Chron: Houston museum transforms into playable basketball court—with one twist

Brittanie Shey, Chron, March 16, 2023

CAMH's immersive exhibit, timed to coincide with the NCAA Final Four, pays tribute to 'Clutch City' and Houston's sports heritage.


In an immersive exhibit three decades in the making, the main gallery of Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) will soon be converted into a full-size basketball court thanks to Houston-based artist Trenton Doyle Hancock. The exhibit, called CAMH Court, is a partnership with the artist, the museum, and sportswear company Adidas. CAMH executive director Hesse McGraw says it's the first-ever playable basketball court to be installed in an art museum.


The installation, which runs from March 18 to April 27, is timed to coincide with the NCAA Men's Final Four basketball championship, taking place in Houston March 31 through April 3. McGraw says the concept for the exhibit has been a part of CAMH "lore" for many years.

"It just so happens that the space is very close to an NBA regulation court," McGraw says. "CAMH staff actually conceived of the idea in the '90s, and there are many CAMH staff who dreamed of seeing the gallery transformed into a basketball court."


Though the dimensions of the gallery are similar to a professional court, there is one main difference. The CAMH gallery is actually a parallelogram, meaning the normally rectangular court has to be canted in order to fit the space. This slightly wonky playing space, plus Hancock's art, will give the court a surrealist quality.



Most of Hancock's drawings, paintings, and other works focus on an elaborate mythical universe of creatures he calls Mounds and Vegans, who are pitted against each other in the eternal battle for good and evil. Other characters in this universe, called Bringbacks, have black and white striped fur, not unlike the traditional uniform worn by sports officiants. Much of his work is inspired by cartoons, graphic novels and comics.


 Trenton Doyle Hancock, Trenton Doyle Hancock Presents The Moundverse, Chapter 1: What is a Mound? Page 20 & 21, 2018. Ink on paper. 24 x 36 in


For this exhibit, Hancock has designed special backboards, basketballs, rules unique to the CAMH's court and dimensions, and other elements. There will also be a smaller kid-sized court with elements designed by Hancock. CAMH was even able to connect with the company crafting the actual courts for the Final Four tournament to aid in the exhibit's installation. "Once you step onto the court it becomes a very immersive space," McGraw says.


This won't be the first time CAMH has teamed up with the artist, who was born in Oklahoma and raised in Paris, Texas, before moving to Houston. In 2001, the museum hosted Hancock's first solo exhibition, called The Life and Death of #1. He had pieces in a group show there in 2003 called Splat Boom Pow! that focused on the influence of comics in contemporary art, and in 2014 he returned to the museum for a solo retrospective called Skin and Bones, 20 Years of Drawing.


"Hancock's shows have continually been some of the most celebrated in the institution's almost 75-year history," according to a CAMH press release.


The exhibit also pays subtle homage to Houston's legacy as a basketball town. The University of Houston men's basketball team is the odds-on favorite to win this year's tournament, but it was the university's team forty years ago, featuring student-athletes Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, that earned the team the nickname Phi Slama Jama, thanks to the explosive style and gravity-defying dunks. A decade later, Olajuwon and Drexler would lead the Rockets to two consecutive NBA titles, earning Houston the enduring nickname of "Clutch City".


Even before then, the city's Fonde Recreation Center, located just north of Buffalo Bayou on Washington Avenue and Sabine, became known for pick-up games where everyone from then-UH standouts Elvin Hayes and Don Chaney (who both later went pro) to Moses Malone, Calvin Murphy, Olajuwon and Drexler would drop in for games through the years. Like Fonde's court, CAMH will be open and playable on a drop-in basis during the museum's regular hours.


"I'm excited to see the social and cultural space the court will become," says McGraw, who adds that he's thankful the museum's 30-year dream will finally become a reality, and thanks Adidas for helping make that possible. "This has been a unique collaboration not just with Trenton but also Adidas. It's a pretty unique expression of the artistry behind basketball."

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