Of gods and men
The Olympic games and its rivals
in Sport and modernism in the visual arts in Europe, c. 1909–39
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Pierre de Coubertin was responsible for the founding of the modern Olympics. Its antique ideals were consecrated in a painting by his father, an artist of the French salon, who pictured modern sportsmen from Paris paying tribute to Athena. The fourth chapter analyses the most notorious visual artwork concerning the games, Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia. Promoted as a documentary of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but enjoying state patronage from the fascist regime, the status of this film is highly contested in the fields of history and film studies. Here, it is argued that the film evinces attitudes not incompatible with, although not reducible to, Coubertin’s own conflicted views on modernity. This is contrasted with László Moholy-Nagy’s abortive project to film the same games, before a consideration of Gustav Klucis’ constructivist designs for the Soviet response to the Olympics, the Spartakiada, and other constructivist engagements with sport in light of the Soviet emphasis on fizkultura (physical culture).

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