An in-your-face reminder of the women’s movement and its newfound ability to topple men in positions of power has risen in Los Angeles. Zoe Buckman’s Champ, a glowing neon pair of ovaries clad in boxing gloves, stands 43 feet tall outside of the Standard, Hollywood, overlooking Sunset Boulevard.
Organized by Art Production Fund, the British artist’s first public sculpture will debut today, just ahead of the Academy Awards, and will remain on view for a year.
Although Champ has been in the works for nearly two years, it feels custom-made for the current moment. “The pay gap is very obvious and apparent in Hollywood, and it’s no secret that there’s been systemic sexual harassment and assault in the industry, so we knew all that going in,” Buckman told artnet News ahead of the project’s unveiling. “I just didn’t know that the rest of the country would be thinking those things as well.”
Bethanie Brady, who runs an artist management firm, first put Art Production Fund and Buckman in touch back in 2016, after a smaller version of Champ appeared at New York’s Jack Shainman Gallery. It was part of “For Freedoms,” a group exhibition curated by Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman’s artist-run superpac. (That December, Champ became something of an Instagram sensation at PULSE Miami Beach and it is now on view through September in “The Future Is Female” at Cincinnati’s 21c.)
“Over the past few years, as we have worked through production and fundraising for the project, this incredible work has become relevant for even more reasons,” said Casey Fremont, Art Production Fund’s executive director, in an email. “It’s an undeniably powerful and empowering symbol that can’t be ignored.”
“Everything I’ve made has always been speaking to the female experience, whether that’s personal or political,” said Buckman. “It’s really encouraging and rewarding to see these ideas so widely discussed.”
Buckman first began working in neon following the birth of her daughter in 2011. Her “Present Life” series was inspired by her own placenta, which she had plastinated and turned into a sculpture, and included a series of placenta-themed works, with some in neon. A graduate of New York’s International Center of Photography, Buckman saw the medium as a natural extension of her work with the camera. “In photo school, they teach you that light is your paintbrush,” she said. “In that body of work, I wanted to create a neon placenta. I don’t think I realized until just now that that was a building block to Champ.”
Champ is Buckman’s largest sculpture to date, but the biggest challenge was fundraising, which included an ongoing sale of $1,500 embroidered works. “It’s incredibly difficult to get political, feminist-driven art supported,” said Buckman. “Lots of people want to create the illusion that they are supporting feminist messaging, but when it comes to spending money, most brands and companies were afraid of the criticism they could face by putting their names to this piece.”