Atlanta-based artist Radcliffe Bailey thought he wanted to be an athlete. “My first dreams were to play baseball,” he said. Instead, Bailey headed for art school and a career that would bring his work to some of the finest art institutions in the world.
This summer, he will have the opportunity to connect with the sports world once again. The artist known for creating multi-layered works of art deeply rooted in history and culture is one of 26 local artists commissioned by the Savannah College of Art and Design to contribute to the art collection at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“I’m pleased to be part of this distinguished group of artists and be supported by my hometown in such a unique fashion,” said Bailey. “The work I’m creating for the stadium explores layers of local history and the bond sporting events can create within a community.”
In November, SCAD partnered with the Atlanta Falcons and AMB Sports & Entertainment (AMBSE) to commission, acquire and install artwork and memorabilia throughout the two million square feet of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the new home of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United scheduled to open summer 2017.
Earlier this year, an open call for artists drew more than 600 entries. At present, 53 artists from around the globe will contribute artwork to the stadium collection — one of the largest public art displays in Atlanta — which will include two large sculptures at the stadium entrances.
“With the advent of this meticulously imagined, majestic arena, Atlanta will be known for the momentous vitality of bespoke public art that redefines the cool factor,” said SCAD President and Founder, Paula Wallace. “The art of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium is integral to its monumental design, and is accessible to everyone within the unrivaled grandeur of America’s newest architectural landmark.”
Designed by Hungarian artist Gabor Miklos Szoke, a stainless steel falcon sitting on a bronze football will be the largest bird sculpture in the world at 41.5 feet tall with a wingspan of 64 feet.The sculpture is being constructed in Budapest and shipped in parts to the U.S.
A soccer ball sculpture will also be one of the largest of its kind in the world. At 35 feet tall, it is composed of mirrored stainless steel on a steel and aluminum structure designed by the London-based creatives, Studio Roso.
Inside the stadium concourse, work from the selected artists will support the themes and ideas that are important to fans, said Arthur M. Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United. The 26 local artists chosen to contribute to the collection bring a sense of community, play, innovation and inspiration to their work and represent a range of mediums and aesthetic styles.
Several artists have an intimate connection to professional sports. Photographer Sandee Bartkowski (Sandee O.) is a former Falcons cheerleader married to former Quarterback Steve Bartkowski. Richard Sullivan is a former professional baseball player and painter who studied at SCAD.
Other local artists include Georgia-born Monica Cook who is known for her striking images with voyeuristic details. JP McChesney is a self-taught metal artist from Atlanta who refers to his style as “industro-linear.” Amiri Farri draws on images of Sea Island Gullah culture while Christopher Stevens finds inspiration in America’s golden era of the 1950s.
Bailey’s contribution, the largest two-dimensional piece inside the stadium, marks a return to his early work with photographic images. In conjunction with Pellom McDaniels — a former NFL player and current rare book librarian at Emory University — Bailey researched the role of sports in the African-American community and sourced images of sports teams from Historically Black Colleges and Universities circa 1919. Bailey said he is excited for his work to be part of the collection at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“So often (artists) go other places to show, but it always feels good to come home. Going to a football game is like a homecoming,” said Bailey. “This is about communicating with people and not just people who know a lot about art.”