Franklin Sirmans, the head of contemporary art at LACMA, is also an avid soccer fan. In February of this year, he opened an exhibit that allowed him to explore and intellectualize his personal obsession.
“Fútbol: The Beautiful Game” takes up half of the third floor of the Broad Contemporary Art Museum with large oil and acrylic paintings, room-sized video screenings, sculptures and installations. For those Angelenos who have become captivated by the World Cup on TV, this exhibit can supplement your experience.
The exhibit addresses various aspects of soccer and the world's obsession with its favorite sport. It addresses how soccer intersects with national identity, globalism and commercialism, while also entertaining more playful ideas, such as the dramatics that comes when a soccer player purposely fells an opponent who is a threat to the goal.
Inside the third floor lobby, a large bundle of soccer balls – turned inside out and draped with thin grey cloth fibers – hangs down from the ceiling. This cloud-like installation by Dario Escobar aims to give viewers a feeling of wonderment as they enter the exhibit, according to Sirmans.
“It sets up a more abstract way of thinking about the exhibit,” Sirmans says of the piece during a recent walk-through of the exhibit. “It sets the tone initially that the exhibit's not meant to be illustrative or didactic.”
In the center of the first room sits a large model stadium, meant to replicate the Brazilian stadium Estádio do Maracanã, where this year's World Cup final will be played. The stadium contains a team of Incredible Hulk action figures playing against a team of red Power Rangers, surrounded by a crowd of other figurines taken from pop-culture sitting alongside various religious statuettes.
“It can be interpreted as a piece which speaks to the diversity of our world,” Sirmans says.
On the wall behind the stadium installation hangs a very large picture of a 2000 Amsterdam soccer match, picturing the field lengthwise. The photo is so big that it includes almost the entirety of the field, including every player minus one goalie.
The image was produced when the photographer, Andreas Gursky, took a series of photos of the match from elevated vantage points within the stadium, then stitched each of these together to create the giant photo. Sirmans explains that the vast space within the photo reflects Gursky's goal of investigating collective existences within huge man-made structures.
In the next room, some pieces touch on the less-than-positive aspects of the sport. Four gelatin silver prints – taken by New York-based photographer Lyle Ashton Harris – display images of a unruly crowd in a packed stadium of an Italian soccer match. Two of these black-and-white photos really capture how immense, out-of-control crowds behave when riled up over their favorite pastime.
The first photo, Amor de mi Vida, is an action shot of the crowd, where it is uncertain whether the crowd is celebrating, or on the verge of rioting. Another photo, Verona #2, was taken from the sidelines of the field, and shows police – wearing helmets and protective face masks – lined up in front of the audience. Some of them are throwing their fists in the air, and some throwing out fascist hand signals.
On the wall adjacent to these prints, 20 small multi-colored soccer jerseys are set within a picture frame. At a closer look, these small-scale jerseys are made out of cigarette packets from different countries – and seem to oppose the global commerciality that comes with the World Cup.
The next part of the exhibit focuses on how soccer fans tie into the sport. A series of video segments looped together played on a single screen, each focusing on the spectators during different games in 2002 and 2003 at the Volta Redonda stadium in Rio De Janeiro.
“The video shows how the fans make everything happen,” Sirmans says. “It takes the focus off the match, and gives a palpable sense of what it's like to be in the stadium.”
To give viewers a sense of what being a part of a crowd is like, the video is screened beneath a giant, brightly colored canopy tent resembling one that is often seen being pulled over parts of the crowd during soccer matches.
Another room of the exhibit includes some illustrious paintings that depict how some soccer players become world icons. A 1978 Andy Warhol silkscreen of Pelé – one of soccer's biggest stars – smiles at viewers. Another painting, done by Los Angeles-based artist Chris Beas, singles out Irish footballer Georgie Best, seen airborne in bright red jersey and socks, over a greyscale background.
However, the most engaging piece in the room is a large portrait of Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o. The portrait is a striking presence, capturing all the charisma and heroism Eto'o displays when on the field.
The anchor of the exhibit is a 90-minute video piece by Philippe Parreno and Douglas Gordon titled Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. The video revolved around French and Real Madrid club player Zinedine Zidane.
Two screens play side by side in a darkened theater room: The left shows footage of a 2005 game as seen on television; the right shows edited footage taken from 17 different camera angles, with each camera focusing on Zidane. “You sense how [the artists] are relating to him as a peer, and as an artist they admire,” Sirmans says. “There's a sense of artistry about his movements; the way he runs, touches the ball and passes it.”
Inside the Zidane exhibit, Sirmans can't take his eyes off the screen, “I could sit and watch this for hours,” he says. The piece seemed to sum up what he was trying to say through his exhibit: That when it comes to soccer – like art – there's more to it than what you see.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Blvd, Miracle Mile. (323) 857-6000, lacma.org.
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