Soccer ball

Soccer ball as globe in ‘Fútbol: The Beautiful Game’ at LACMA

The beautiful game was first revealed to Franklin Sirmans in Giorgio Chinaglia’s love at first sight. In the gazelle steps of Franz Beckenbauer. And in the bold inventiveness of Brazilian striker Pelé.

It was the late 1970s and Sirmans was a high school football player from New York supporting the Cosmos, the Gotham team that was a melting pot of global talent. Likewise, his fan base was a veritable UN of football obsessives. Even during the few years he lived in Albany, Sirmans says, his love of football and the cosmos tied him to a larger, more cosmopolitan view of humanity.

“The idea that there was something else that connected us was really a big part of that, and just being exposed to these different types of people,” says Sirmans, 44, curator of the contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. . “Not only is this reflected on the playing field that we watch as spectators, but as part of life.”

PHOTOS: Arts and culture in pictures by The Times

These utopian facets of football, as well as some ugly facets – hooliganism, extreme nationalism, racist incidents, commercial exploitation – form the subtext of the LACMA exhibition which has just opened “Fútbol: The Beautiful Game”. Organized by Sirmans and featuring around 50 works in painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography and video by around 30 artists, it will take place after the end of the 2014 World Cup, which runs from mid-June to mid -July in Brazil. .

The exhibition takes its title from the Portuguese expression joga skipjackor beautiful game. According to legend, a commentator coined it to describe the graceful, free and exultant style of play that Brazilians practically invented and stars like Pelé, Garrincha and Jairzinho turned into a form of identity national.

Sirmans says he knows of only one other recent art exhibition, in Monterrey, Mexico, that explored football culture. LACMA offers an international selection of artists. Andy Warhol is represented by his 1978 serigraph of a jovial Pelé. Los Angeles-based artist Chris Beas displays his lifelong cult for Manchester United with three acrylics based on photos of former Red Devils stars George Best, Brian Kidd and Bobby Charlton.

There are stereotypical humorous evocations of the national character, like a triptych of photos by New Orleans duo Generic Art Solutions of dying and ecstatic Italian players striking classic poses. There are playful fantasies of nationalist pride, like Miguel Calderon’s 2004 video “Mexico v. Brasil,” which depicts Mexico’s chronic underperformance. Sorting beating the five-time World Cup champions 17-0.

ART: Can you guess the high price?

And there are works that hint at the darker side of the game, including George Afedzi Hughes’ painting of a giant Adidas boot ominously paired with a silhouetted rifle and Lyle Ashton Harris’ photos of anti police. -riot clashing with Italian fans.

Among five prints commissioned for the exhibition by Los Angeles-based Self Help Graphics & Art is Carolyn Castaño’s screen-printed tribute to Andrés Escobar, the Colombian defender who was murdered in Medellín after accidentally scoring an own goal in a defeat in the 1994 World Cup against the United States in Pasadena. . (Apparently a drug baron lost a lot of money because of Escobar’s blunder.)

Even if you don’t know a Robin Thicke penalty, many of the exhibit’s themes are easily understood from the artwork and applicable to other major sporting events such as the Olympics and the 10 a.m. infomercial. otherwise known as the Super Bowl.

In designing this exhibit, Sirmans says, he wanted to show how fútbol resonates “within a larger sphere of popular culture,” an approach he took with his 2001 exhibition at the Bronx Museum, “One Planet Under a Groove: Hip Hop and Contemporary Art”. ”

He also decided that in a football-crazy region like greater Los Angeles, the exhibit should use the name of the game that much of the world uses and that best invokes the polyglot spirit of Southern California. “We can call it fútbol here,” he says.

PHOTOS: The best artistic moments of 2013 | Christopher Knight

Installed on the third floor of LACMA’s Broad Contemporary building, the exhibition is grouped around two single-storey video installations. “Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait” (2006), by Algerian-born Frenchman Philippe Parreno and Scotsman Douglas Gordon, is a kinetic portrait of Zinedine Zidane, the great French attacking midfielder and hero of the 1998 World Cup .

Shot with 17 cameras, the truth film captures Zidane’s predatory athleticism and his uncanny ability to see the whole pitch and anticipate developments during a game. Sirmans describes the work as “an updated painting”. “What fans will also take away is this idea of ​​this kind of maestro, this idea of ​​the number 10, this person who is the conductor and who sees everything that happens before everyone else,” says -he.

The other installation, “Volta”, by French-born artist Stephen Dean, consists of shots of crowds taken with a portable camera in various Brazilian stadiums. Some images show the fans up close, communing with the samba music. Others step back to create smoky abstractions.

Together, says Sirmans, “Zidane” and “Volta” portray both sides of the essence of the game: the moving poetry of the individual performer and the joyful collective catharsis of the masses.

“To me, it really shows why we do things together and why we’re not just individuals,” Sirmans says. “We need each other to see each other.

[email protected]