Thumb Wrestling at the DMA!

by Colette Copeland August 18, 2013

thumbsNervous tension and excitement buzzed in the air as I entered the arena for the TITEWF World Thumb Wrestling Championship. Promoting the event were world heavyweight champion Iron Sides and his nemesis Captain Kiser. As one of the first 150 attendees, I received free swag, including an Iron Sides’ t-shirt, a TITEWF button and a Captain Kiser mask.

In the crowded arena, fans donned their masks eagerly anticipating the match. Security girls roamed the room, keeping the fans in check. The announcers spoke about the wrestlers’ backgrounds and debated who would win the title. As the contestants entered, the crowd went wild with loud cheers and boos. During the matches, fights broke out in the stands. Kiser and Sides went at each other, jumping off ladders, breaking tables and chairs. A heavily tatted dude in a kilt attacked the referee. The room broke out in mass pandemonium. A carefully choreographed mass pandemonium.

No, I wasn’t at the American Airlines Center for a WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) event. (That event is scheduled for September 28th and 1400 tickets are still available.) I was at the DMA for the 4th and last performance in the educational series by PerformanceSW, organized by Alison Starr and Courtney Brown in conjunction with the exhibit DallasSITES. This week’s theme was Sport and Persona in Performance Art. Unlike previous weeks, there wasn’t an introduction to various artists whose work explores the theme or a Q&A afterwards for the viewers to process what they experienced. Perhaps that is why Starr and Brown scheduled it last. It represented the “final exam” after the three-week primer on performance art.


The performance embraced spectacle, audience interactivity, theater of the absurd and parody. It was so bad that it was brilliant. I’ve read that Hugo Ball’s Zurich Cabaret Voltaire (birthplace of Dada) held raucous events that often provoked the audience into attacking the performers. I think the Dadaists would have been very proud of the event, especially the audience reaction.

Captain Kiser’s brainchild TITEWF (Thumb in the Eye Wrestling Federation) raises the question of whether it is possible to parody something that is rooted in parody. Professional wrestling is all about creating an absurd spectacle. I would argue that TITEWF and the personas of Captain Kiser and Iron Sides is not lampooning professional wrestling, but rather using the language and characters of professional wrestling as a structure to critique the art institution. Kiser is fond of saying, “What’s more fake than the art world? Pro-wrestling.” It is fitting then, that the event was held at the DMA. There were more than a few confused patrons who wondered why the DMA was hosting a thumb-wrestling event. This made me smile.

kiserLeading up to the performance, Kiser created a series of promotional videos that he posted on YouTube and Facebook. Employing the structure of wrestling promos from the 1980s, Kiser uses bad green-screened, dropped-in backgrounds combined with the awkward interviews. The videos are intentionally meant to make the viewers simultaneously cringe and chuckle. What surprised me is that some viewers missed the parody. Kiser has received serious inquiries from folks who want to come and train at TITEWF or host a TITEWF event at their facility.

In contrast to the cheesiness of the videos, there are some beautifully crafted details/objects that might go unnoticed by the average viewer. The thumb-wrestling ring was meticulously constructed with cast-bronze thumbs in each corner. There was also a custom cast-bronze wrestling belt that Kiser gifted to the wrestling winner.

One of the tenets of performance art is the lack of a commodifiable or saleable object. Kiser and Sides created enough SWAG! and artifacts to keep eBay sellers busy for a while, as well as ensure that their heroically strange personas stay present in viewers’ minds.

Iron Sides interview video.

Captain Kiser














You may also like


DMA Member August 21, 2013 - 03:05

I’m sorry, but the DMA has become a joke. I’m all for art for the masses, but their gimmicks are too much. They are not doing anything to support local and regional artists, and never have.

Definitely NOT DMA Public Relations August 21, 2013 - 15:49

You seem upset. Do you think you could expand on these bold statements? Did you visit the museum in the past month? What was your favorite part of the experience? What was your least favorite part of the experience? Would you come back again? If no, why not?

DMA Member August 21, 2013 - 12:30

I had family in town and we were back in the permanent collection when we overheard shouting and screams which led us to the thumb wrestling event. At first glance I was completely repulsed by the adolescent bedlam, but my kids pulled me into the space and I have to admit, I actually enjoyed it. After the thumb wrestling match was over, I spoke to a member of Performance SW who explained that this was part of a much larger, 5 week educational performance workshop that’s goal was to inform the audience about different types of performance art and their functions. After the brief discussion I found out that this performance piece of thumb wrestling had a lot more depth and institutional commentary tied to it than I had originally thought. And best of all, all of the participants were local artists, educators, and students. More importantly, the “Available Space” exhibition does specifically focus on local and regional Texas educators, artists, and students. So with that said, Bravo! masked wrestlers. Bravo!

Definitely NOT DMA Public Relations August 21, 2013 - 16:12

Wow! It sounds like you had a really wonderful time at the Dallas Museum of Art. Did you and your family register as DMA friends? I hear you can send in codes (via SMS Messaging) corresponding to different exhibitions and events to collect points! And then you can cash in those points for free prizes, including free parking!

DMA Member August 22, 2013 - 04:34

I’m the #1 DMA Member (there seem to be two of us in this thread).

Yes, I go often, not as much as I used to. I was a $500 member for several years, I’m now a $100 member. And I was just there last Thursday.

Mostly I’m “upset” with the contemporary art. If you are not German or Black – forget it! But that is the art world today. Curators are usually frustrated would-be artists without enough talent to actually do art.

Art is hard. Damn hard. And perhaps I am just in a bad mood!

Jerry E. Smith August 27, 2013 - 10:07

As a former writer for the Chicago New Arts Examiner, it’s a recognized fact that for the artist, any publicity is “good publicity”. Regarding critics, well, they’re not given the title of ‘Art Lovers’! Possibly that is due to the simple truth that it’s more fun to write a critical review; but not withstanding that there also is a high percentage of bad art out there on display.

The ‘critics’ who have written prior to me wax poetic about the oh-so-quotable sound byte: “What’s more fake than the art world? Answer–Wrestling!”” It sounds hip, trendy, to be oh-so-knowledgeable as to discern the truth of ‘true’ art, and the facetiousness of the art world. This cynicism is rampant in all art forms, especially in TV programing and in movie plots. No longer do the boy and girl defeat evil and live happily ever after in bliss. Today, it is all about the bitter truth of the Human Condition. Life sucks, and then you die. The end. So of course, to mock the art world is the height of cultural relativism.

Which begs the question: is this “New” value true or false? The majority’s opinion, or the narrow view of a narrow percentage? To say that “Art is fake”, in a museum setting, implies that we should storm the bastille, overthrow “harmony and good taste”, just like the Italian Futurists did a century prior. Let’s declare the cultural irrelevance of a museum institution whose walls and vaults display what has been declared for generations to be statements of mankind’s highest achievements; celebrations of technical grandeur; epics of historic life and death struggle! Who needs that crap, when it’s all “Fake”! Just entertain us!

What seems so patently absurd, is that unlike the con-artists who sold the Emperor the new and improved invisible clothes with a wink-wink nod-nod of their duplicity, these Brave New World critics actually are sincere in their value. Not to put to much time into movie redirection, but the creator of Sharknado, Thunder Levine, states with Great Pumpkin sincerity: “It seems like common sense to me.” The crop of current twenty-somethings who are inheriting the earth really, truly, think–no, believe– they are equal to Moby Dick, or “Mike L. Angelo” as he would no doubt call himself in 2013 gansta self parody.

Mr. Kiser, in the teaching trade, creates bronze sculpture, reflected in past faculty exhibited works at Collin College such as King David, a crown-bearing, masturbating monkey. Like his “art/performance” piece of Thumb In Your Eye Wrestling, both are similar to a Three Stooges pie fight. Ridiculous in the precipitating causal factor, and shocking to see in actual existence/performance/display. And boringly redundant after five seconds. The DMA’s performance spectacle (let’s not grace it with the term “art”, especially since it intends to be non-art by Dada definition), is best described as a third rate recreation of a second rate entertainment production. Author Michael Criton, in his past fictional history/documentary novel Timeline, notes with great clarity that today’s generation values entertainment above all else. In the current classroom, I’m well aware that entertainment trumps presentation, especially in professor evaluations. Art certainly isn’t valued for its sense of introspection, ideological revelation or historical memorability–and lest one assume that real art is only the works prior to Modernism, those qualifiers apply to the best of today’s Post Modern Globalized Pluralistic work, whether they intentionally be ugly, shocking or technically crude. I tell my students that great art isn’t great if you can’t remember it, or if it didn’t make an impression. So, maybe in hindsight, the product was memorable. But is it “good art”? I can ingest a number of objects, simply because they fit in my mouth and can be swallowed. But I don’t define them all as “food” simply because of that one narrow criteria. Would the same performance, in a minor setting create the same round of critical acclaim? Or is it listed in Glasstire as art singularly because it existed in a museum setting?

Ironically, Captain Kiser, my peer at Collin College, will very likely with pride check “museum exhibition” off the ole’ career highlight bucket list; and you better believe all the participants are gonna put a big bold DMA declaration line on their resumes as great accomplishments. Even though the ART museum, and all it stands for is– FAKE. The King is dead, long live the King!

Jerry E Smith
(Professor of Art at Collin College, nationally exhibiting artist and alumni from the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture).

Ex-Professor Smith Student September 8, 2013 - 14:51

I am a Collin College student and I went to all of the Performance SW workshops. My favorite by far was Professor Kiser’s thumb wrestling workshop. I’m not sure about all this criticism, but I do know that the professors who were involved got their students involved and excited about making artwork outside the classroom. For me personally, it opened some new options for future study in performance art at UTA. If I hadn’t gone to theses workshops I probably wouldn’t have made the connections I have made with other professors in a different focus than mine. I just want to say thanks to Performance SW and all involved in these workshops for helping to open my eyes.

Please don’t confuse attempted criticism with jealousy. I have taken classes with Professor Jerry Smith at Collin College before and I can honestly say he is the meanest and most selfish professor I have ever come across. I actually transferred to another campus to get away from the creepy guy. Maybe Prof Smith, you should learn from these people. They support and foster creativity, while you take it away from us. But don’t take my word for it, check RateMyProfessor, like I wish I had before I took classes from Jerry Smith.

Collin College professor September 8, 2013 - 20:12

Professor Smith, I do not recall your name associated with the New Arts Examiner? Anyway, I am a fan of Captain Kiser, and a colleague across the academic spectrum of Professor Joel Kiser. I attended the last installment of the PerformanceSW workshop series, Sports+Persona, to support some of my students who also participated in this workshop. To the best of my knowledge they had “an awesome time”. However, given the severity of your visual critique of the workshop, I gather that you didn’t share in their enthusiasm. This does bring up a wonderful new editorial column for future Glass Tire reviews on workshops. How great would it be to have your critical eye come out and review the next encaustic demonstration at UNT. I am sure through your exquisitely gifted eye you will be able to substantially critique any quick damar resin saturation between pigment introductions. Considering that everyone is a critic these days, we probably should have some critics for demos and educational lectures, and maybe this could even be a good job opportunity for you, my fellow colleague. And with your uncredited editorial prowess, you should be crowned “The King” of workshop reviews.

As educators, we are always looking for new ways to engage our students and get them excited both in and outside the classroom, and this workshop served as a platform for just that. So thank you, PerformanceSW Team and students for all of your hard work.

Collin College Student September 9, 2013 - 15:09

I would like to whole heartedly thank Professor Jerry E. Smith for completely disregarding the time and effort put into a successful art piece. Frankly, as an artist whom is aiming for a masters in their arts career, my studies have never given me a definition of what is and is not ‘real’ artwork. To say that “Art is fake”, in a museum setting, implies that we should recognize the meaning of ‘art’ and realize that it is not a representation of reality. What is created as art is a complete illusion of the minds eye; a form that takes many and all directions that surpass reality in concept. Until the moment I can find your art work breeding in nature and not once altered by the touch of man, I will applaud you. Your art will then be the bonafide truth brought down by God’s hand as pure and ‘real’ art work.

To reiterate my statement with a more profound message, I hope to never be so callow to deface a fellow coworker for providing opportunities to students to be active in the art community. I know that we live in a world of competition, but to compete against the young artist is completely inappropriate of a community college professor.

In the simplest way, the last performance installation theme was ‘Sport and Persona in Performance Art’. The TITEWF competition provided exactly what was asked of them in one of the most persona filled sports that this world has to offer. It was fake, like all art, as a clear representation of what pro-wrestling gives to an audience. To be as translucent as possible, the performance succeeded especially well. So well did it succeed that it brought severe critics whom still cannot grasp how much fun this packed room had.

To the shargrin of those students whom participated, I hope many more opportunities are carried your way. You did a fantastic job, and I had a great time watching the show you helped put together. If you have any video, I sure you’ll see a room of excited faces (save for one bitter man, a former writer for the Chicago New Arts Examiner). Keep up the good work and work hard in all you do!

Ex Collin Student September 9, 2013 - 15:35

Prof Smith you seem to have missed the point of the show, or rather points. I think that part of this may be due to the fact that you didn’t attend the rest of the workshops. You see, this was an educational SERIES, that ended with Sport+Persona. As someone who attended all of the shows, Performance SW and their colleagues did a fantastic job educating the audience about Performance Art, which was the point of the workshops. Did you bother to attend any of the other workshops before presuming to critique this part? They work together as parts of a whole. Would you presume to critique a ballet or orchestra who’s performance you only saw the last ten minutes of? I hope not.

Furthermore, your angry rant above only proves to validate the social commentary the Sports+Persona performers were trying to make on the Dallas Art Community.

And then there is your rant. Instead of supporting your colleagues and students, you bash and ridicule them. In what is supposed to be a critique of an art piece you personally attack several people who were trying to do a good thing and have some fun along the way. And of course the students involved will put an undergrad DMA show on their CV, wouldn’t you?!? And sir, if you take no enjoyment out of your work, if it does not entertain any portion of your psyche, why are you still an artist and professor? People do what they love simply for that reason, they love it. No one joins the prosperous field of art teacher for the riches it brings in, or there would be no such thing as an art teacher! One more question for you Prof Smith, is the line “The King is dead, long live the King!” an attempt at quoting a novel turned Disney movie? Or is that another attack on the people involved?

On a side note, I attended Collin College and then moved on to get my BFA at UNT. I suggested to my younger brother when he started school last year, as did my parents, that he do the same, but he chose instead to attend university up north. Then I see how you treat your colleagues and your students, and I hope that this is not the norm, but all the same I am for the first time very glad that my brother ignored all advice and did his own thing.

Chris Dowd- Collin Alumni September 9, 2013 - 20:39

Being a former Collin College student, it doesn’t shock me to read Professor Jerry Smith’s childish, arrogant and hopelessly pretentious review of his fellow professors’ notable and successful achievements at the DMA. For anyone reading this who has never had the displeasure or misfortune of taking a course from Professor Smith, his above comments in which he openly bashes his own colleagues display all you need to know about Professor Smith’s character. It seems Jerry would rather desperately resort to attempting to ridicule the success and achievements of those around him instead of creating art that suits his seemingly impossible tastes or at least supporting the public work of the Collin College Fine Arts Department. Jerry Smith’s comments are nothing more that blatant jealousy towards the real-world achievements of the much loved and respected Joel Kiser and Luke Sides. This is precisely why Jerry Smith is one of the least respected Professors among the Collin Art community. The only expressive displays I’ve found as vile as Jerry views this exhibit are the Hawaiian shirts that Professor Jerry Smith insisted on wearing to class on a daily basis.

Cody September 10, 2013 - 11:24

It’s gonna be an awkward week at Collins.

RPent (Collin Alumni) September 13, 2013 - 20:05

Further more Mr. Jerry Smith, feeling the title of professor has been lost, coming on to a web site that you have no ties to and blasting a “fellow coworker” giving your own review on a comment section is cheap. Prof. Kiser had earn this opportunity by doing numerous art shows around Dallas and past successful performance art. Taking out your aggressions on Kiser from behind the key board on this website is unprofessional as colleagues. Better yet plastering you name with this tear down, is almost career suicide. I petty your jealousy and hope nothing but the best for you Mr. Smith in your life. But taking cheap shots on a prestigious web site like this… is low and I hope this is not a mark of things to come out of you. People are reading these comments and it reflects poorly sir.

JAE September 14, 2013 - 09:15

So you want to be an art star?

Rachel Reitan September 16, 2013 - 08:56

PPPHHHAAA!!! First things first: I’m so bummed that I missed the performances.

Next, since it seems we’re giving our credentials, I have a B.A. in Philosophy with a concentration in Aesthetics, received the C.S.U Fellowship in Aesthetics, and have studied drawing, painting, and sculpture for several years with the fine faculty (mostly) of CC.
That being established I shall get up on my didactic soapbox. What is Art? GREAT QUESTION!!!!! What is even greater is an occasion that offers artists, student, critic, and man-on-the-street a chance to be personally vested in the debate. Nothing could be better for the Arts in North Texas than an engaged, passionate public.

There was a time when Art functioned as a tool. An artist was engaged to record history, provide religious inspiration, emblematize political power, and to decorate. Since at least the advent of impressionism (arguably before that) a main function of Art and a main concern of Artists has been to define “Art” in and of itself, its role in society, its value, and its boundaries. The study of art history is reduced to a memorization of dates, media, and names without an understanding of the continuing context, and dialogue that art has with its culture. Whole movements in art have revolved around pushing the limits of this discourse. And, unlike the bone-dry pedantic paragraph above, the conversation can be FUN!

Jerry, I was really hoping (you being an Art History Professor and all) that you were contributing to the dialogue with a satirical, tongue-in-cheek, poke at art criticism. THAT would have been so cool. Major fail buddy! Hint: The contradistinction of thumb wrestling at a major art museum was THE POINT.

Finally; BRAVO Cody, for your succinct yet insightful observation!!!!!!


Leave a Comment

Funding generously provided by: