Football scores a goal in art

The World's Game: Futbol And Contemporary Art exhibition is on until Sept 2.
The World's Game: Futbol And Contemporary Art exhibition is on until Sept 2.PHOTO: ORIOL TARRIDAS

MIAMI • Bored while waiting impatiently for the semi-finals of the World Cup to get started?

If you are in Florida, you can turn up at The World's Game: Futbol And Contemporary Art, an exhibition at the Perez Art Museum Miami, on until Sept 2, that is dedicated to the intersection of art and football.

Said the museum's director Franklin Sirmans: "Art and sports don't cross over enough, but it's a greater phenomenon with more nuances than what we might expect."

From fan culture and fanaticism to nationalism and sports heroes, the seven-room exhibition features 50 artworks by 40 artists, including Andy Warhol and Kehinde Wiley.

There are deflated soccer balls, red sequin cleats, videos of chaotic stadium crowds and figurines covered in sparkles with artworks from Latin American, Caribbean and Miami artists.

"Soccer allows us to come together no matter how much pride we have in our nations," said Mr Sirmans. "It's where we can speak across barriers."

Wiley, who recently gained exposure after he was picked to paint Mr Barack Obama's presidential portrait, shows a painting of Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto'o, while Guatemalan artist Dario Escobar shows hundreds of deflated footballs hanging in chandelier-like installations.

The oldest piece in the exhibition is a Warhol portrait of Brazilian soccer champion Pele.

The 1975 portrait impressed the footballer, who said: "He gave continuity to my life and my message outside of the football pitch."

French-American artist Stephen Dean takes the focus off the game and onto the fans in a video called Volta, which he shot in a Rio de Janeiro stadium.

In following the rhythm of the chanting crowds, this is what the artist describes as a kind of theatre, or, "the choreography of euphoria and agony".

One highlight comes from New York artist Hank Willis Thomas, who shows work that questions the "us versus them" sports mentality, not to mention the team worship culture in sports fanaticism.

There is an entire section devoted to sports players as cultural icons, like portraits of Manchester United stars Brian Kidd, George Best and Bobby Charlton by Los Angeles artist Chris Beas.

But is this just a celebration of the male players?

It is certainly stacked with men, and though there are female artists on show - like Mary Ellen Carroll, Maria Lassnig and Priscilla Monge - the female athletes are few and far between. That is, besides the artworks focused on the success of Olympic gold medal-winning American soccer players Carli Lloyd and Brandi Chastain.

Mr Sirmans acknowledges the scarce mention of female athletes in the show - despite America's female team winning the World Cup three times in 1991, 1999 and 2015.

"We want to change that narrative, as women athletes lead the conversation," he said. "There is more to come and it's something we tried to be conscious of."

It is game on then.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2018, with the headline 'Football scores a goal in art'. Print Edition | Subscribe