, wood, Swarovski crystal; 44 x 40 x 20 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

There is also humor and irony in Solomon’s work. In using an inherently fragile material for what is typically a solid board for bouncing a ball, the artist renders the backboard functionless. Similarly, by situating the work against a wall, the stained-glass composition loses its natural capacity for translucence and radiance. This satirical play on the intrinsic qualities of the materials reveals a critique of the false pursuits and illusions of power rampant in the realms of sports and art, as the spotlight on popular figures grows and expands. This sense of illusion is also reflected in the work in other ways. In How Can I Not (2015), for example, Solomon incorporates pieces of gold-painted mirror to create a semblance of light within the context of a gallery.

Victor Solomon. You Know I Gotta Show Out, 2015; glass, mirror, lead, 24K gold-plated high polish steel, wood, Swarovski crystal; 44 in x 40 in x 20 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Victor Solomon. You Know I Gotta Show Out, 2015; glass, mirror, lead, 24K gold-plated high-polish steel, wood, Swarovski crystal; 44 x 40 x 20 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

These works of art made of materials and symbols stripped of their natural functions speak to the artist’s knack for critique and playful mischief. But perhaps what is most intriguing in Literally Balling is the rigor and precision involved in the craft of stained glass contrasted against a sense of blitheness that Solomon invokes with the works’ titles. A work like You Know I Gotta Show Out (2015), for instance, takes its title from a hip-hop song and is an idiom used to indicate the act of spending money as proof of one’s wealth and status. The title of the series itself, Literally Balling, is also a double entendre of basketball “balling” as well as the more popular meaning of “rolling in the money.” Solomon’s title choices capture the essence of this project and the universe of opulence, excess, and swagger from which it draws upon. Carefully constructed and meticulously composed, these stained-glass backboards collapse multiple frames of reference into one—the worship-like zealousness around celebrity culture, the labor-intensive precision of craft as marker of wealth and status, and the ultimate elusiveness and fragility of power.

Victor Solomon. You Know I Gotta Show Out, 2015 (installation view); glass, mirror, lead, 24K gold-plated high polish steel, wood, Swarovski crystal; 44 in x 40 in x 20 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Victor Solomon. You Know I Gotta Show Out, 2015 (installation view); glass, mirror, lead, 24K gold-plated high-polish steel, wood, Swarovski crystal; 44 x 40 x 20 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Victor Solomon is a San Francisco-based filmmaker and artist who uses humor and narrative to explore themes of luxury, new money culture, and proletarian drift. He is represented by Joseph Gross Gallery in New York. 

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