Growing up in Queens, New York, Doug Fishbone fondly remembers the simple summer pleasures when he’d visit the beach to play miniature golf. “The mini golf course was fairly rinky dink in terms of the actual art work,” he recalls “There’d be a windmill, maybe a dolphin or a little barn, but they never get very ambitious.”
When Fishbone became an artist a few years later and moved to England, he decided to use nine-hole “crazy golf” as an organizing principle for politically charged obstacle courses. “I thought mini golf would be fun way to present contemporary art because it’s a ready-made sculptural installation,” says Fishbone. For his first art golf group show in 2012, dubbed “Adventure Land.” Fishbone took a cue from a famous Iraqi War takedown and devised a foam-rubber statue of Saddam Hussein. “He’d fall over every time you try to putt, so it’s part of that tradition of putting obstacles in front of the golfer,” Fishbone dryly explains.
Two months ago, Fishbone organized a high-concept golf course for the Venice Art Biennale. Running through Sunday, Doug Fishbone’s Leisure Land Golf, constructed in a vacant shipyard, challenges visitors to pit their putting skills against candy-colored installations embedded by nine international artists with darkly tinged socio-political subtext.
Fishbone says, “I asked the artists to address the Leisure Principle in ways that would deal with themes of tourism, leisure, globalization and consumerism.” He sees the installations as a folksy point of entry for visitors who want to have a good time, whether or not they ponder the sculptures’ deeper meanings. “When you talk about individual pieces, the messages can sound a bit heavy but there’s an inherent absurdity to miniature golf that keeps it light. What I loved about doing a mini golf course is that you can put together a sculptural grouping around this central theme. At the same time it’s a lot of fun.”
For his own contribution to Leisure Land, Fishbone featured a fiberglass miniature of the Costa Concordia cruise ship that tragically sank off the coast of Italy in 2012. “You couldn’t ask for a better metaphor for incompetence, where you had this captain who dashed the boat on the rocks,” he says. “At first I worried it might be a bit raw because I wouldn’t intend to mock human suffering. But people from Italy seemed delighted because they could see the humor in the piece, along with a certain kind of sting in its tail.”
Once Leisure Land concludes its Biennale run on Sunday, Fishbone plans to remake 1972 horror flick The Thing With Two Heads. “The original movie was about this white doctor who gets his own head transplanted onto a black guy,” Fishbone explains. “For my version, Two-Time Loser, I’m translating that concept to Ghana and bringing in witch doctors to tell this story of globalization seen through the eyes of a black person who has a white head stuck on him. Just like the miniature golf, it’s kind of crazy but actually has something interesting to say politically.”
Check out the slide show for more examples of high-concept golf and find out what the artists had in mind when they crafted the politically charged obstacle courses of “Leisure Land.”