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January Gym Motivation from Art History
10 works of art that will make you bust out your Lululemon
Entertainment 08 Jan 2019

If you’re reading this, there’s about a 50% chance that you’re currently on the elliptical, determined to trick yourself into staying on longer than your current 9-minute record, if only to get your money’s worth for the super pricy gym subscription you purchased on January 1 along with all the other optimistic souls determined to make 2019 their year.
Or maybe you’re on your couch trying to muster up the motivation to bite the bullet and, well, get off the couch. In any case, we’re willing to bet that you guys might need a little motivation in the fitness department. I mean, we all became art kids for a reason, and that reason probably had something to do with the fact that we sucked at spots.
If any of this rings even a little bit true, read on. If art exists to inspire us to see the world differently, then who says it can’t even make cardio seem like a more fun and worthwhile activity than, I don’t know, microwaving some frozen quiches, pouring yourself a glass of wine and watching old Vine compilations on YouTube?
It’s 2019 and anything is possible. Case in point: here are 10 works of art that will make you bust out your Lululemon—or your ratty sneakers that haven’t seen the light of day in years. Whatever gets the job done.

1) Joaquín Sorolla, Running along the beach (1908)

Have you ever seen anyone make running look so easy? Sorolla’s children seem to float above the ground, feet never touching the sand. That could be you after a few weeks if you agreed to train for that marathon with your friend instead of laughing hysterically for 10 minutes when she suggested it—and then 10 more when you found out she was serious!
For full effect, we suggest wearing your Kundalini gown to the gym. Or if working out in the buff is more your workout vibe, there’s even a gym that would be happy to oblige. Last January, Hanson’s Fitness in Soho announced that it would be holding nude workout classes—supposedly to help you release more endorphins, become more aware of your body, feel better naked… and solve your sweaty laundry problem forever. Sign me up!

2) Reuben Nakian, Running Nymph (1931)

The title says it all… want long, elegant limbs that bend in weird ways like ramen noodles and inexplicably end in little stumps instead of hands and feet? Hit the gym! Only kidding. But the long, elegant limbs thing is real, people. Not speaking from personal experience, of course, but I’ve read enough ballet barre class descriptions to suspect that there’s something to it. Between that and a medieval torture device called the rack… well, actually it’s a tough call. But I think I’ll take the gym.

3) Amy Hill, Gym Girl (2015)

If this little child can make it through a boxing class in a skater dress, so can you.

4) Manuel Caeiro, GYM #2 (2009)

Do we need to spell it out for you?

5) Leon Underwood, Flux (The Runner) (1924)

Four words: look at dat ass.
Is it just me or did this little-known artist predict the Kardashian bod trend by nearly a century? While this small waist to ass ratio is more than a little suspicious and we are by no means advocating that you torture yourself to achieve a body shape impossible for 99.9% of the population, a few sets of squats certainly wouldn’t hurt. In the slightly problematic but probably true words of Meghan Trainor, “boys like a little more booty to hold at night.”

6) Ludwig Favre, Venice Beach Gym (2016)

Would a piercing turquoise sky, constant 75-degree weather and an ocean view coax you to do a couple pull-ups every now and then? Having lived in L.A. for a few years, I can tell you than the answer is, unfortunately, probably not… but don’t let that stop you from getting inspired by this renowned French photographer’s picture of the iconic Venice Beach gym. Close your eyes and sketch yourself into the scenery, then do your 15-minute, at-home circuit like you promised yourself. Schwarzenegger would be proud.

7) Martin Creed, Work No. 850 (Runners) (2008)

This performance piece, carried out at the Tate modern, rests on one very counterintuitive idea: the best speed for absorbing art in a museum is a gallop. Every thirty seconds, a person sprinted at top speed through the monumental Neoclassical gallery at the London museum. According to the curators, it’s meant to celebrate “physicality and the human spirit”—two things that, as it just so happens, you can hone at the gym.
While we don’t suggest you make your local art museum your training ground, pulling this move off would definitely require some prior gym time. How embarrassing would it be to keel over under the scornful gaze of Napoleon III? Same principle goes if you want to recreate your own running-through-the-Louvre Bande à part scene, à la The Dreamers. Again, definitely not advocating for these highly illegal shenanigans, if only to absolve ourselves of all future lawsuits. Let the record show: the purpose of this example is to help you haul ass to the gym.

8) Ralph Pugay, Gym Witchcraft (2011)

gyn witchcraft
To be fair, this work paints a less-than-flattering view of gym culture. Using tongue-in-cheek visual elements like the circles cast on the floor by an implied source of overhead lighting, the barren, almost apocalyptic desert landscape beyond the windows, and, inexplicably, what looks like plants in each gym-goers hand, Pugay compares the cult of the perfect body to, well, a cult.
But doesn’t this looks like a fun cult? The kind of cult that you wouldn’t mind being a part of? I mean, no one looks visibly uncomfortable. Like hardcore SoulCyclers or cinephiles (but unlike Scientologists or raw vegans), these people look like they’re sincerely enjoying the cult they’ve chosen to join. I doubt that they’re getting swindled out of their savings and tricked into dissociating from their families. And they have great abs! Moral of the story: join the gym cult for great heart health, endorphin highs on the reg and a sense of moral superiority over your non-gym-going friends.

9) Carmen Aldunate, The Gym (2018)

Let’s take a moment to unpack what’s going on here. Is she taking one of those naked gym classes? Is her personal trainer a miniature angel? Is she strapped into a Pilates reformer machine? What’s that? This looks nothing like a Pilates reformer? Don’t judge—I’ve never actually used or seen one. As far as I know, Pilates reformer machines don’t actually exist; they’re just a myth that Elon Musk invented to distract the masses while he quietly blasts off to Mars with Grimes, who soon gains intergalactic fame as the first pop star to release a chart-topping hit from a planet other than the one of her birth. Or maybe not.
To be honest, I’m not sure that this picture inspires me to hit the gym, but now that we’re talking about Pilates reformers, hopefully your interest is piqued enough to sign up for an introductory class. Seriously, I hear those things are magic for getting toned fast, second only to taking a pill that immediately turns you into Tracy Anderson.

10) Tasneem Alsultan, Mai’s daughter, weekly attends a young girls’ gym in Jeddah (2015)

gym in jeddah
If this little girl living in a country that only allowed its women to drive last year can make it to the gym once a week to strengthen her body, so can you. Besides offering up some major flexibility inspo, Mai’s daughter is here to remind us that working out is a political act. At many points in history, exercise for women was condemned as unladylike, which blocked women from developing their bodies’ full strength and range of motion. This sly, insidious social convention kept women physically and psychologically subordinate to men by damning them to remain inert, stationary objects, not used to springing to action or exerting themselves forcefully. Mull that over next time you feel like skipping your morning boxing sesh.

Text by Katya Lopatko 
Images via WikiArt, Front Room Gallery, Veritas Art, ArtStar, Artsy.

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