Reimagining the art of the beautiful game

By Aimée McLaughlin

Football and art aren’t generally considered to be the most comfortable of bedfellows. OOF – a biannual print magazine that looks at how visual culture crosses over with the sport – begs to differ, however. It probably helps that the duo behind the publication are Time Out’s visual art editor Eddy Frankel and curator Justin Hammond, both of whom also happen to be massive football fans.

The idea for the magazine came about after a chance first meeting when Frankel went to review one of Hammond’s exhibitions at his eponymous gallery in North London, after which the two of them ended up in the pub (“where all the best ideas happen,” says Hammond).

It wasn’t long before they got onto the subject of football. “I’d had this vague idea for an art and football related project in the back of my head, and it turns out that Eddy had an idea for a full-blown magazine and had been gathering content for a while, but couldn’t really work out how to make it happen,” says Hammond. “I had a bit of a background in publishing anyway, so very quickly we decided to do it.” A couple of pints and several hours later, OOF was born.

The name of the magazine is borrowed from an Ed Ruscha painting of the same title from 1962, and is a nod to the onomatopoeic sound often uttered from the mouths of frustrated football fans during particularly nail-biting matches. “We hold our hands up, we stole it off Ed,” says Hammond. “But it just felt like there was a really nice crossover between the art world and the football world.”

Meanwhile, the fact that the project is entirely self-funded has allowed Hammond and Frankel to be more playful with the design rather than relying on advertising. When issue one of OOF came out in February, it was loaded with oversized typography and white space. The size and shape of the magazine also plays on the dying breed of football programmes traditionally available to buy during matches. “We actually spent a ridiculous amount of money on sizing OOF to the exact dimensions of White Hart Lane’s pitch – Spurs’ previous ground – which was fantastically pointless and we knew that nobody would ever notice, but it made us blissfully happy,” says Hammond.

As for its content, the team were keen to avoid all the obvious football mag clichés. “This is going to sound like a weird thing to say, but there’s not actually a lot of football in the magazine,” says Hammond. “Every other football exhibition is called ‘the beautiful game’, and that’s not really where we’re coming from. We’re interested in artists making work around the counterculture that surrounds football – whether that’s fashion or politics – rather than making screenprints of Eric Cantona.”

Issue one, for example, includes features based around existing artworks, alongside interviews with artists and other figures such as former 90s football hooligan Martin Dudek, who revisits the scene of many crimes he committed as a teenager in the piece.

The release of the second issue has been conveniently timed to coincide with the World Cup, and features a distinctly international flavour. A piece on Soviet art history is Frankel and Hammond’s homage to Russia taking on the mantle of this year’s host country, and there’s an interview with an artist called Emanuel Santos – who created the now infamous bust of Christiano Ronaldo – about his influences and practice.

Hammond’s personal highlight of the new issue, is a first-person piece by German artist and photographer Juergen Teller. “It’s a heart-breaking story because he talks about his late father, who he never really connected with,” says Teller. “His connection was with his mother because she was a sportswoman and very much into football. It’s about football being something that really unifies or divides communities or families.”

An accompanying exhibition called Collective Failure, which is taking place at J Hammond Projects in Archway throughout the World Cup, will address some of the same themes as Teller’s piece. “The name is a term that’s bandied about quite a lot around the football tournaments, when England inevitably fails to do very well. Again, it’s a football show without any football in it. The artists are making work about the pain, anger and bigotry that surrounds football.”

Half of the exhibition space is dedicated to new and existing artworks, such as Henry/Braggs’ video installation depicting the crowds at all of the Crystal Palace matches from 1998 – the notorious year that the team found itself relegated. “You’re following the action but through experiences of the fans – you can obviously tell when a goal’s been scored because they’re absolutely devastated,” says Hammond. The other half will be transformed into a dodgy British boozer, complete with a manky pub carpet, a screen to show the World Cup games and a guest landlord from Luton called Dominic.

Despite being stocked in galleries around the world including the Tate and White Cube, it’s football fans just like Dominic from Luton that OOF is also aiming to appeal to. Hammond’s hope is that the magazine will act as a gateway for people who don’t necessarily go to art exhibitions all the time to engage with the sport in a different context.

The aura surrounding competitions like the World Cup is also a great vehicle to bring people together in this way, he adds. “I still feel like there’s something really special about the World Cup. Football can unify society in a way that the London Olympics did in 2012, for example. I think it would be really interesting to see if England did actually do well this year (I’m not holding my breath) what effect that would have on the nation and the mood – because let’s face it, it could do with lifting. Football has the power to do that.”

OOF issue two costs £6 and is available from here. Collective Failure is on show from 20 June – 21 July 2018 at J Hammond Projects

The post Reimagining the art of the beautiful game appeared first on Creative Review.