Friday Night in the Coliseum

On view February 22 - March 20, 2020

Part of the 50th anniversary events celebrating the founding of the Media Center and Rice’s film and photography program.

The Rice Media Center celebrates its 50th anniversary with an exhibition of Geoff Winningham’s 1970-71 photographs of professional wrestling in the Houston Coliseum. Timed to coincide with the publication of the second edition of his 1971 book, Friday Night in the Coliseum, the show features over 200 contemporary and historical photographs, transcripts of interviews with wrestlers and wrestling fans, as well as Winningham’s rarely-seen 16mm black and white film of the wrestling scene in Houston in the early 1970’s.

Winningham’s vision of professional wrestling, as folk theater, was hardly the first. The French philosopher and semiologist, Roland Barthes, identified wrestling it as “a spectacle of excess,” finding in it “a grandiloquence which must have been that of ancient theatres.”

Released in December of 1971, Friday Night in the Coliseum was critically acclaimed almost immediately. The New York Times, the Village Voice, the Boston Globe, and Newsweek each published glowing reviews. The April 7, 1972 issue of Life magazine carried three pages of photographs from the book and announced “The Rousin’ Rebirth of Rasslin.” In 1972, Winningham was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship to continue his photography, as well as a grant from the Public Broadcasting Corporation to produce a 16mm film on professional wrestling in Houston. In 1973, the American Federation of Arts published Masters of the Camera, a collection of American photography of the 20th century, concluding with 6 photographs from Friday Night in the Coliseum.

But if there was a rebirth of locally promoted professional wrestling, as Winningham photographed it in 1971, it was short-lived. By 1985, regional wrestling had been completely destroyed by the phenomenal growth and popularly of a national enterprise, the World Wrestling Federation. WWF wrestling productions were conceived and designed for a national television audience. Local and regional wrestling heroes were replaced by celebrity actors, who performed matches of bluster, vulgarity and utter predictability. Professional wrestling became a steroid-pumped caricature of its former self, and locally produced American wrestling was lost to history.

In the afterword to the second edition of Friday Night in the Coliseum, Winningham writes, “I suppose that I should not be shocked that the kind of wrestling that I witnessed five decades ago has disappeared. In time, all things change. Still, as I prepare the second edition of this book, as I look again at the pictures that I took and read the words of the people that I remember from my Friday nights in the Coliseum, I am saddened by what has been lost, and I am grateful for what I have been able to preserve.”

This exhibition is the first showing of Winningham’s photographs and his 16mm film of professional wrestling since the 1970’s.

Friday Night in the Colisuem will be on view at the Rice Media Center Gallery through March 20, 2020. Gallery hours are from Monday – Friday, 10:00am to 5:00pm.

For more information visit, call 713-348-4882 or email