LGBT Sports history: Bobby Orr’s unauthorized nude portraits

All month long, Outsports is revisiting key moments in gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer sports history as part of LGBTQ history month. Today, on the 41st anniversary of the day Boston Bruins icon Bobby Orr scored his last career NHL goal (It was vs. the Detroit Red Wings, by the way), we revisit one of the most unusual chapters.

In 2007, an artist unveiled two portraits of Orr that showed him as he had never been seen outside his locker room or home: totally naked. His hometown newspaper reported on the paintings, on the front page, a surprise to both Orr, and the public.

“No doubt there were multiple spit takes in coffee shops all over town this morning,” is how a Boston Globe arts columnist described the event at the time.

Here’s how Outsports reported it on Nov. 3, 2007:

If you’re in New York between now and December 15th [2007], an art aficionado, a hockey fan and/or a fan of nudity, you may want to check out the Deitch Projects gallery. They’re currently featuring an exhibition of paintings by Kurt Kauper, “Everybody Knew That Canadians Were The Best Hockey Players.” Among the portraits of hockey players are two nude portraits of former Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr and one of ex-Bruin Derek Sanderson.

Neither player posed for the portraits. The Boston Globe reports that according to art experts, Kauper is “a masterful painter who creates realistic portraits of subjects he has never met.” He previously exhibited nude portraits of actor Cary Grant.

Seven of the eight paintings in the exhibit have already been sold, for prices ranging from $50,000 to $135,000 for one of the two nude Orr portraits.

Bobby Orr did not return calls to the Globe asking for comment, and another former Bruin, Brad Park, said he “would not walk across the street to view this art.” But Derek Sanderson, who had a reputation for being a party animal in his playing days – he was a regular in the gossip columns, photographed with beautiful women and, according to Wikipedia, was so well-known that Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (whose middle name is Sanderson) was reportedly named after him – was not as perturbed, telling the Globe, “Hey, you know, he has poetic license, he can pretty much bloody well do what he bloody pleases… I just hope he’s a good artist.”

The Globe article also makes it a point to discuss Kauper’s sexuality:

”People didn’t really ask the question so much as assume that I’m gay,” said Kauper, who is straight and lives in New York with his wife, photographer Annelizabeth Wells, and their two children. “If a woman paints another woman in the nude, it would be interpreted as a painting having to do with a woman’s identity. But when a man paints this painting, it’s associated with homoerotic activity.”

Good to know, I suppose.

If you’re intent on seeing the full portraits, our friends at The Advocate published an article in 2011 that will satisfy your curiosity. Click here to view my friend Christopher Harrity’s “Artist Spotlight” at advocate.com

Tomorrow — and every day in October — we’ll look back at another, hopefully fully clothed, moment in LGBTQ sports history.


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