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​David E. Little, an art historian and

curator, believes technology helped

elevate sports from a simple pastime

to a mass cultural experience.

Art Historian to Highlight Transformative Impact of Sports Photography

Providence, R.I. -- David E. Little, an art historian and museum curator in Minneapolis, will lecture at Providence College on Thursday, February 23, about how photography has transformed sports from a leisure activity into a spectacle of mass participation in the modern age.

Little will deliver his talk, “The Sports Show,” at 7 p.m. in the Ryan Concert Hall in the Smith Center for the Arts. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, is part of PC’s SPORT:ART celebration, a two-month exploration of sport, art, and identity through exhibits, lectures, and films.

Little, curator of photography and new media at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA), is the brother of Catherine Little Bert ’77, a PC trustee and art gallery owner in Providence. Working with art history professors Dr. Joan R. Branham and Dr. Deborah J. Johnson, and with the Department of Athletics, Bert developed the idea for SPORT:ART, inspired in part by her brother’s exhibit.

While visiting PC, Little also will present a career service program for students, “A Career in the Museum World,” on February 24.

His exhibit, The Sports Show, opened February 19 at the MIA and runs through May 13. It includes photographs and film clips, including Richard Avedon’s 1963 photo of Lew Alcindor, later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, on a New York City playground, and the Black Power Salute given by two African-American track stars during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

Local pastimes now international events

In the 19th century, sporting events were local activities, Little said. But as technology advanced, people were able to see images of important games and victorious athletes from around the world.

“Suddenly, millions of people were witness to athletic action, and sports became and have remained spectacles, pop culture phenomena, and political dramas,” Little said. “At the same time, sports images became triggers for memories of significant personal and historic events.”

Since the 1960s, the marriage between sports and media has altered the nature of sports, athletes, and cultural standing, Little said.

Little said his inspiration for the exhibit came during a visit to the Hamburger Bahnhof, a contemporary art museum in Berlin, where he viewed The Saints, a sound and video exhibit about the 1966 World Cup soccer match between West Germany and England.

That exhibit, designed to demonstrate nationalism and crowd dynamics, is being shown for the first time in the United States as part of Little’s exhibit in Minneapolis.

Little joined the MIA in January 2009. Prior to that, he worked in New York City as associate director, Helena Rubenstein Chair of Education, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and as director of adult and academic programs at The Modern Museum of Art. He also was a visiting scholar at the Heyman Center for the Humanities, Columbia University.

Little has a bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College, a master’s degree from Williams College, and a Ph.D. from Duke University.

--Vicki-Ann Downing


Read about Byron Motley's SPORT:ART lecture on the legacy of the Negro Leagues.

Check out a time-lapse video of the mural painted by the College community as part of SPORT:ART.

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