Onslaught, 1911, Bronze
Robert Tait McKenzie (Canadian, 1867 – 1938)
It took five years for R. Tait McKenzie, at the time serving as Penn’s Director of Physical Education, to accurately capture the energy and frenzy of the “line play” - the clash between offense and defense that often defines American football. Assisted by staff from the University’s athletic department, McKenzie would have college students recreate the maneuver over various Sunday mornings to accurately portray the forces and teamwork fueling both groups. Aside from irradiating strength from the struggle and tension of every player, the piece’s contours lead the viewer to the focus of the game itself: the football that will decide winners and losers alike.
As many of McKenzie’s other renowned works, Onslaught marveled audiences from around the world. After its casting in 1911, the piece was exhibited in the Roman Art Exposition, only to be later taken to the Montreal Art Association Gallery. Critics particularly praised it as a paradox embodying “the onrush of unconquerable spirit," “the unity of purpose," and “a sense of beauty” at the same time. The sculpture even captured the attention of religious publications, as Christian Advocate dedicated a whole article praising McKenzie for personifying “the most perfect representation of intense physical exertion concentrated upon a common end”.
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