Margaret Court, the Aussie Amazon, did sprints in the sand and lifted weights when workouts for “ladies” were a dirty word. On first encountering her, Martina Navratilova said what so many women felt: “Margaret amazed me with her size and strength.” Nicknamed “The Arm” for her power overhead (the serve, the smash) and incredible reach on court, Margaret becomes “The Neck” in Kodgers’ portrait. Well, Margaret has certainly stuck her neck out with her attacks on Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, and the entire LGBQT community. One way to read Kodgers’ lovingly?-accusingly?-aggressively?-bitterly?-righteously?-tenderly? rendered paint of gloriously thick purples and browns and yellows is within the tradition of still life painting. The fruit, once ripe, is rotting. The flesh, once muscled, sags. Margaret’s ideas, once societal truisms, need to be taken out to the trash.
I do not know which to prefer, the thick sagging glory-anti-glory of Margaret’s neck, or the more rigidly structured clash of colors in Margaret’s face. Eyes cut off, ears cut off, forehead (read brain), lobotomized. Margaret’s implacable, unseeing face suggests something insidious for the LGBQT community that all “others” know well: I do not see you. I do not hear you. I do not know/consider your reality.
When Bobby Riggs brought her roses before humiliating her in The Mother’s Day Massacre (6-2, 6-1) before 50 million television viewers, Court curtsied before playing the most passive, disappointing match of her life: (She, curtsied! Billie Jean King would later write in disbelief.) Four months later, King crushed Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes. Yet in her great rivalry with Billie Jean, Margaret Court was the better player: a 22-10 head-to-head advantage and 4-1 in grand slams. The record books, in fact, sing hymns of praise to Margaret Court. Calendar grand slam in 1970. First (and only) mother to be ranked #1. Twenty-four Grand Slam Singles Titles, the all-time record. Kodgers’ portrait of Court invites us—shouts at us–to consider the rest.
Artist Bio: “Margaret” is painted by Mark Shorter. This work is the result of a collaborative dialogue of art and words on famous Australian tennis players with Mark Shorter, the endlessly innovative Australian artist and head of sculpture at the University of Melbourne. My thanks to Gertrude Contemporary, the leading incubator of contemporary art in Australia, for hooking us up. You can check out our previous collaborations here.
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