‘My Practice Is Play’: Trenton Doyle Hancock Has Gamed Out a Fully Functioning Basketball Court in a Houston Museum

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The basketball court as canvas? It’s not such a stretch—the likes of Robert Indiana, Yinka Illori, and KAWS have all put their artistic spins on hardtops and hardwoods over the years. Houston-based Trenton Doyle Hancock is the latest artist to leave his mark on one such court, though, notably, his entry isn’t bound for the gymnasium, but the museum.

On March 18, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston will unveil Hancock’s latest commission, titled CAMH Court, within its Brown Foundation Gallery. The first artist-designed basketball court installed at a museum, the work won’t just be on view, but entirely playable too.

Visitors are invited to play on the court on a first-come-first-served basis, with a youth court available for those aged 12 and younger (basketballs will be provided). On either court, players will get to dribble across surfaces and dunk off a backboard painted with Hancock’s signature Bringback characters, cartoon figures the artist invented and has scattered throughout his poppy body of work.

CAMH Court, Hancock told Artnet News, sees “basketball and my art come together to make space for pure play.”

An overview of  by Trenton Doyle Hancock. Photo courtesy of the artist and CAMH.

According to museum’s executive director Hesse McGraw, CAMH had envisioned installing a basketball court within its building as early as the 1990s. But, institutional rigidity aside, the gallery didn’t lend itself naturally to a site where basketball could be played. 

In Hancock’s view, the space represented “a unique architectural environment,” particularly for its dimensions that take the form of “a famous parallelogram that has vexed artists for generations.”

To fit the work into the space meant canting a regulation-sized court into that famed parallelogram, with help from project partners Adidas Basketball and Creative Court Concepts—in turn putting an oblique angle on the game.

“This space creates a distorted and torqued basketball court that’s highly dynamic and generates a new kind of game,” Hancock added. “I’m interested in new types of basketball play emerging here.”

Trenton Doyle Hancock. Photo courtesy of the artist and CAMH.

In fact, “play” has long been an operative word for the artist, who, across paintings, sculptures, and murals, has unfurled a lore of his own making, threaded throughout with elements of pop culture, comic books, and art history. His self-made universe is home to a regular cast of characters with names like Vegans, Mounds, and Torpedo Boy, who engage in ongoing good versus evil battles—a flight of fancy that Hancock has sustained for nearly two decades.

“My artistic practice is play. My paintings are like large toys, and my studio is a playground. I’m trying to create new worlds where things might be skewed, but your imagination is on fire,” Hancock said.

For his first basketball court, Hancock deployed his Bringbacks as a way for players to engage and above all, play with his fictional characters. “I wanted to create a place where people could lose themselves in my artwork,” he explained. “I love the idea that people will try to play basketball despite the best efforts of the Bringbacks.”

This latest project with CAMH also builds on Hancock’s long-standing relationship with the institution that staged his first solo museum exhibition in 2001 and his most recent retrospective, “Skin and Bones, 20 Years of Drawing,” in 2014.

McGraw, for his part, sees CAMH Court as offering an unexpected encounter with contemporary art as much as a “unique expression of basketball as art.” More so, echoing Hancock, he views the exhibition as a way for the artist “to meet audiences where they are.”

“What comes next,” he added, “will be up to all the players.”

CAMH Court is on view at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose Boulevard, Houston, Texas, March 18–April 27, 2023.

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