The 2024 Super Bowl matchup between the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers is sure to be one of the most-watched sports matches of the year—due in no small part to the sudden interest of legions of swifties—and members of the art world will be watching closely, too, to see who will emerge victorious in the latest iteration of an industry tradition known as Museum Bowl.
In recent years, leading art museums in each of the cities whose professional American football teams are competing in the Super Bowl have bet the loan of a signature work from their permanent collections on the outcome of the game. Last year, after the Chiefs defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) sent Thomas Eakins’s painting Sailing (around 1875) to the Nelson-Atkins for temporary display. Had the Eagles prevailed, the PMA would have received a Raphaelle Peale painting on loan from the Kansas City museum.
This year, the Nelson-Atkins is once again in the running, although due to state laws in California banning such bets its opponent, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) was not able to wager an art loan. Instead, the museums are betting some pride: the director of the losing museum will appear in a video on social media wearing a hat or uniform of the winning team. Also on the table, literally and figuratively, is a culinary touch down. If the Chiefs win, SFMoMA’s restaurant will offer Kansas City barbecue for a limited time (the city claims to be the “world capital of barbecue”).
“We are delighted to once again participate in a friendly face-off, this time with our close colleagues at SFMoMA,” Julián Zugazagoitia, the director and chief executive of the Nelson-Atkins, said in a statement. “It’s been a very exciting football season and we are so proud of the Chiefs. I anticipate a super showdown on Sunday, and while I don’t want to jinx the outcome, I hope our friends are hunting down the best barbecue recipes to serve the weekend after the game.”
Conversely, if the 49ers win, the restaurant at the Nelson-Atkins will temporarily add cioppino (an Italian American fish stew pioneered in the Bay Area) to its menu.
“We look forward to a creative and competitive showdown with our colleagues at Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum,” Christopher Bedford, SFMoMA’s director, said in a statement. “This playful exchange is timely, following SFMoMA’s recent announcement of Get in the Game, our fall exhibition which explores the intersection of art and sports and the many ways in which they influence each other. Engaging with subjects that have relevance and meaning to the broadest possible audience is so critical to our work at SFMoMA—and while the Nelson-Atkins may be disappointed with the outcome of Sunday’s game, we are thrilled to partner with them on this year’s iteration of #MuseumBowl.”
According to bookkeepers, the 49ers are slight favourites to win the big game, which is being played in Las Vegas on Sunday (11 February).