Madness at the Whitney: Resistance to Genre in Dempsey and Firpo

Jamie Wood

Abstract


George Bellows’s famous depiction of the heavyweight contest between Jack Dempsey, the ‘Manassa Mauler’, and Luis Ángel Firpo, the ‘Wild Bull of the Pampas’, has been a central exhibit in the Whitney Museum of American Art since its inauguration in 1931. But the painting’s relationship to the museum is an uneasy one and serves to deconstruct the museum’s stated ideology rather than reinforce it. By tracing the painting’s narrative alongside the history of its exhibition and reception we can see how the painting serves to reveal, in Derrida’s terms, the inherent madness of genre.

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