NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY CELEBRATES BOXING LEGEND
MUHAMMAD ALI WITH TWO SPECIAL EXHIBITIONS
Muhammad Ali, LeRoy Neiman, and the Art of Boxing and
“I Am King of the World”: Photographs of Muhammad Ali by George Kalinsky
On View December 11, 2016 – March 26, 2017
New York, NY, November 15, 2016 – The New-York Historical Society will celebrate the late, great boxing legend Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) and explore his relationship with artist LeRoy Neiman (1921-2012) and photographer George Kalinsky in two special exhibitions this winter. Muhammad Ali, LeRoy Neiman, and the Art of Boxing will highlight 21 vivid watercolors and on-the-spot sketches by Neiman that captured “The Champ’s” unique energy. “I Am King of the World”: Photographs of Muhammad Ali by George Kalinsky features 45 intimate photographs of Ali in and out of the ring by Madison Square Garden’s award-winning house photographer. On view concurrently on the second floor of the Museum from December 11, 2016 through March 26, 2017, the complementary exhibitions offer an insider’s perspective on major moments in Ali’s career, such as his legendary bouts with Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier, as well as behind-the-scenes views of his personal life.
“Muhammad Ali was an American legend, a celebrity whose remarkable work ethic, athletic prowess, and courage to stand up for his beliefs awe and inspire” said Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “We are proud to present these two exhibitions, which offer a deeper understanding of “The Champ” through the eyes of two artists who knew him well and experienced his greatness first-hand.”
Muhammad Ali, LeRoy Neiman, and the Art of Boxing
In 1962, artist LeRoy Neiman met Olympic gold medalist Cassius Clay (Ali’s given name) at the start of Ali’s career and began a decades-long friendship with the boxer. Renowned for documenting American sports and leisure life, Neiman and his vibrant style were well-suited to capturing Ali’s dramatic performances in and out of the ring. With works on loan from the LeRoy Neiman Foundation and curated by Lily Wong, research associate at the New-York Historical Society, Muhammad Ali, LeRoy Neiman, and the Art of Boxing will include portraits of Ali and his opponents and action-packed scenes from critical matches as well as quieter moments in Ali’s life.
Many of Neiman’s works on view are impromptu sketches, created during Ali’s pre-bout activities or the main event. Swiftly drawn on promotional posters and collaged with tickets or scorecards, Neiman’s energetic images capture Ali’s passion. In a head-to-head portrait of Ali and Liston, sketched on the bright red fight program for the 1964 world heavyweight championship, one can almost hear Ali’s signature style. Neiman often scrawled Ali’s comments on his sketches, such as when he insulted Liston during the weigh-in: “You’re no champ – you’re a chump!”
The exhibition also addresses Ali’s political and religious life, including his conversion to Islam after becoming heavyweight champion in 1964 and taking the name Muhammad Ali, as well as his 1967 refusal to be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector. Though Ali was vocal during these intense times for both himself and the country, Neiman captured the quieter moments of Ali’s spirituality, such as in a portrait of him at prayer.
Neiman captured major moments from Ali’s comeback, such as his loss in the 1971 “Fight of the Century” against Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden, his victory in 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman in Zaire when he reclaimed his heavyweight title, and his win in the brutal 1975 “Thrilla in Manila” match against Frazier. Neiman’s images document Ali and his opponents’ powerful jabs and hooks, giving the viewer ringside seats to the explosive action.
Support for Muhammad Ali, LeRoy Neiman, and the Art of Boxing is provided by the LeRoy Neiman Foundation and the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation. Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
“I Am King of the World”: Photographs of Muhammad Ali by George Kalinsky
For more than 50 years, George Kalinsky has captured iconic moments in sports as Madison Square Garden’s house photographer—a job he landed, in part, after bluffing his way into Muhammad Ali’s workout session in December 1965. Their encounter launched a longtime friendship and offered Kalinsky inside access to document the many sides of Ali, which are showcased in “I Am King of the World”: Photographs of Muhammad Ali by George Kalinsky, curated by Marilyn Kushner, curator and head of the Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections at the New-York Historical Society.
Kalinsky photographed Ali’s fights at the Garden and joined him at Deer Lake training camp and other facilities where the boxer prepared for bouts, but they also shared calmer moments, walking the streets of New York City together. Kalinsky once remarked that Ali always thought of himself as an entertainer, a salesman, and a fighter, and Kalinsky recorded it all both in the ring and out of it. Kalinsky saw Ali win and he saw him lose. But the photographer also saw a side of Ali that the boxer referred to in his memoir as “the soul of a butterfly,” that is, one with delicate beauty and grace as well as a wonder of nature.
Highlights on view in the exhibition include one of Kalinsky’s earliest images of Ali, taken on their first meeting in 1965 as the Champ jumped rope at the 5th Street Gym in Miami. An intense 1971 head-to-head shot of Ali and Frazier shows the opponents staring each other down. Kalinsky also captured Ali’s sense of humor as he pretended to be bested in the ring by a young fan as well as softer moments such as when he laid in bed, drawing in a coloring book.
“He was a boxer,” Kalinsky said, “yet the greatest peacemaker ever. Till the very end, he was an inspiration to millions to live in peace and believe in themselves.”
On November 15, author and journalist Gay Talese reflects on the memorable experiences and personalities throughout his decades-long career, including his journey to Havana with Muhammad Ali to meet with Fidel Castro and some of the great boxing moments of the 20th century. On December 17, children of all ages can Learn to Box Like Ali with celebrity trainer and former professional boxer “Hollywood” Hino Ehikhamenor, who will teach young visitors some of the moves that made Muhammad Ali “the Greatest.” In this interactive and educational program, Hino will shed light on Ali’s famous and inventive use of language as well as the social issues he confronted as a boxer and public figure. On January 15, New-York Historical’s Reading into History Family Book Club will meet to discuss The Greatest: Muhammad Ali by Walter Dean Myers, followed by a family tour of the exhibition.
Muhammad Ali Biography
Three-time heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (1942–2016) was one of the greatest athletes of our time—a superlative that the brash dynamo would himself proclaim. He captivated the world with his loud mouth, unorthodox boxing style, and political and religious convictions. Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, the boxer surprised everyone when he defied seven-to-one odds to beat reigning champion Sonny Liston in 1964. Ali retook the heavyweight championship from George Foreman in 1974 at the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire, outlasting the power puncher on the ropes. He won the championship for the third time in 1978 against Leon Spinks and finally retired in 1981.
About the New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s preeminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.
Image credits (left to right):
George Kalinsky. Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, 1971. Chromogenic print from original scanned film. Courtesy George Kalinsky.
LeRoy Neiman (1921-2012). Round 11, Ali-Frazier at Madison Square Garden, March 8, 1971. Mixed media on paper. Courtesy LeRoy Neiman Foundation.