LACMA Exhibit 'Futbol: The Beautiful Game' Celebrates Art Inspired by the Sport

Andy Warhol
Andy Warhol
 Andy Warhol Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

While the Super Bowl is easily America's most viewed event, its audience is only a fraction of the 700 million worldwide viewers that tuned in for 2010's World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands. And that number is likely to climb higher when the quadrennial soccer saturnalia gets under way again this summer in Brazil.

For many soccer fans, the game offers not only lessons in fair play, but on life itself. French writer Albert Camus said, "What I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football." This quote comes courtesy of LACMA in its notes for new exhibition "Futbol: The Beautiful Game," a collection of artwork inspired by the game -- on and off the field -- where, in some infamous cases, drug cartels, corrupt politicians and murderers loom.

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Among the 50 works on display through July 20 are paintings by famous artists like Andy Warhol, whose portrait of Pele is included, as well as up-and-comers like Ana Serrano, whose Narco Soccer reflects the influence of Latin American drug cartels on the sport. Serrano is one of five artists in the show commissioned by Self Help Graphics & Arts, a Boyle Heights-based nonprofit specializing in printmaking and cultivating visual arts in the Latin community.

"I chose to focus in on sort of the corrupt aspect of it," Serrano tells The Hollywood Reporter about her serigraph print, a childlike depiction of a running soccer player with a shadowy cartel figure right behind him. "There are many instances and speculation about the cartels having a hand in the outcomes of the games."

Carolyn Castano's Escobar 4 is a Self Help Graphics portrait of Andres Escobar, the Columbian soccer player who, in the 1984 World Cup in Los Angeles, accidentally kicked the ball into his own goal. He was shot dead outside a Medellin nightclub two weeks later by men widely believed to be working for the cartel.

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Escobar 4 features a portrait of Escobar surrounded by birds and flowers native to Columbia, including a marijuana leaf and a white cocoa flower.

"There's definitely this aspect of heroes and nationalism when it comes to these players," says Castano. "There was a tie to politics with them, dictators and political connections to them, and they might get killed. I did another series called "Assassins United," which was a team made up of killed soccer players."

"Futbol: The Beautiful Game" -- which also featuring two large video installations, including one spotlighting retired footballer Zinedine Zidane -- isn't just about the dark side of the sport. It's about the collective spirit of play, as with Brazilian artist Nelson Leirner's Maracana, named for the stadium in Rio de Janeiro. This installation fills the first gallery with a soccer field hosting a team of plastic Hulk action figures versus a team of red Power Ranger action figures. In the stands surrounding them are figurines from all over the world, from the sacred to the profane, including a ring of Jesuses, Hello Kitties, Buddhas, toads and garden gnomes.

Maracana is one of Brazil's 12 stadiums where the World Cup will take place, beginning June 12.

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