‘Fútbol: The Beautiful Game’ Exhibit at the LACMA


The 2014 World Cup in Brazil is well underway. As fútbol aficionados around the globe are transfixed to their televisions or cheering in pubs, a Los Angeles museum is analyzing a different perspective of the game through photography, video, sculpture, painting and large-scale installations. The game’s popularity is transposed into a “universal conversation piece.”

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) presents Fútbol: The Beautiful Game until July 20, 2014. The title originates from the Portuguese expression joga bonito or “beautiful game.” It was derived from a sports commentator who conceptualized the phrase to depict the fluid and triumphal style of play as seen in legendary footballers such as Pelé and Jairzinho who transformed the sport into a symbolic form of national identity.

The exhibition surveys the sport of fútbol, or soccer as it is better-known in the U.S. The LACMA highlights approximately 50 works created by nearly 30 artists. Referred to as “the beautiful game,” the show examines its significance around the world, and also considers the effects of identity, nationalism, globalism and the common experience between spectators of different cultures.

“A globally beloved sport celebrated in the context of a museum: what a great opportunity to explore the international scope of soccer through the lens of art,” noted Michael Govan, CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director of LACMA.


The exhibit features two larger-than-life videos that encapsulate the magnificence of the game and its exceptional ability to incite the passion, unify and cultivate genuine “religious fervor.” A full game-length video of Zinedine Zidane is set side-by-side with the sports fan’s participation and experience, with both the positive and the negative. It also highlights the effect of commercialism on players, followers and the behind-the-scenes that make the entire industry possible.

Rio de Janeiro-based contemporary artist, Nelson Leirner’s installation, Maracana is a stadium scene unequal to any other. It provides a perceptive foundation to the well-timed exhibition while it concisely and symbolically summarizes fútbol’s function, in its many guises, within world cultures. The installation depicts a game between red Power Rangers and Incredible Hulks. The players and the audience are created with hundreds of tiny statuettes representing pop culture (Hello Kitty, the Seven Dwarfs, Mickey Mouse) characters together with religious and cultural figures from around the globe, including figurines representational of Rio’s immense statue of Christ.

Philippe Parreno and Douglas Gordon’s 2006 French documentary film, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait displays a 2005 fútbol match from the perspective of  footballer, Zinedine Zidane. Conversely, the French-born artist, Stephen Dean’s 2002-2003 Volta focuses on a massive assemblage at a stadium in Brazil. Set to Samba music, the film “blurs the boundaries between experimental film and sociological documentary.”  In the video, as the crowd’s emotion intensifies to a wild pitch, the camera encapsulates the “moments of beauty and order arising spontaneously from the overwhelming chaos.”

As a collective, the films portray two aspects of the game’s core – “the poetry of motion of the individual artist and the jubilant collective catharsis of the masses.” LACMA’s department head and curator of Contemporary Art, Franklin Sirmans stated that the works “capture why we do things together and why we are solely individual people. We need each other to see each other.”

In the conceptual phase of the exhibition, Sirmans commented, “Part of it was really thinking about the game as being something bigger than just a game, and having the perfect backdrop of the run-up to Brazil.”

Other works in the show include Andy Warhol’s 1978 silkscreen Pelé portrait, along with artists such as Brooklyn painter Kehinde Wiley; Los Angeles abstract artist Mark Bradford; Moroccan-born Hassan Hajjaj; German photographer Andreas Gursky; English artist Satch Hoyt and South African multimedia artist Robin Rhode, among others. For the exhibit, artists assembled from as far as Morocco, South Africa and Germany, in addition to many Los Angeles-based artists which reflect the global reach of the game.

In the work The Rules of the Game by Mexican artists, Gustavo Artigas, it explores the different methods in which communities play different sports and how they perceive one another, while Mexican filmmaker, Miguel Calderon’s time-edited film Mexico vs. Brasil sensationally displays only the Mexican team scoring goals.

Also included in the futbol exhibit are several iconic portraits, including Los Angeles artist, Carolyn Castano’s 2013 serigraph of slain Colombian defender, Andres Escobar, who was assassinated in Medellín, as some believe, for having accidentally netted an own-goal in the 1994 World Cup.

For the exhibit, Sirmans intended to show how futbol prevails in “wider popular culture sphere.” He felt that since greater Los Angeles is a “soccer-mad region,” it was appropriate to express the Southern California spirit by referring to the sport as fútbol. It was inspired by the notion that  “there was something else out there that connected us,” said Sirmans. “Not only is it reflected on the field of play that we’re watching as spectators but as part of life.”

The LACMA exhibit demonstrates that while fútbol is a “beautiful game,” the sport is much more than that. It is emblematic where the world-wide competition typifies the microcosm of international politics, hooligans, “commercial exploitations and extreme nationals.” However, regardless of ideology or religion, whether fútbol is played on the streets or in a stadium, it is artfully orchestrated, instilled with the grace of a swerving half volley to a corner kick into the net or several thousands of vuvuzelas [South African noise-making, plastic trumpet] squawking in unity.

By Dawn Levesque

KCET Los Angeles
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Perez Art Museum
The Los Angeles Times
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