By Roger Clark
Some memorable and even legendary photographs and paintings of Muhammad Ali are in exhibit in an unlikely place, the New York Historical Society. NY1’s Roger Clark filed the following report.
Even in a photograph or a watercolor painting, Muhammad Ali seems larger than life. During his career in and out of the ring, he was well documented, but not many were as close as photographer George Kalinsky, or artist LeRoy Neiman.
“You get a really good sense of their friendship, and the works are really immediate and intimate,” said Lily Wong, curator of ‘Muhammad Ali, LeRoy Neiman, and the Art of Boxing.’
Two exhibitions at the New York Historical Society pay tribute to the 3-time Heavyweight Champion and activist, who passed away in June.
George Kalinsky captured Ali as the house photographer at Madison Square Garden, but also caught him during more private moments. Kalinsky credits Ali with helping him get the job of a lifetime after he photographed the then Cassius Clay training in Miami.
“The next day, one of these pictures on this first role of film that I took was all over the world,” said Kalinsky.
Another claim to fame, Kalinsky says he gave Ali the idea for his famous rope-a-dope technique that Ali used against George Foreman in the 1974 title fight known as the Rumble in the Jungle.
“Let him just swing away at you,” said Kalinsky. “Let him tire himself out. And he said, you mean you want me to be a rope a dope?”
LeRoy Neiman, who died four years ago, had a similar relationship with the boxer.
It began before Ali’s first title victory against Sonny Liston in 1964 and continued through Ali’s three-and-a-half-year suspension for refusing to join the military, and his rise back to the top of the boxing world. Neiman even taught the heavyweight to draw.
“Neiman was sketching Ali and Ali says, what are you doing, I can do that, give me that, show me that,” said Wong.
Muhammad Ali had many connections in New York whether it be fighting at the Garden, or Yankee Stadium or being a fixture in Harlem for many years. But it was his role in American History that made the folks at the Historical Society really want to put the spotlight on his life and career.
“If you try and think of a sports figure who is anymore of an American icon than Muhammad Ali, then I think you will be stumped,” said Louise Mirrer, New York Historical Society. “He is really it.”
And you can see his world through the eyes of two men who had amazing access to it, through March 26 at the Historical Society, on 76th Street and Central Park West.