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Wednesday, May 22, 2002


The beautiful game becomes art

Special to The Japan Times

Soccer commentators, in their hyperbolic struggle to convey the excitement of the sport, sometimes refer to it as an art. This analogy isn't totally offside, as there's no denying the aesthetic element of a sport requiring so much strength, speed and coordination. But what happens when the kinetic art of soccer is expressed not by athletes on the pitch, but by painters or sculptors in static works of art?

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"Guernica Football" (top) by Ron English is the best of "Art Fever," but Bernard Moldovan's "Seduction hermetique No. 16" (above) is wide of goal. Philippe Troussier makes his artistic debut (below).
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This is the question asked by "Art Fever," an odd but interesting touring exhibition organized by Adidas -- and yet another sign of Japan's mobilization for the World Cup finals.

The project's manager, Ichiro Shigeta, explained that the show is intended to appeal to both fans and non-fans. Noticing the prevalence of the Adidas logo in so many of the works, you can't help wondering how much this is art for art's sake -- or how much it is a direct attempt by one of the world's top sports brands to cash in on a major sporting event.

"The frequent occurrence of the Adidas logo is a pure coincidence," claimed Shigeta. "We asked each artist to present pieces of art on the theme of footballing fever. Nothing further was requested."

Despite the narrow theme, the results produced are extremely varied in style, echoing the alchemy of a sporting tournament that draws so many diverse nations together. The works range from the realist chiaroscuro of French artist Herve Sbarberi's still-life representation of objects suggestive of football and travel, to Japanese artist Yukari Fujimoto's uchikake silk kimono, complete with two traditional dragons apparently going for a ball above a sea of geometric seikaiha waves adorned with the Adidas logo.

As well as the variety in styles, there is also a marked variety in quality. The works that fail are the ones that abuse the theme by going off on unconnected tangents. For example, Belgian artist Guy Brauns' triptych, showing a semi-naked model in soft pastel tones posing with Adidas goods, looks like the worst kind of sex-in-advertising. Bernard Moldawan's "Seduction hermetique No. 16," showing a mannequin juggling a statue's head, seems to owe more to art-school obsessions than soccer. The French painter's accomplished technique impresses, but like a skillful dribbler with a poor shot, it misses the point of the exhibition.

The best works are those that capture the simple dynamics and passion of soccer. French artist Claude Hemeret's "Droit au but" uses broad, wild, swishing brushstrokes to create both a sense of mass and movement as a group of players jostle for a ball. American artist Ron English's colorful diptych, "Guernica Football," recasts some of the tortured figures from Picasso's most famous painting as soccer players, effectively showing the exaggerated passions evoked by the game as well as hinting at its darker and more tribal elements.

The exhibition is also notable for the debut of a refreshing new artistic talent, French artist Philippe Troussier, better known as the coach of Japan's national team.

"Troussier likes art very much," Shigeta explained. "When Adidas asked him to participate in this project, his reaction was very positive. So far, he has given us 11 drawings and new ones are still coming in."

It seems odd that Troussier is taking such an active interest in art just before the World Cup finals. I can't help thinking that he's hedging his bets in case Japan isn't able to live up to the nation's high expectations.

"Adidas Art Fever" runs till May 27 at Loft Market, Nagoya Loft 1F, Nagoya, and is then at Akarenga-soko, Part 1, Yokohama, June 5-30.

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