Fine art lithograph, hand-pulled on an antique press.
On April 23, 1916, Jack Johnson, the former Heavyweight boxing champion of the world in exile in Europe after fleeing conviction for violating the White-Slave Traffic Act, went mano a mano with modern art.
His nominal opponent was Arthur Cravan née Fabian Lloyd, an Englishman born and educated in Switzerland, who claimed to be the nephew of Oscar Wilde, a professional boxer, singer, art critic, poet – you name it. Living in Paris, he was a performance artist before the genre existed, the subject and theme of his art being himself. Creating a public spectacle was the reason he got out of bed each morning, and once on his feet was a walking happening.
In 1916, he was desperate to get to the United States (dodging conscription into the French army was nearly a full-time occupation), had moved to Barcelona and fallen in with its colony of French avant-garde artists in exile, and needed money. Whose notion it was to stage a match with Jack Johnson remains unclear but Cravan’s fingerprints are all over the patently wacko and divinely nonsensical idea.
And so, “In early 1916, a frenzied group of fight promoters gathered in Barcelona to organize what promised to be a ‘sensational encounter’ between former world heavyweight champion Jack Johnson (the famous black fighter who was living in Europe, a fugitive from his native land because of charges of having violated the Mann Act) and Arthur Cravan, an outspoken, notoriously eccentric Englishman, who claimed not only to be a professional fighter, but also the nephew of Oscar Wilde. Posters were hung throughout the city to publicize the event. In the controversial match, which took place at the Plaza de Toros Monumental on Sunday afternoon, April 23, we can safely surmise that Cravan fought true to form, that is, leading more with his mouth than with his fists. After six rounds of what must have amounted to little more than a skillful demonstration of shadow boxing – staged more for the benefit of a rolling camera than the disappointed audience – Johnson finally dropped Cravan with an upper-right/left-cross combination. Knockout or not, the audience smelled farce, and because of the guaranteed fifty-thousand-peseta purse, the next day the daily press proclaimed the fight ‘The Great Swindle.’ ~STEPHEN J. GERTZ