NEW YORK — Chris Isenberg was consumed by sports as a child. But his obsession went beyond collecting baseball cards and having posters of his favorite athletes pasted on his bedroom wall.
At age 6, he constructed a mini-Yankee Stadium out of cardboard, replete with a giant scoreboard and upper-deck seating. That project was followed by his next creation: a hand puppet of shortstop Bucky Dent. Isenberg was even known to wear eye black, like his favorite baseball players, on family trips to France.
“I was definitely extreme, but I knew people even more extreme,” Isenberg said in a telephone interview from the Melody Weir Gallery in Chelsea, where he is the curator and featured artist for the exhibit, “Fall Classic: Remembrances and Ruminations on the Precipitous Declines of Our Sporting Heroes.”
“To me, sports’ failure is more interesting than sport success,” he said. “It’s about both loss and fascination, especially for kids in my generation. We had so much invested in them. The narratives of their lives were so powerful. They self-destructed and couldn’t handle the opportunities for pleasure.”
Isenberg, 32, was on the verge of his teen years when his heroes, New York Mets’ stars Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry, began their falls from grace. He remembers seeing photos of Gooden walking out of a courthouse having been charged with cocaine possession. “I empathize,” he said. “Their characters are the archetypes by which I see my own self.”
The show encompasses works from Isenberg, a frequent contributor to the New York Times and Fader magazine, who is also the creative force behind, No Mas, an apparel line that pays homage to sports teams with updated vintage Starter jackets and a full line of T-shirts devoted to fallen athletes.
Part of the exhibition is an installation modeled after Isenberg’s childhood bedroom. A huge corkboard hanging above the bed is plastered with old Sports Illustrated covers, baseball cards, mug shots, and sports team logos. A small television in the corner plays footage of the Mets versus the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series.
Mickey Duzyj, an illustrator and winner of the 2001 Museum of Modern Art Award and the 2005 Geri Bauer Foundation Award for the best illustration at the annual Society of Illustrators’ Scholarship Competition, contributed drawings of perhaps the ultimate fallen athlete, former heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson.
Duzyj captured the innocence of Tyson, pre-fame and pre-ear-biting, in a drawing based on a Sports Illustrated cover that featured Tyson in a pigeon coop. The former champ had his own coop that housed more than 400 pigeons. Duzyj followed that work with a drawing of Tyson, post-ear-biting, in what Isenberg declares, “a phantasmagoric ring scene that looks like a medieval painting.”
“Fall Classic,” which closes Tuesday at 507 West 24th Street, also features artist Black Dragon’s full-length portraits of such fallen athletes as Lawrence Taylor, Pete Rose, Ben Johnson and Mark Gastineau.
“There’s something poetic to me in the drama of these stories,” Isenberg said.