‘Is the Image Making Us, or Do We Make Images?’: Watch Video Artist Paul Pfeiffer Decode What the Rituals of Mass Sports Say About Society

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 2 episode, "Time," 2003. © Art21, Inc. 2003.

Sports arenas are places of high drama: ecstatic wins and devastating losses, injuries, saves, glory, and despair are all constantly playing out on a massive stage. Millions of eyeballs are trained on the most talented athletes and performers in their field, and often projected onto TV screens and Internet channels, too, amplifying the effect. The Honolulu-born, New York-based artist Paul Pfeiffer focuses his artwork on these tableaux through incisive videos, sculptures, and photographs.

Pfeiffer recasts original footage of pop culture events including Hollywood movies, sports, concerts, and other high-octane spectacles into thoughtful meditations on the nature of mass media entertainment.

“There’s something really seductive about pre-digested images,” the artist says in an exclusive interview filmed as part of Art21’s series Art in the Twenty-First Century. “If you’re served literally 500 channels on TV… why go out?” he asks with a wry smile.

Speaking about televised events, Pfeiffer continues, “There’s a huge infrastructure that undergirds every individual image we see on TV, and for me it’s very hard to dissociate the single image from that entire network.” As cameramen position their lenses on the spectators watching the show, audiences at home feel the frisson of excitement themselves. And without these viewers, there is no spectacle. “The question always comes up,” the artist says, “who’s using who? Is the image making us, or do we make images?”

Pfeiffer’s film installation, Red Green Blue, which debuted at Paula Cooper Gallery in 2022, will open at the Athaenaeum at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia later this month—the very school where Pfeiffer was a professor from 2016 to 2019. Indeed, proximity to the Georgia Bulldogs stadium informed his latest project, which focuses on the Red Coat Marching Band performing a live soundtrack for a football game. Pfeiffer’s installation shifts the perspective of the viewer from an audience member to someone recording the event through a viewfinder, watching the watchers.

“I think of myself as less of an author,” he says in the Art21 video, “and more of a translator, or mediator.”


Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series Art in the Twenty-First Century, below. Paul Pfieffer’s “Red Green Blue,” opens on August 31 at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at UGA.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of news-making artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series, like New York Close Up and Extended Play, and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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