Why ‘Futbol the Beautiful Game’ at LACMA is Great for Kids

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About the Exhibition: LACMA’s Fútbol: the Beautiful Game (on view through July 20, 2014) is all about soccer –  the worldwide sports phenomenon. The exhibition includes Fútbol inspired paintings, photographs, videos, prints and sculptures that explore not only the beauty, brawn, and excitement of the game — but also its darker manifestations like hooliganism and extreme nationalism. Artwork from over 30 international and local artists present an in-depth, family friendly, global narrative about the game’s cross-cultural significance.

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One of several LACMA educators engaging visitors in the galleries during my family’s visit.

I’ve seen the exhibition twice since it opened in early February – the first time on my own at the preview, and the second time with my two sons. This post represents a mash-up of photos and stories from both visits.

At the preview,  I spoke with the curator Franklin Sirmans (photo below) about his inspiration for the Fútbol exhibition. Sirmans is a lifelong soccer fan who played high school soccer in New York during the ’70’s.  Sirmans told me he found inspiration in the remarkable talent and ethnic diversity of the soccer greats who played for the New York Cosmos back then, most notably Bralizian-born Pelé, regarded by soccer enthusiasts as the best player of all time. There’s a terrific portrait of Pelé by Andy Warhol in the exhibition (photo below).


Press interview curator Franklin Sirmans at the preview, “Pelé” by Andy Warhol, “Free Throw” by Mary Ellen Caroll

Sirmans loves the simplicity of the game. Many sports like hockey, he said, require highly specialized equipment and playing arenas. But for soccer, all you need is a ball. And you’ll find plenty of them in the exhibition including a sculpture by artist Mary Ellen Caroll  (photo above) that suggests, among other things, that any ball will do.

Inside the galleries, the first artwork I encountered was Nelson Leirner’s colorful rendering of Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium (photos below)  – an instant hit with one young soccer fan at the preview. A security guard standing nearby told me, “It’s one of my favorite pieces in the show because it has different cultures, races, and religions from all over the world. I call it the Arena of Life.”

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“Maracana” by Nelson Leirner, a rendering of Rio’s Maracana Stadium where the World Cup final will be held in July.

A kids’ tour: I visited the exhibition again with my children on President’s Day, a school holiday that was a LACMA Target Free Holiday Monday. We joined three other families from my youngest son’s elementary school. No problem getting our kids on board for this museum outing. I’ve never had a better hook for my sons than,”Do you want to see an exhibition about soccer?”

Though we had a large group of children with us that day, our visit turned out to be a breeze.  Most of the children were old enough (between 10-12 years old) to explore the exhibition on their own while the parents supervised from a distance.

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Children watching “Caryatid (Red, Yellow, Blue),” a three channel digital video installation by Paul Pfeiffer

It also didn’t take much of an effort to find a connection between the exhibition and the children’s daily lives.  Before we entered the exhibition, I talked with the children for a few minutes about some of the show’s major themes. Then I asked the kids to imagine what kind of artwork they would make about soccer. What medium would they use, and what objects would they include?

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“Futbol” installation view of “Kick It” by Satch Hoyt and “Parallel” by George Afedzi Hughes.
Children viewing “Second to None” trophy sculpture by Ry Rocklen.

Much to their excitement, the kids found pieces throughout the show that closely resembled their imaginary artworks — a soccer ball sculpture, soccer cleats, a soccer jersey, and a soccer field. But no one mentioned trophies, that is, until they saw the trophy sculpture (photo above), pure eye-candy for the kids.

My 11-year-old son told me afterwards, “There’s a lot more to soccer than meets the eyes, there’s politics and even acting.” His comment about acting refers to Paul Pfeiffer’s three screen video installation. Pfeiffer’s video loop shows soccer players falling to the ground after an injury and highlights the theatrical nature of their dramatic facial expressions and movements, all of which totally captivated the boys as you can see from photo above.

Child looking at Barbara Kruger’s “Untitled (Shafted)” BCAM elevator installation.
“Metropolis II” sculpture by Chris Burden; children watching “Metropolis II” sculpture in motion from balcony.

The location of the Fútbol exhibition in the BCAM building (Level 3) offers a great family bonus. A ride on Barbara Kruger’s graphic elevator installation Untitled (Shafted) up to the exhibition is an exciting attraction for children, especially little ones.  BCAM is also the home of LACMA’s monumental Metropolis II sculpture by Chris Burden. After we finished exploring Fútbol, we headed down to the first floor to watch a 1,000 miniature toy cars race around Burden’s huge urban sculpture at an equivalent scale speed of 240 mph (see my Metropolis II review for more).

The exhibition coincides with the World Cup 2014 in Brazil starting in June so keep your eyes out for exhibition related special performances and events this summer.  See you in the galleries!


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