alphanova & galerie futura, Berlin.
One-percenters, auction flux, freelance precarity, champagne hangovers, gender imbalances, personal well-being sacrificed for fleeting moments of international fame, life guided by passion and aesthetics over stability—sounds a lot like the art world. But these are also defining factors in the world of thoroughbred horse racing, explored in the exhibition “Winner Takes All,” by artist Christa Joo Hyun D’Angelo. Intersections between competitive horse racing and contemporary art markets with neoliberalism unfold as a bittersweet elegy to these parallel high-stakes systems of labor and the struggles of those locked into a race to the top.
Two video collages of found footage, titled Sex, Money, Freaks and What About Go For Wand, along with the self-made documentary Labor of Love (all works 2016), outline the inner workings and history of the sport. Respectively, these videos reveal principal aspects of commercial horse breeding, auction, and training culture spliced with pop-culture representations from the film Seabiscuit (2003) and The Simpsons episode “Saddlesore Galactica” (2000); the history of Go For Wand’s downfall—a winning horse that broke a leg during a publicly televised race in 1990 and had to be “destroyed”; and interviews with contemporary jockeys about the physical, and mental hardships of life and work in this field.
The beacon of the show is a red-light sculpture, Heart of a Champion, which mimics the designs of horse portraits on locket necklaces coveted by equine admirers. According to breeders, trainers, and riders alike, the bigger its heart is, the faster the horse, but the imminent side effect is higher chances for aortic-valve bursts and sudden death. Sacrifice becomes habitual as horses and riders are worked to the point of potentially fatal injury, hoping for fame and fortune. Exclusivity may be the name of the game for those pulling the strings—but at what cost?
First published on Artforum.com, November 14th, 2016