Everybody knows that sport and art don’t mix, right? Movies about Baseball are often cheesy and sentimental, paintings of motor racing or golf can be painfully kitsch and the less said about football’s relationship with pop music the better.
As the doors closed on the inaugural Fantasista exhibition there was a buzz of excitement from all involved and a feeling that we had proved beyond all doubt that football and art should not be kept apart.
The exhibition was hung at the Cello Factory in Waterloo, the very room in which the first ever Dalek was constructed by the BBC props department back in 1963. As I introduced myself to artist duo ‘Quiet British Accent’ I happened to be wearing one of their own works of art; a football shirt adorned with the slogan “Shit Gallery No Fans”. Nothing, it turns out, could have been further from the truth.
It seems a long time since Fantasista was no more than a few scribbled words on the back of a pub napkin. We knew then that when attempting to sell the idea of a football art exhibition in the UK there might a few raised eyebrows from sections of the art community, and perhaps an adverse reaction from some football fans. Both sets of doubters might agree with another of Quiet British Accent’s slogans that ‘sport and art do not mix’.
There are, of course, some sports that we traditionally associate with art, such as Horse Racing, Fox Hunting, croquet, billiards etc. So why not football? Surely football has all the attributes – colour, movement, drama, emotional highs and lows, passion, theatre, architecture…
Fantasista director Theo Delany spoke about this subject in a recent BBC interview:
“Football now is universal, it’s for everyone. It cuts across all class barriers, all levels of education and all national barriers. I think it’s now as valid an area to be talking about art as any thing else”
I spent the week leading up to the Fantasista Exhibition in São Paulo, as the guest of Itaú Cultural, an institution that helps promote the value of Brazilian culture.
In Brazil there have never been the same attitudes of snobbery towards football that there have been in the UK. There is perhaps an inherent snobbery towards poorer sections of society and there is an enormous wealth divide, but football has always been seen as something that unites the classes.
I watched the Confederations Cup final in Villa Madelena, where the fans’ joy at victory over Spain spilled onto the streets and we all drank and danced and soaked up a typically Brazilian carnival atmosphere – it was wonderful.
The walls of almost every bar and pub in Villa Madelena are shrines to the beautiful game; lined with photographs, posters, shirts, scarves, and the occasional painting or drawing of footballing legends from across the globe.
Many of the participating artists at this year’s Fantasista exhibition have the same ideology that I found in abundance in São Paulo. Works by Ezequiel Suranyi, Dave Merrell, Zoran Lucić, Stanley Chow, Haarala Hamilton, Philip Watkins and Sir Peter Blake would not look out of place on the wall of a smoke filled bar in Brazil. It is the work of Paul McKay, however, that truly encapsulates the spirit of Madelena. McKay’s ‘The Bedroom of a Man City Fan’ is the very essence of obsessive football fandom, the type of which you will find here in Brazil – just swap blue for yellow, Goater for Garrincha and you can almost taste the Caipirinha.
The football fan’s obsession with sticker collections, cigarette cards, figurines and the like is a popular theme amongst the Fantasista artists. Sir Peter Blake’s ‘F is For Football’ is a reflection of his own obsession with collectables whilst Otto Li’s ‘Make Your Own David Beckham’ seems to me to poke fun at both the concept of memorabilia and the cult of the footballing celebrity.
The Fantasista exhibition was not, however, dominated by works of retrospective footballing nostalgia – far from it. Julia Alvarez and her team of curators at Bearspace have achieved a wonderful level of variety and quality amongst Fantasista’s 19 artists.
I am particularly drawn to Quiet British Accent, whose work, to my mind, focuses on the ‘veneer’ of football and the way it is perceived as a whole – the very thing that makes it a questionable subject for an art exhibition. Amongst their work is a piece called ‘Swap Me’ that displays a collection of football stickers in which the face of each player is identical (I am moved to wonder if this is how my mother might have viewed my own football sticker collections). It is this repetition, of course, that renders the idea of swapping the stickers completely pointless. The wit and charm of Quiet British Accent’s work really sets the tone for the Fantasista exhibition, an exhibition that has a lot to say but doesn’t take itself too seriously.