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The art of football

The Helmhaus museum is swapping pictures for pitches


As World Cup fever grips the globe, one museum in Zurich is offering its visitors an alternative perspective on the world's most popular game.

Helmhaus museum curator Simon Maurer says he has dreamt of bringing football and art together ever since taking on the job one year ago.

"I'm a total fanatic about football as well as art," Maurer told swissinfo, "and I was amazed to discover that no-one had yet staged an exhibition in Europe to combine the two."


Titled "Balm" in refererence to the soothing effect that the organisers claim football can have on the human soul, the free exhibition comprises a small but diverse collection of video installations, paintings, photos, media clippings and football memorabilia.

The mass impact of the sport is illustrated in one sequence of slides depicting rudimentary playing fields in some of the world's poorest countries, while another exhibit turns football itself into a landscape, representing ball positions from a chosen game in a topographical model.

Bird's eye view

Even the most knowledgeable of football fans should find something new in a video installation by Swiss artist Tom Menzi which takes a bird's eye view of a professional match, transforming the tactical interplay of the two teams into a performance of almost balletic choreography.

On a less earnest note, Sibylla Walpen's 1999 work "Junge Buben" shows an infra-red film of a urinal at Bern's old Wankdorf stadium with the participants' activities literally highlighting (literally!) the social, and often juvenile, cameraderie found among fellow football supporters.

The Helmhaus organisers certainly seem to have found something for everyone.

Young visitors

"We've already had a lot of young visitors," Maurer told swissinfo, "and many of them looked like they were making their first ever trip to a musem. It's nice to be bringing in those people and I hope we can show them that football and art have a broad range of things in common."

At a time when football's financial battles, political rows and the problems of hooliganism are able to grab almost as much of the media's attention as the sport itself, though, Maurer freely admits that the Helmhaus exhibition isn't out to tackle all aspects of the game.


"We haven't really dwelt on the bad sides of the game or on its commercialisation," Maurer concedes. "This is definitely a subjective and perhaps even idealistic view of the sport.

"For the same reason many of the exhibits concentrate on regional teams and matches, because we think it's the local, once-a-week football that keeps the game alive for most people in an era when international football has begun to seem slightly artificial."

Not that the Helmhaus museum is turning its back completely on the World Cup. With televisions installed throughout the building, visitors can ponder the inherent artistry of the beautiful game while keeping one eye on the latest scorelines from Japan and South Korea.

Even on a quiet morning's trip to the museum it seems there's no escaping that World Cup fever.

by Mark Ledsom, Zurich

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