One of the great things about being a Shaq fan is that the man stays busy, so there’s a lot by him to enjoy—four studio albums, a bevy of film appearances (remember when he popped up in Good Burger?), five books (Wikipedia just alerted me to a 1999 volume called Shaq and the Beanstalk and Other Very Tall Tales), at least one videogame, 1994’s Shaq Fu (which I remember being perfectly serviceable, though not his strongest project), and his wonderful basketball blooper television segment “Shaqtin’ a Fool.”
Shaq has also worked as a curator, organizing a show called “Size Matters” at the Flag Art Foundation in Chelsea in 2010, and this week he’s at it again, with “Shaq Loves People,” a group exhibition at Flag’s booth at the Expo Chicago fair, which runs through Sunday, September 21. It’s pretty great.
As its title suggests, the show is filled with portraits, which are hung salon-style, packed together, high on the walls of the booth. (The hang is centered at 79 inches from the ground, which is Shaq’s eye level, Flag’s assistant director, Jonathan Rider, explained.) There’s Malick Sidibé’s classic black-and-white photo of a barefoot dancing couple, Dawoud Bey portraits from the series he showed at this year’s Whitney Biennial, a fun and odd Cindy Sherman (an aging partier, perhaps at a gala dinner, posing for a photo), plus works by Ron Mueck, Kehinde Wiley, Mark Bradford, and a bunch of others. It’s frenetic and warm—all light, positive vibes.
There’s one oddity in the show—a lone abstract sculpture made out of a towering stack of pennies. Artist Corban Walker made it especially for Shaq’s exhibition, and happened to be standing near the booth when I dropped by.
“I’m using the pennies as a measurement, to measure my height,” Walker said. “[The number of pennies] is my height in millimeters, which is 1,290 millimeters.” So while the artist is a bit over four feet, the sculpture is about 6 and a half feet tall. (Pennies are each a bit more than a millimeter thick.) “I stacked it up,” he continued, “and it becomes about the average height of a basketball player.”
The work also consists of a little shelf (visible above) with a row of pennies that measures the length of Shaq’s hand. It’s enormous. (The 15-time NBA all-star and Olympic gold medalist is 7 feet, 1 inch tall.) The work’s title: Self Portrait in Pennies Accompanied by the Hand Span of Shaquille O’Neal.
Shaq is as laid-back as a curator as you would probably expect. I asked Walker how the piece came about. “I gave it to him as an idea, and he liked it,” he said.
Update, September 20: An earlier version of this post misstated the name of Flag’s assistant director.