Human Interest

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This audio guide highlights selected works in Human Interest: Portraits from the Whitney’s Collection, with commentary by students from PS 33 Chelsea Prep and Whitney Museum educator Melanie Adsit.

George Bellows (1882–1925), Dempsey and Firpo, 1924. Oil on canvas, 51 1/8 x 63 1/4 in. (129.9 x 160.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney 31.95

Melanie Adsit: So this is a portrait of lots of people that shows a frozen moment in time. What's happening in this painting?

Student: What's happening in this painting is that there are two boxers, one of them has knocked the other wrestler out, and the one that got knocked out is falling into the crowd, and the crowd is going wild.

Student: The crowd is backing up. Their mouths are open, and they’re not going to be having their mouths open without any sound. It's obvious that they're yelping, screaming, roaring.

Melanie Adsit: Great, you guys. This is a painting made by George Bellows in 1924 of a very famous fight between Jack Dempsey, who was the heavyweight champion of the world, and Luis Firpo, who was his rival from Argentina. We see Dempsey in the white shorts and Firpo in the purple shorts. In the first round, Dempsey knocked Firpo down seven times, but then, Firpo landed a punch right on Dempsey's chin and knocked him out of the ring. How does that change the way that you think about this painting?

Student: This shows that some people never quit, even if their challenge is really hard and they get beat. But if you keep trying, you can throw in one little thing that can change the whole time.

Melanie Adsit: At the end of the fight, though, after this moment, Dempsey got back in the ring, and ultimately Dempsey won the fight. So even though he got knocked out, he came back and beat Firpo in the end.

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