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Art Is Not Soccer

Art is Not Soccer

by Sean O'Toole / 18.09.2009

Football is the beautiful game. It is also a professionalised ball sport that allows us to marvel at the innate prowess of young men (and increasingly women) in their physical prime. Art, conversely, is not a game, even if its best practitioners possess all the audacity and grace of Cristiano Ronaldo running at a centre back.

Art is a finely tuned balance of craft and thought, the mental reverie it involves now increasingly viewed as the defining element in the equation. Let me simplify. Artists, unlike the masterful footballers Fernando Torres or Samuel Eto’o, are not defined by their prowess of making anymore, not singularly. They can subcontract the physical labour of sweating. This is a magic act not even Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola could hope to conjure.

To summarise then: art is not soccer, and soccer is not art. Whether you’re a fan of Orlando Pirates or Club Atlético River Plate, this potentially tautological piece of wisdom is pretty much self-evident. Undeterred by amateur Wittgensteins such as myself, artists, curators, entrepreneurs and plain old hucksters are readying themselves for the first whistle of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, on 11 June 2010.

Only last week I was summoned by an aging hippy who has dipped into his pension and sponsored his daughter’s travels across the continent. Her brief: to photograph young African children playing ball. I use the word ball advisedly. After guiding me through the photos, predictable scenes laced with sentiment and poverty, this retired London ad exec showed me some of the crude balls that give impetus to hours of fun on makeshift pitches across the continent. The balls are compelling to look at. Expect to see them displayed in an art gallery near you in 2010.

The assault continued this week. I received an invite to a press briefing for The Artists of Africa Exhibition, a group show that opens at Museum Africa in May next year. There are enough reasons to start yawning already, what with the involvement of the City of Johannesburg and moribund Department of Arts and Culture, never mind the strained connections made between “space” and “pace” by co-curator Thembinkosi Goniwe. Sure, I’m cynically pre-judging this art event, but remember the two-bit affair hosted by Johannesburg during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002?

There are a lot of reasons to feel glum about the current jockeying for position around the pigskin. One of them is Craig Mark, proprietor of Umhlanga’s Kizo Gallery and FIFA approved licensee of art product. Mark has made a tidy profit selling torrid couch art to the new rich living in Mount Edgecombe Golf Estate and its environs. He also continues to market the utterly dubious – if not legally, then certainly ethically – Mandela handprint editions.

Mark’s 2010 Fine Art Collection includes the uninspired product of, amongst others, painter Gavin Rain and photographer Clint Strydom. Like Anthony Wakaba Mutheki, a self-styled “African Van Gogh”, Rain and Strydom apply a modicum of craft and no real thought to their visual evocations of the beautiful game. The net result is a bouquet of silly illustrations for a sport involving a ball.

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It hasn’t been all gloom the past few weeks. Artist Simon Gush is currently showing a soccer-themed work at Cape Town gallery Michael Stevenson. Titled In the Company of, this projected film shows a five-a-side soccer match played on a criss-cross of railway tracks in Belgium. The 32-minute film depicts a game of skill ratcheted up a few notches. Players gingerly tread across the pitch to poke at the ball, which bounces erratically. Occasionally one of them manages a volley shot. Much like the make-up of Royal Antwerp FC, Gush’s teams include a fair helping of immigrants.

While recalling aspects of a scenario concocted by Mexican artist Gustavo Artigas, who in 2000 coordinated rival games of football and basketball on the same pitch at the same time, Gush’s work is entirely original. It also benefits from a consummate sense of production (or craft). Gush, a former Jozi amajita, has established a necessary benchmark. Likely though, many artists will happily canter beneath it on their panicked hunt for a quick buck.

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RESPONSES (24)
  1. Niel says:

    Dennis Bergkamp was equal parts artist and footballer. Love the man.

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  2. djf says:

    Bergkamp also paints, sculpts or composes?

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  3. VANESSA HARTLEY says:

    REFRESHING OPINION … ! AM GLAD SOMEONE STILLS CARES ENOUGH, TO HAVE ONE!!!

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  4. Andy says:

    Niel, you just failed the comprehension test

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  5. Fred Hatman says:

    Loving this. Art meets Football. My two greatest passions. I’m linking to this from the fredhatman.co.za blog…
    BTW, former Chelsea and Scotland winger Pat Nevin (he played in late 80s & early 90s) was quite an accomplished painter

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  6. Sean says:

    For what it’s worth, Eric “Flying Kick” Cantona made a detour into acting after retiring. He also appears in director Ken Loach’s film Looking for Eric. On the subject of film portraits, artist Douglas Gordon, together with Philippe Parreno, directed Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. The film tracks the movements of the genius footballer, Zinedine Zidane, for the full duration of a game between Real Madrid vs. Villareal. Ninety minutes of the man who deservedly won best player at the last World Cup. Which all tends to show up the local hucksters even further.

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  7. Craig Mark says:

    Hi All, take a look at the 2010 Fine Art website that is launching today. http://www.2010fineart.com

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  8. Andy says:

    Craig Mark you’re a bullet proof huckster… did you even take the time to read the piece? It’s not PR pal…

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  9. Craig Mark says:

    Then don’t look at the site Andy.

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  10. Carol Reed says:

    Give the man a medal for shamelessness.

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  11. Craig Mark says:

    Sean, I believe that you have a close relationship with Bell-Roberts. Bell-Roberts launched the Clint Strydom 2010 photographs several months ago. They placed a full page advert in the SA Art Mag which I believe you edit on their behalf. They released various media statements which described the works as being of quality and sold several works to their customers. They have yet to pay me for these pieces and with Bell-Robert’s current position this has obviously become a problem. You now knock the very artwork that your “I think” bosses have sold to their own clients and have failed to pay me for in a public forum. You also make reference to The Artists of Africa media launch which you did not attend although your article above creates the impression that you did. You knock an exhibition that you know very little about, except for having read a media release. You do not know that many of Africa’s most respected contemporary artists, writers and curators have already confirmed their participation in what is firmly set to be a highlight of the African contemporary art calendar in 2010 and yet you knock it based on some exhibition that was run by others in 2002. So to all of you out there why not keep an open mind, check out the 2010 website to determine whether you like it or not and come to see The Artists of Africa from the 11th May to the 11th July 2010 at Museum Africa. You can then all make an informed decision or not whichever tickles your fancy.

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  12. Andy says:

    Craig Mark you’re such a clown. Sean, while he might work as the editor on Art South Africa – which is owned by Bell Roberts – is primarily an independent art critic. And he’s employed in that capacity as the editor of Art South Africa and a writer on this site. He trades on his well-informed opinions, and he has something which it sounds like you lack. Integrity. Who gives a shit what Bell Roberts thinks or does. Sean is not Bell Roberts – he does some work for them. He doesn’t embody their corporate identity, think their thoughts and do their PR. But you seem far too caught up in your own corporate stoogery to know the difference.

    Go sell your 2010 “artworks”. Make hay while the sunshines and good luck getting rid of the inventory in August next year.

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  13. Sean says:

    It started with a phone call. “What’s this bullshit you wrote?” grumbled Thembinkosi Goniwe. That was Tuesday. Over the course of the half hour he meticulously interrogated every possibility regarding my parenthetical remark devoted to him, but in the end deferred from exercising his right to a written reply. Pity. The culture of writing online – of which Mahala is a tiny exemplar – gains its energy, momentum, even urgency, from the responses generated by readers. Otherwise it’s just a banal sermon. Which prompts me to say thank you, Craig: in the words of Nick Cave, you’ve called upon the author to explain. First things first, I stand by what I wrote, all of it. This is not a piece of news journalism, simply an opinion, most of it drawing on recent experiences. It may lack subtlety; it may even unnecessarily malign certain people, but these are the thoughts of a grumpy Liverpool and Sundowns fan, someone enthralled by the beautiful game. Craig, you are correct in pointing out that I didn’t attend the press launch. That is not what persuaded me to write what I wrote; rather, it was the amalgam of actors and agents advertised in your press release that made me sceptical, worse still, cynical. Like I told Thembinkosi, I may well have to eat my words come May next year, but I’m willing to gamble on my good sense. (Very likely I’ll be wrong. As Robert Hodgins recently reminded me, quoting Sibelius, “You will notice there are no statues of critics in any town of France.” Nor do they exist in South Africa, I might add, although I would motivate for small bronze plaques dedicated to Esme Berman and Ivor Powell.) Craig, you also correctly highlight that I have a financial relationship with Brendon Bell-Roberts, who publishes the magazine Art South Africa, of which I am the editor. That’s as far as our relationship goes. Period. (In his defence, Brendon has had the good grace to accept that Art South Africa will, as it often has, run reviews critical of his productions as a book publisher and art dealer. This is admirable, even though I know it has often hurt, emotionally rather than fiscally. Perhaps, Craig, you might intuit a lesson in modesty here.) I notice that you have been lambasted for offering links to your website. This is wrong. The experience of art resides in the physical encounter. This fact precedes everything, including the raving of a slow-brained mongrel such as myself, and indeed the wounded yapping of manicured poodles such as you and Thembinkosi. As a postscript, I would urge readers to visit Kizo Art Gallery (Shop G350, Palm Boulevard, Gateway Theatre of Shopping, Umhlanga). The stunted offerings there have the mesmeric ability to say nothing much at all.

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  14. Carlos says:

    Hoor hoor, Sean. Being a football writer, I’m fielding a call a week from some arty-farty wanting me to help them with some lame, banal footie-related project. Get on with ART, people! Enough nonsense gets written and said about football as it is …

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  15. Craig Mark says:

    The City of Joburg and Department of Arts and Culture should be commended for investing and supporting a contemporary art exhibition. Knocking an exhibition that is not yet hung citing their involvement could reduce others chances of acquiring their much needed support for future projects. At the end of the day the success of the exhibition lies with the curators and the very best are working on this exhibition. The names of the participating curators, artists, poets and writers will be announced in due course but this list is looking very exciting. Kizo does not propose to have all the answers. We have however launched and successfully run the annual Heritage Arts Festival, Heritage Awards and Retail Arts Development Programmes for several years. The Retail Arts Development Programme has put over R400 000 into the pockets of artists and crafters in the last two months alone. Premier Mkhize, Minister Weziwe Thusi (DACT) and Advocate Mancotywa (CEO National Heritage Council) all congratulated Kizo on the highly successful Heritage Awards 2009 at the ICC in September and have confirmed that they support them becoming the National Heritage Awards in 2010. I pitched FIFA who awarded a license for fine art for the first time in the tournaments history. The purchase of this license marks one of the largest private investments in the S.A. arts industry to date. I was awarded the tender for The Artists of Africa Exhibition by The City of Joburg based on my business plan, proposal and experience. This has all been done in a very difficult economic environment which is seeing many galleries considering closure. I however prefer to remain positive and to put 100% of my energy and resources into the industry. You are all welcome to visit Kizo anytime. I take constructive critiscm seriously. It is just uninformed negative personal attacks that I take exception to. It is unfortunate that some people in the industry feel that it makes more sense to fragment than to work towards a common goal. Let’s compare hands sometime Sean, mine aren’t limited to the computer keyboard and I’m sure you’ll find that yours are better manicured than mine. I have exhibitions in 32 countries in the next 8 months so you’ll forgive me if I go back to work. Sean please pop in some time so that we can continue this face to face.

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  16. Peter Pan says:

    i think andy and sean are jealous of craigs awsome collection

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  17. Peter Pan says:

    i would like to let craig know that i think his collection is brilliant and unique.

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  18. Pulz says:

    Can we get back to the topic now!

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  19. Brian... Mandela AP owner says:

    Get over it Andy. I think you are just pissed off with yourself 🙂 As Craig says, get back to work and try working to a common goal.

    If anybody wants to buy some real South African Art (Hand of Africa Remarqued AP 19/50, and Colored Hands AP 19/50, both authenticated, ($250k) send me an email… then contact me at bharris70@bigpond.com

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  20. Brian says:

    All the best with your Art shows Craig, Cheers Brian

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  21. Brian says:

    Andy should have been a politician

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  22. artnova says:

    andy and sean are just flipping bitches…why not give credit where credit is due , one for coming up with the concept and secondly for actually curating and producing the collection. Soccer is hardly a beautiful game at the best of times…apart from the ladies ogling the players and the odd beautiful goal….2010fineart saw the opportunity and got it approved by FIFA. being personally involved with the project albeit behind the scenes as a mere supplier of some of the components that make up the collection….i have seen what these people are prepared to and are doing to highlight art and Africa in their own way…..what are you doing Sean…apart from being a toole.

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  23. artnova says:

    Craig – Rob – Antonia and all the artists….i along with almost the rest of the world believe that this will be the best WC ever…and you guys have taken a blinding chance to unite and create magical exposure for Africa , Art , and the beautiful game with this utterly awe inspiring collection of diverse international talent …..GO 2010fineart….Go……Sean and Andy please don’ t” Wave your flag” rather go fly a kite…..

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  24. Terry says:

    Interesting reading. I am in London at the moment and would like to see Mark Craig’s fifa art, where is it?

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