The quick reactions that have made Shaquille O’Neal a star NBA center served him well when he switched to the position of curator. “I went with my instinct,” O’Neal says of his selection process for “Size DOES Matter,” which opens at the FLAG Art Foundation in New York on February 19. The show, which O’Neal worked on without compensation, will include more than 60 pieces by 43 artists, including Andreas Gursky, Elizabeth Peyton, Yinka Shonibare, and Lisa Yuskavage.
O’Neal began curating the show last fall, during a dinner in the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, where his team, the Cavaliers, had just played a preseason game against the Charlotte Bobcats. The founder of FLAG, Glenn Fuhrman, and its director, Stephanie Roach, had flown in from New York in time to catch the game. But the main purpose of their short visit (they flew back that night) was to present O’Neal with several hundred images of artworks related to the show’s theme.
O’Neal, who is more than seven feet tall, was immediately drawn to Untitled (Big Man), 2000, by Ron Mueck, a nearly seven–foot sculpture of a naked man sitting with his elbows resting on his knees. It will be lent by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. Other works are coming from private collections and from such galleries as Gagosian, PaceWildenstein, and Matthew Marks. FLAG is not selling the works in the show (which runs through May 27) nor has O’Neal committed to buying any.
Richard Phillips is making a new, ten–foot–tall painting based on a photograph of Michelle Angelo, a popular model in the ’60s. The largest work in the show will be Robert Therrien‘s No Title (Table and Six Chairs), 2003, consisting of a table so high that gallery visitors will be able to walk underneath it. It is owned by Fuhrman. The smallest work will be a sculpture of O’Neal that requires a microscope to view. Willard Wigan is making the mini Shaq for the show, working with materials such as toothpicks and grains of rice and sand. “When I was looking at the different works, I kept thinking, ‘How did he or she do this?'” says O’Neal. “It made me appreciate how talent can be expressed.”
A longtime basketball fan, Roach recruited O’Neal as curator through persistent phone calls and e–mails to his agents and lawyers. She was interested in O’Neal because of his history of multitasking: during his basketball career, he has acted, made rap albums, served in law enforcement, finished his college degree (at Louisiana State University), and earned an M.B.A., from the University of Phoenix. He is studying for a Ph.D. in organizational learning and leadership at Barry University.
At home, O’Neal has “a ton of art,” he says, including works by his five children. On the road with his team, he focuses on playing basketball. “My experience with art has been more personal and less in the context of museums,” he says, noting that he enjoyed a visit to the studio of artist Peter Max last year. “Maybe after my show at FLAG, I will become more of a regular,” he says.