What’s it like to stand in the bleachers of a soccer stadium? That question is answered in the first room of the Perez Art Museum Miami’s new fútbol-themed exhibit, “The World’s Game.”
Museumgoers will first encounter Stephen Dean’s installation “Volta” through a dimly lit room filled with billowing fabric and the rumble of drums. Red, white and orange cloths sag from the ceiling, lining the gallery walls like curtains. On a nearby video screen, there’s grainy footage of tens of thousands of roaring Brazilian fans, which Dean filmed in 2006 at the famed Maracanã football stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Then come unfurled banners and frenetic cheers, club flags and orange smoke. That’s followed by a gigantic homemade flag, called a bandeira, which drifts over the ocean of spectators like a blanket.
“You stand right here, and it feels like you’re a fan underneath that large flag in the Maracanã,” museum curator Jennifer Inacio says, pointing to the gallery’s cloth-covered ceiling. “Like you’re helping to hold the flag. You have this sense of community.”
And a sense of auspicious timing. When the soccer exhibit, subtitled “Futbol and Contemporary Art,” debuts Friday, April 13, at the museum, it will do so as David Beckham’s professional soccer team in Miami takes shape. The ambitious show, which assembles 50 soccer-related artworks from 30 artists, will also coincide with this summer’s 2018 FIFA World Cup (June 14-July 15).
The goal of “The World’s Game,” Inacio says, is to probe the global passion for the sport, shared here by artists, but also the way soccer transcends religious, gender and class boundaries.
“The game really brings nations together,” says Inacio, who created the show with Perez Art Museum Miami director Franklin Sirmans . “It’s a sport that embraces diversity and reflects Miami’s community.”
There are nods to Manchester United greats Brian Kidd and Bobby Charlton in Chris Beas’ black-and-white paintings, along with references to Argentinean icon Diego Maradona’s famous “Hand of God” goal in Hank Willis Thomas’ fiberglass sculpture. The popularity of Brazilian legend Pelé even seduced Andy Warhol, whose 1970s pop-art screenprints here capture the player tipping a soccer ball against his head. Kehinde Wiley, whose stylized presidential portrait of Barack Obama hangs in the Smithsonian, features his painting of Cameroonian player Samuel Eto'o against a mandala-style backdrop of metal keys.
Casual fans and sports agnostics will be forgiven for knowing only some of these names, Inacio says, since “The World’s Game” is also concerned with the social politics behind the game. Twenty-four hard hats decorated with team names hang on the wall in Penny Siopis’ “We Call It ‘Madiba Magic.’ ” The hand-painted hard hats, now popular fan headgear, evolved from the “makarapas” once worn by low-income migrant workers. Siopis’ title recalls the first South African soccer match following the end of apartheid in 1994. By halftime, Zambia and South Africa had a scoreless draw, until Nelson Mandela strolled onto the field. The South African leader’s appearance energized the home team to win the match.
In “Maracanã,” sculptor Nelson Leirner creates a scale model of the Rio de Janeiro stadium, populated with hundreds of religious and pop figurines, including frogs, pink elephants, Jesus Christ and Brazilian folklore character Saci Pererê. On the field, a team of 10 Incredible Hulks stares down a throng of Red Power Rangers.
“It’s the Power Rangers facing off against the Incredible Hulks,” says Sirmans, who considers Leirner’s “Maracanã” one of his favorites. “By combining all these figures from popular culture, you are showing that soccer fans can be anyone — poor, rich, pious.”
Sirmans, who hosted a 2014 version of “The World’s Game” while curator of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, says he knew Miami deserved a soccer exhibit after last summer’s El Clásico matchup at Hard Rock Stadium. A clash between Spanish club rivals Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, the match drew thousands of fans to Miami’s Bayfront Park to watch the game on a massive screen. Sirmans recalls feeling awed as he witnessed the spectacle of soccer die-hards piling into the park, which borders the Perez Art Museum.
“These are fans going to a park on a Saturday morning to watch a game on TV,” Sirmans says. “There’s nowhere you see that but in Miami. The people who love the game here love it at its highest possible international level. That’s why Miami needed this show.”
“The World’s Game: Fútbol and Contemporary Art” will open with a reception 9-11 p.m. Thursday, April 12, at Perez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd.. Admission is $12-$16. The exhibit will close Sept. 2. Call 305-375-3000 or go to PAMM.org.
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