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The World’s Game: Fuìtbol and Contemporary Art at the Pérez Art Museum

Detail from Penny Siopis' 'We call it 'Madiba Magic' 2017, Found objects from the collection of the artist, Courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery

The World’s Game: Fuìtbol and Contemporary Art
Pérez Art Museum Miami 
April 13th - Sept 2nd, 2018

By PETRA MASON, May, 2018

In the over simplified universe of jocks and nerds, how many art and culture types know much about sports, let alone soccer? While most North Americans assume the game to be an immigrant that arrived on our shores from Ellis Island or even New Orleans, soccer has early Native American roots stemming from Pasuckuakohowog, a name that literally translates to 'kicking ball sport'.

Fast forward to the 1970s when it took Brazilian soccer superstar player Pelé to capture the imagination of American fans (his sports celebrity even caught the eye of artist Andy Warhol and became part of his Athlete Series). Pelé's choreographed style of Brazilian soccer not only made him a star but turned him into the official ambassador of 'the beautiful game'. To this day, Pelé is widely regarded as the greatest football player of all time and fuìtbol is still considered the most popular sport in the world.

Espoir Kennedy, b.1976, Bujumbura, Burundi; lives in Durban, South Africa, Beckham, 2004, Lithograph, Courtesy of The Artists' Press

Walking into the exhibition emulates pre-game formalities where traditionally players come out through a tunnel onto the field. Upon entering a chromogenic print of Edson (Pelé) by artist Vik Muniz greets visitors as does Warhol's Pelé screenprint. Inexplicably, contemporary soccer gods Ronaldo and Messi are missing from the line-up (both are currently considered the greatest players on the planet) but there is a David Beckham portrait by Burundi born Espoir Kennedy (an African hair salon sign painter who contributed to stadium art during South Africa's 2010 World Cup). There are also rather surprisingly no vuvuzelas on view, (vuvuzelas without doubt having been the noisiest addition to the game in recent history) but there is an amazing collection of fan made soccer helmets you'll find at all African stadiums.

Alexandre Arrechea, b. 1970, Trinidad, Cuba; lives in Miami, Analogies, 2017, Watercolor on paper, Courtesy of the artist and Fredric Snitzer Gallery

The curator’s eye is alert throughout, bringing together works by more than 40 artists (organized by PAMM Director Franklin Sirmans with PAMM Assistant Curator Jennifer Inacio). In the exhibition, the geographic range represented reflects the global reach of the sport, with artists hailing from far and wide including Guatemala, Cuba, Burundi, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Argentina, Ghana, Italy, Mexico, and Brazil, in addition to several Miami–based artists including Alexandre Arrechea, Adler Guerrier, Jamilah Sabur, Sinuhe Vega Negrin, and Bhakhti Baxter. The celebrated Miami filmmaker Gaspar Gonzaìlez also created a new film about the game as it is played in Miami from pickup matches to the pros.

While there are a couple of big shots like Hank Willis Thomas and Kehinde Wiley, artists of all walks, sexes, shapes, countries and sizes are equally included. Overall, there is underlying authenticity and a bit of a low tech vibe. Even when the show’s curator, museum director Franklin Sirmans gave his speech there was a bit of reverberation giving an unintentional but cool touch. WM 

Petra Mason

Cultural historian and vintage photography book author published by Rizzoli New York. Founder Obscure Studio and ArtHit. Whitehot arts and culture contributor since 2016.

Photography by (c) Thekiso Mokhele / Obscure Studio


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