Adversarial modernisms
The spectacle of boxing and the geometry of tennis
in Sport and modernism in the visual arts in Europe, c. 1909–39
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The second chapter deals with two individual sports. Boxing and tennis might appear strange bedfellows, but as well as being primarily individual sports, they are also united by their transatlantic nature. The flamboyant figures of boxer Jack Johnson and tennis player Suzanne Lenglen were famous on both sides of the Atlantic. Johnson lived it up in nightclubs in both Paris and London, Lenglen played host to American film stars on the French Riviera. Boxing’s Americanism is traced in the writings and life of Cravan that culminated in the fight against Johnson in Barcelona, which is then refracted through the fascination of American journal The Soil for both boxing and Cravan. Tennis was particularly associated with modernist architecture, with players featuring in books written by Le Corbusier, Adolf Behne and Sigfried Giedion. It was also a rare example of a sport where the women’s game attracted as much, if not more, attention than that of the men. This, I contend, caused problems for Le Corbusier, who preferred to concentrate on the geometrical court and the anonymous male players that he includes in his Urbanisme, rather than the glamour and fashion of Lenglen, a woman dressed by the couturier Jean Patou and who served as an inspiration for a Jean Cocteau piece for the Ballets Russes.

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