The Rules of Basketball: Works by Paul Pfeiffer and James Naismith’s “Original Rules of Basket Ball”


The Rules of Basketball: Works by Paul Pfeiffer and James Naismith’s “Original Rules of Basket Ball”

September 16, 2012
January 13, 2013

About the Exhibit

September 16, 2012 – January 13, 2013

Paul Pfeiffer
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (08), 2005 Fujiflex digital C print, 60 x 48 in.
Collection Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman NY, Courtesy The FLAG Art Foundation
©Paul Pfeiffer. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

This fall, the Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin presents The Rules of Basketball, an exhibition of works by contemporary artist Paul Pfeiffer, presented in conjunction with a special display of James Naismith’s “Original Rules of Basket Ball” — the 1891 document that outlined the 13 original rules of the game. In a rare union, the exhibition considers the sport from a historical perspective, and, on a more psychological level, explores the phenomena and spectacle that surround it.

“We are thrilled by this unique opportunity to bring Naismith’s rules to the community, and to be able to do so within the rich context of Paul Pfeiffer’s work,” said Blanton Director Simone Wicha. “This pairing provides a special interplay of history, sport, and psychology that will appeal to a global audience. We are especially grateful to Suzanne Deal Booth and David Booth — owners of the historic document — for introducing the Blanton to the ‘The Rules’ and inspiring a cross-campus collaboration that unites art and sport.”

In 1891, Naismith, then a young teacher at a Massachusetts YMCA, developed the game of “basket ball” as an activity designed to alleviate the boredom of his indoor physical education classes. He devised the game with two peach baskets and a ball, and drafted an accompanying set of 13 rules that he typed on two sheets of paper and nailed to the gymnasium wall. The rules outlined the fundamental structure of a game that would later become a national obsession — one that is explored in Paul Pfeiffer’s photographic and video work.

In 2010, the Booths acquired Naismith’s rules from Sotheby’s at auction. Shortly thereafter, they collaborated with the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Mo., where “The Rules” were showcased in a special exhibition. In 2011, the document was exhibited at The University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ Museum and Library. Thanks to the Booths’ vision and generosity, “The Rules” will now be accessible to wider audiences, through its presentation at the Blanton, and as the focus of special campus-wide programming. With a complementary exhibition of basketball photography at UT’s Harry Ransom Center and a symposium planned at the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports this fall, campus and community alike will have a unique opportunity to view the document and examine the sport from many interesting new angles.

“The Rules” will eventually be returned on permanent display to the University of Kansas, Lawrence, and are the subject of “There’s No Place Like Home,” a documentary from ESPN Films set to air October 16 at 8 PM. The film tells the story of “The Rules’” acquisition by the Booths and the journey to bring it back to Kansas, where Naismith coached his first team.

Artist Paul Pfeiffer’s body of work on basketball creates a unique counterpart to “The Rules” and provides visitors an opportunity to consider the sport in meaningful new ways. Pfeiffer has worked in the field of video, photography, installation art and sculpture since the late 1990s. Celebrated for his groundbreaking use of digital technologies, Pfeiffer adopts today’s frenetic visual language in order to consider the role that mass media plays in shaping consciousness. In this unprecedented presentation at the Blanton, guest curated by Regine Basha, Pfeiffer’s work will be installed in a dialogue with Naismith’s “Rules.” Through eight photographs and six video installations, the artist re-frames the players, the ball, and the architecture of the arena to underline the sublime potential of the game and its metaphoric undertones. Also on view will be an exciting new video work inspired by Wilt Chamberlain’s 1962 100-point game.

The exhibition’s rare pairing of the historical document and Pfeiffer’s basketball works underscores the lasting and far-reaching impact of the game on the world of sports and culture. “One of this country’s most important contemporary artists, Paul Pfeiffer frames media, spectacle, and masculinity in a way that sheds new light on the game of basketball,” said Basha. “We are proud to present this long-awaited installation of some of his most seminal works on the game.”


Paul Pfeiffer was born in 1966 in Hawaii. He attended Hunter College and the Whitney Independent Study Program. He has had solo exhibitions at the UCLA Hammer Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, among others, and his work is included in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum, New York and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C. among other institutions. He is represented by the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York.


Born in Ontario in 1861, James Naismith was a man of many interests. He received a degree in divinity from Presbyterian College in Canada, a degree in physical education from the International YMCA Training School (now Springfield College) and a doctorate in medicine from Gross Medical College in Denver. In 1898 he moved to Lawrence, Kansas to become the first basketball coach at the University of Kansas — a position he held for nine seasons. In 1936, he travelled to the Olympic Games in Berlin where he addressed 21 basketball teams from around the world, solidifying the sport’s reputation as a truly international game.

The Rules of Basketball: Works by Paul Pfeiffer and James Naismith’s Original Rules of Basket Ball is organized by the Blanton Museum of Art with guest curator Regine Basha.

Support for the exhibition is provided by Suzanne Deal Booth and David G. Booth, Jeanne and Michael Klein, the Linda Pace Foundation, Kenny and Susie Jastrow, The Tapestry Foundation, Michael Chesser, Fluent~Collaborative, Bill and Kate Johnson, the Alice Kleberg Reynolds Foundation, Lora Reynolds and Quincy Lee, and Becky Beaver and John Duncan. Travel for the exhibition is provided by United Airlines.

Related Programming

Paul Pfeiffer and Regine Basha in Conversation
Saturday, Sept. 15, 2:30 PM

Perspectives gallery talk with Annette Carlozzi
Thursday, Sept. 27, 12:30 PM

Perspectives gallery talk with Rick Barnes
Thursday, Nov. 1, 12:30 PM

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