Salon 94, a New York-based gallery, is set to hold an upcoming gallery, dubbed “For The Kids,” which will feature classic sports lithographs from the archives of the Costacos brothers, John and Tock.
Opening on June 23 at Salon 94 Freemans and curated by Fabienne Stephan and Adam Shopkorn, the show serves as a mini-retrospective of early Costacos posters from 1986 through 1990 — featuring sports greats such as Lakers’ James Worthy, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Lawrence Taylor, and Herschel Walker, among others.
Costacos Brothers, originally a sports t-shirt manufacturer, built a reputation for “fantasy” sports posters that gave professional sports heroes a larger-than-life look and appeal. Their products captured the imagination of sports fans at a time when athletes were becoming pop stars.
Without a license from professional sports leagues, they were unable to produce game action shots. Instead, they made personality posters, marrying pop culture to an athlete and his persona.
“They understood that at a certain point a player gains a public profile that transcends their team, catapulting them to individual stardom,” said a rep for Salon 94.
Tapping into their local sports market, the brothers big break came in 1985 when Kenny Easley, the All-pro safety for the Seattle Seahawks, agreed to pose for a poster. Rather than posing him for an action shot in team gear, which was the sports poster industry standard at the time, Kenny liked the concept of his image as a tough-guy in leather jacket and gloves. He became “The Enforcer.” Soon after, they signed Los Angeles Raiders defensive back Lester Hayes and, using the language of a popular daytime television show at the time, titled their work “The Judge: Lester’s Court.”
The sales of both posters were modest and they did not gain much traction outside of their local markets. Following suit, the Chicago Bears Jim McMahon became “Mad Mac,” playing on “Mad Max.” On the heels of the Chicago Bears 1985 Super Bowl victory, McMahon’s poster struck a chord in the marketplace and sales soared. In its first week, 10,000 copies were sold.
“We wanted to make the athletes into comic book heroes. They’re larger than life,” explained the Costacos. “They’re Superman. They’re Batman. They’re Hollywood action stars that kick the sh** out of 20 bad guys always living to fight another day.”
The Costacos signature images, with their campy porno-like titles, are at once commando-kitsch and aspirational. Nike’s posters used similar players to similar ends, helping athletes like George “Iceman” Gervin and Darrell “Dr. Dunkenstein” Griffith achieve iconic pop status.
In addition to these works, pieces will be presented from Jeff Koons’s first solo exhibition, Equilibrium, the 1985 show that included basketballs floating in display tanks, cast bronze standard scuba diving tanks and framed advertising posters that appropriated imagery contained in Nike advertisements that preceded the earliest Costacos work. The Nike posters were purchased by Koons with the permission of the manufacturer, and were presented as his own artworks.
Beginning June 23, these works will be on display at Salon 94 Freemans, which is is located at 1 Freeman Alley, New York, NY 10002. For more info, visit Salon94.com.