Credit: Courtesy Juergen Teller
How artists capture the drama, joy and despair of football
Transcending language and borders, nothing delivers drama, joy and despair quite like the World Cup. Yet as the competing teams edge toward the final in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, the greatest show on Earth (this summer, at least) provides us with a rich vein of alternative narratives that intersect sport, culture, politics and society -- something that has not gone unnoticed by the art world.
As matches kick off across Russia this summer, an exhibition by German artist and photographer Juergen Teller is on view at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, exploring the sport from an alternate angle. A football fanatic since the age of 10, when he watched Germany win the World Cup from his grandmother's living room, Teller's show centers around a video installation not based on events on the pitch, but on the artist himself, the camera trained on Teller as he watches Germany's World Cup games unfold.
"There have been so many things done on football and I asked myself what I could do with it," Teller said on the phone from London. "Should you concentrate on the last 40 years of crazy haircuts or tattoos? In the end I focused the whole thing back on me."
The resulting show, "Zittern auf dem Sofa" reveals his experiences supporting Germany and Bayern Munich in victory and defeat. The title loosely translates to "trembling on the sofa," although Teller says the word "zittern" works even better in German.
"It kind of means shaking nervously, biting your fingernails while sitting on the sofa," he said. "The lives we lead can be so complex and football is an incredibly stupid relief. You watch 22 players running after a football and you don't think about your problems. It's pathetic; it's crazy!"
The art world's fascination with football is nothing new. Manchester artist L.S. Lowry's 1949 painting "The Football Match" sold for £5.6 million ($9 million) at a 2011 Christie's auction -- a record price for a Lowry painting -- while another work, 1953's "Football Ground" was bought by the UK's Professional Footballers' Association for £1.9 million ($2.9 million) in 1999.
Other artists have mined the sport's cult of celebrity, with pieces like Andy Warhol's portrait of Pelé in the 1970s putting a pop-art spin on one of football's all-time greats.
For Eddy Frankel, art critic and founder of OOF magazine, which explores the relationship between art and football, the release of 2006 film "Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait", signaled a turning point in contemporary art's relationship with football. Directed by Turner Prize-winning artist Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, and sound-tracked by Scottish post-rock band Mogwai, it followed French footballer Zinedine Zidane throughout the course of a single match. Seventeen cameras captured his every turn, movement and facial contortion in real time. The footage was then woven into a nuanced portrait of one of football's most enigmatic figures.
"Although the fascination between football and contemporary art began a long time ago, 'Zidane' was a touchstone as it showed how you could make art out of football," Frankel said.
Frankel launched OOF earlier this year after realizing that his dual obsession with art and football was shared by many of the artists he met. In the in its biannual print issues, the magazine showcases and the diverse ways this obsession is manifested in their work.
"What's interesting is when football is used to investigate wider narratives," he said. "Art's job, in general, is to decode society and, with football, art can peel back the layers. Football fans can often be lost in the moment and art can bring you out of that."
He points to British artist Eddie Peake, whose video installation of a naked five-a-side football match touched on themes of masculinity and sexuality, and the Polish artist Marcin Dudek, whose history as a football hooligan informed a body of work that asks why fans turn to violence and reflects upon how we behave in groups, as powerful recent examples.
"The World's Game: Fútbol and Contemporary Art," a multidisciplinary exhibition on view at the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) until September, charts similar complexities buried within the modern game, touching upon identity, camaraderie and nationalism as well as more sinister explorations of football's links to nationalism and dictatorial propaganda.
"Artists allow us to see things that we may not be able to see. They allow us to imagine something and then make it happen, which is exactly what our greatest sporting heroes do," said PAMM's director, Franklin Sirmans, who curated a similarly themed show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) in 2014.
According to Sirmans, football helps challenge traditional perceptions of which mediums and subjects deserve gallery space.
"Football teaches us to think about things in a way that is not confined to high art ideals. There is beauty and art, complexity and nuance in this game," he said. "Rather than focusing just on connoisseurship and admiring paintings on walls, we want people feel they have some sort of agency within the confines of this building. The work should act not as an end point, but as a starting point to begin a conversation."
That conversation shows no sign of slowing as the World Cup nears its conclusion. Hours after we spoke, Teller's Germany were knocked out of the World Cup, a shock result that provided a real-life twist within the artist's own exhibition, while just possibly inspiring future artists to paint their own connections between the beautiful game and their own imagination.