Artist turns iconic football shirts into abstract art

Artist turns iconic football shirts into abstract art

Can football shirts be art? Namibian-German artist Max Siedentopf tackles the worlds of painting and football in a new book, Paintings League, published by Hatje Cantz

On Sunday 11 July, it will be England vs Italy in the Euro 2020 Final football match at Wembley Stadium, so you might want to have your favourite football shirt close at hand. 

While many ponder the burning question of the moment: ‘Is – or isn’t – football coming home?’, Max Siedentopf is busy answering another: ‘How do you make art for people who usually don’t like art?’ 

This question prompted the Namibian-German artist to orchestrate one of the most unusual collisions of worlds known to creativity. It began with a theory: those who avoid museums and galleries just might be in the same demographic as those who spend time watching football matches – an interesting (and possibly divisive) hypothesis. 

Football shirts and abstract art Inter Milan, as featured in Paintings League, by Max Siedentopf, published by Hatje Cantz
FC Inter Milan

He needed a creative solution that would cater for both the most refined of art enthusiasts and the most dedicated of football fans. Attempting to score two goals with one ball, the Paintings League series was born – a marriage of classic football shirts and contemporary abstract art. 

A creative homage to legendary team football shirts

The series – published in a new book by Hatje Cantz – pays homage to iconic football teams including Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Barcelona by turning their team football shirts into acrylic-on-canvas colour-field paintings on canvas. 

A conceptual artist, photographer, director, publisher and former creative director of the ‘unorthodox’ creative agency KesselsKramer, Max Siedentopf is well known for surreal interventions that are tricky to forget. This could be said for his piece Toto Forever. In the middle of the Namib desert, Siedentopf staged a sound installation consisting of six speakers plugged into an MP3 player with just one song on it – you guessed it, Toto’s Africa. Siedentopf said of the piece: ‘The song is put on loop and the installation runs on solar batteries to keep Toto going for all eternity.’

Football shirts and abstract art Galatasaray S.
Galatasaray SK 

Echoing the icons of abstract art 

Back in the Paintings League, things are no less surreal. Stare for long enough, and the colour-field painting icons begin to emerge. At first glance, what appears to be a Frank Stella painting is, in fact, an Arsenal shirt. Elsewhere, an Ellsworth Kelly-esque formation turns out to be Manchester United, and we find literal parallel lines between Juventus and the work of Daniel Buren. But perhaps the most absurd and revelatory comparison of all might be an Agnes Martin-like grid emerging from a Barcelona shirt.

In this book, art aficionados can lose themselves in Siedentopf’s minimalist approach to abstract painting, while lovers of the beautiful game can admire their football team colours immortalised on canvas.

Whatever the result of the England vs Italy Euro 2020 Final, the long-term results of Paintings League remain to be seen, Siedentopf has proved that this distinctive art-versus-football experiment isn’t necessarily a game of two halves. §

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