The Art of Football: National Football Museum Collecting Culture Project funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund
On 2 December I was invited to a workshop at the National Football Museum, Manchester on Football’s Public Monuments. This is part of a four year project The Art of Collecting Football with Dr Mike O’Mahony of Bristol University and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £199, 900. The project will develop the NFM art collection through the acquisition of priority works that have been 1. inspired by or 2. depicting football and its wider cultural influence. This chimed with jjheritage’s interest in the World Cup as a cultural event and, more specifically, the history of world cup posters, mascots and trademarks. A chapter on this topic, with a specific on the 1966 World Cup in England and how this changed the marketing strategy of future World Cup tournaments is currently under development for an edited collection led by Daniel Haxall called Picturing the Beautiful Game (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017). This is an exciting area of research because most of the published material on World Cup history has looked at the football itself, in terms of which teams played, who scored and who won the tournament. Since World Cup history grew out of very successful Olympic football tournaments, the chapter on World Cup posters argues that the wider cultural resonance of the tournaments is long overdue for consideration. Since posters have effectively been redundant as a means of finding out about when, where and at what time World Cup matches have taken place for over half a century, why are they still a major means of communicating the tournament to a wider public and media audience?
Football-related statuary as a recent phenomenon on public and civic art
The December 2016 workshop on public monuments set their relatively recent rise as a widespread phenomenon in this historical context, not least thanks to the groundbreaking work of Chris Stride, Ffion Thomas, and John Wilson and their comprehensive database From Pitch to Plinth: Sporting Statues Project (for more information on the project see here). Put perhaps a little over-simplistically, as public confidence in politicians and other figures historically commemorated by public statuary, sports stars have more recently become increasingly commemorated due to public fundraising, and civic projects. These works are, by their very nature, outside of the walls of institutions such as the National Football Museum, and in the public domain at specific sites of memorialization. The workshop discussed a strategy to enable us to create a display or exhibition that could reflect the emergence, transformation and popularity of football-related monuments nationally and internationally.
Participants included leading sculptors and artists
As well as Dr Mike O’Mahony of Bristol University and Dr Kevin Moore Director of the National Football Museum, several of the museum staff were present, including key volunteers. Sculptors included Tom Murphy, a self taught artist who soon became well known for large bronze public statuary including figures from popular culture and politicians such as John Lennon (1996 and 2002); The Moores Brother of the Littlewoods companies (1997); Bill Shankly (1997); Harold Wilson (1997) and Dixie Dean (2001). Though best known for large pieces, Tom remains interested in a wide range of art disciplines and sectors and this was evident at the workshop in his comments on both the practicalities of creating work and in the aesthetics of a piece taking on a life of its own.
Tom Maley, who also has both an artistic, design engineering and sculptural background, also discussed the practicalities and aesthetic process of creating civic and exhibition pieces. Maley has created many leading scultures of football players and managers such as Jackie Milburn (1996) Wilf Mannion (2004), Bobby Robson (2012) and Alan Shearer (2016). Tom also discussed the ways on which movement may be drawn into sculptural forms, with his currently developing for a Jackie Milburn and Alan Shearer local heroes proposal.
The artistic community were also represented by Michael J. Browne known for The Art of the Game 1997 and other subsequent large scale and high profile projects, including The Transfiguration of George Best 2008.
As one of my favourite paintings in the wealth of treasures available at The National Football Museum, it was a pleasure to hear Michael talk about how the picture developed as an aesthetic concept, and the practical aspects of its display, since it is such a large painting.
Amongst the many topics covered during the day, we debated what works should be displayed in future art-related exhibitions. The group felt that it was particularly important to tell the story behind monuments and statues from sketches, scale models and maquettes, to moulds. These processes would help answer commonly asked questions related to sculpute, such as ‘what’s it made of?’; ‘how heavy is it?’ and ‘how long did it take to produce?’ Additional technology, like time-lapse photography, might also help here, and would help see behind the scenes of a piece being brought to life. A second key theme to emerge, related to how each piece referred to a set of aesthetic traditions, but also changed those traditions. Finished pieces can often take on a mystique of their own and the group wanted to challenge this idea, by seeing the work as part of a process of making art. In this sense the final work is both a representation of its subject and a compensation that artists also operate in a world of deadlines, public scrutiny and market forces. These themes will be revisited at the next workshop in 2017.