From star-studded ads to lavish halftime shows, the Super Bowl is equal parts spectacle and football. Cerebral fine art is not usually part of the game, but that’s about to change this Sunday. For Super Bowl LVII, the National Football League (NFL) has partnered with artist Hank Willis Thomas to debut Opportunity (reflection), a large sculpture that explores struggle and hope at the intersection of photography, pop culture, and sports.
The work is part of Thomas’s Punctum series, where the artist isolates a portion of an image and transforms it into sculpture. The series meditates on French philosopher Roland Barthes’s photographic theory of the punctum, a detail in an image that punches viewers in the gut to create a relationship between the picture and the person. Last month, alongside MASS Design Group, the Brooklyn-based artist unveiled The Embrace a sculpture on the Boston Common honoring civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The work depicts Dr. King and his wife holding each other when Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.
Opportunity (reflection) is a ten-foot-tall interpretation of a photo of a player about to catch a football. Its shiny surface reflects the viewer and puts them into a space where they can imagine the tension that comes before a successful (or unsuccessful) catch.
“Over the past century the NFL has been one of the most transformative platforms for civic and cultural engagement,” Thomas said in a press release. “For this reason, it is no wonder that the Super Bowl is watched by more people at one time than any other event. I see the ball as a metaphor for the present moment and what each of us can do or will do to cherish it and use it towards achieving our collective goals. This sculpture is dedicated to those who put everything into reaching for their dreams.”
“Hank’s powerful sculpture showcased during Super Bowl week beautifully represents the passion, strength, and hope at the heart of our game,” NFL Executive Vice President of Club Business and League Events Peter O’Reilly added. “The NFL thanks Hank for his tremendous work, and we hope the sculpture inspires the thousands of individuals who experience it throughout the week and well beyond.”
The sculpture is going through a Super Bowl attendee vernissage before it’s shown to a wider audience. Opportunity (reflection) will be displayed at the Phoenix Convention Center’s Super Bowl Experience on February 4 and 5, then on February 9 and 10. After that, it’ll be moved outside the Peter Eisenman– and Populous-designed State Farm Stadium for Super Bowl attendees to admire. Finally, it will be moved to the entrance of Arizona State University (ASU) Art Museum for a year.