Another Yankee triumph. The perfect day to reflect on one of my favorite works by the New York City folk artist Ralph Fasanella. This large painting (60” x 60”) entitled “Night Game – Yankee Stadium” was painted in 1981 and was given to the Fenimore Art Museum in 2002 by Maurice Cohen of Detroit.
Fasnella spent a good part of his childhood in the Bronx, not far from Yankee Stadium. His father delivered ice on these streets, and he played sandlot baseball on vacant lots here in the 1920s. He came back to the Bronx in the 1960s, when he and two friends operated a gas station near the stadium.
Most of Fasanella’s paintings celebrate the joys and explore the hardships of working-class life. Working people, he felt, had the best communities and were more connected to people than to their houses or possessions. Life, Ralph often said, was people being together.
“Night Game – Yankee Stadium” is all about people being together. Thousands of them. Men, women, children. All races, all colors. All equal in their shared joy. Baseball as utopian vision.
But all is not well here. On the margins of the painting we see references to the Civil rights movement (at left) and a jail full of black youth. Graffiti, litter, decrepit buildings, abandoned cars. Brick tenements being destroyed in favor of gleaming corporate towers. Fasanella had a utopian vision of all people co-existing in peace, but he was not in denial.
It’s a measure of Ralph’s knowledge of people that the political messages of this painting (think 1981 and the Reagan Administration’s urban policy) don’t hit you in the face and make you walk away. When he worked as a union organizer in the 1940s, Ralph often got frustrated with other organizers who simply handed out leaflets. He would take workers to a ballgame. Politics could wait. People were more important.
This is a timely message for our partisan times. The Yankees, love them or hate them, are back, and making history in a new stadium. And today they have given us a perfect opportunity to set aside our differences for a moment and revel in a tradition that embraces us all like the walls of a great amphitheater.