Magazine article Artforum International

Fever Pitch

Magazine article Artforum International

Fever Pitch

Article excerpt

If traditionally cricket has been the game of the elite, and football strictly for the lumpen masses, all that's changed now. These days, in order to have any cultural credibility within the U.K., it's almost mandatory to be a football fan. It all began when Bill Buford - then editor of the literary magazine Granta, now fiction editor of The New Yorker - published a runaway best-seller chronicling British soccer's hooligan element. Since then football frenzy has swept through the intellectual life of the U.K. - even Salman Rushdie has come out as a Tottenham Hotspur fan.

With England hosting the European Football Championships last June - for the first time in 30 years - this craze reached unparalleled heights, even spilling over into the art world. Manchester was designated the City of Soccer (even the IRA bomb that ripped out the city center didn't prevent the quarter final between Germany and Russia from taking place at Old Trafford Stadium the next day) and visual artists from across the globe came together to demonstrate their obsession with 11 men and a ball.

At Manchester City Art Galleries, "Offside: Contemporary Artists and Football" found Colombian artist Freddy Contreras striking a blow at the manly heart of football by customizing 11 of Vivienne Westwood's kinkiest red stiletto shoes with football studs and hanging them from nails, locker-room style. Sports addict Mark Wallinger exhibited a giant scarf entitled "Man United," arranged in a double helix that gave a biological twist to the name of the popular team Manchester United; while Simon Patterson - shortlisted for the Turner Prize this year - painted the gallery walls with the ultimate football fantasy: two teams made up of Christ and his apostles.

Inevitably, "The Beautiful Game" found its way South to the capital. At the same time as Wembley Stadium was playing host to the momentous match between England and Scotland on a makeshift pitch just near London's South Bank Centre, London's art world showed its true soccer colors with a hotly contested five-a-side football tournament between the city's contemporary art galleries.

Artist and curator Sam Denny organized the match as the culmination of a series of championship-inspired art events, and a "nice parody" of the art world itself, but there was little that was ironic about the gusto (and frequent fouls) with which the ten teams slugged it out against a backdrop of metal kit lockers filled with football-inspired artworks. After a lengthy break to watch the England/Scotland game on an alfresco wall of TV screens (England won, 2-0), the ultimate art-world winners were the "Total Art, Total Football" team headed by private art dealer Jeremy Hunt, who managed to fend off some nifty footwork from another football-crazy Turner Prize contender - Gary Hume of the Jay Jopling/White Cube team. Also worthy of special mention was the distinctive uniform worn by the Victoria Miro Gallery team: shirts emblazoned with Jake and Dinos Chapman's penis-nosed FuckFace mannequin, appropriately enough since both brothers were members of the team.

Victoria Miro's artists may not have conquered the football pitch, but this summer they were responsible for two of London's most talked about exhibitions. After the transgressive triumph of the Chapman duo's 1995 Zygotic Acceleration, Biogenetic De-sublimated Libidinal Model (Enlarged x 1000) - in which 16 genderless child mannequins, naked except for their shiny new sneakers, were joined into a ring and sprouted adult genitals in unexpected places - expectations for the brothers' first major public show ran high. "Chapmanworld" at the ICA (reviewed in these pages last issue) didn't disappoint. But, contrary to the claims of the catalogue, many visitors felt that the brothers' upended silver cyberperson gushing and pumping stage blood, and their room full of bizarrely fused mutoid munchkins gamboling amidst artificial foliage and wafts of dry ice, had less to do with Georges Bataille's visions of excess and Antonin Artaud's "Theater of Cruelty" than with a bad trip to Toys 'R' Us. …

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