Football at the museum, really?

24 octobre 2017

What about forgetting all our assumptions on football? This is what the exhibition "Nous sommes Foot" offers at MuCEM, paying tribute to the people and socio-cultural practices that accompany the football in the Mediterranean as in Marseilles. Enter ball at the feet in an audacious exhibition, divided into 11 sections and visited in 90 minutes, of course!

Poorly educated young people enter at the museum

Bring football into a museum, what an idea? The public of the museum does not go to the stadium and the public of the stadium does not go to the museum, it's very simple. And then, well, people who love football, you know... Four years ago, Gilles Perez, director and producer of documentaries, got a right mouthful when he initiated the project of an exhibition dedicated to the king sport in the world and its broad influence on society. "I've heard that football is about violent brawling, poorly educated young people who are making millions today. An exhibition about them?" he recalls. The co-curator of the exhibition distinguishes, through these initial reluctances without real foundations, what he qualifies as a sort of social deference. "There is certain contempt of class that a popular culture could not enter a place of culture, which should symbolize a national museum and especially the MuCEM" he laments. 

(Casablanca, Maroc)

(Amateur football match in Marseille, 2004)

However, alongside Florent Molle, curator of Heritage at MuCEM and passionate about the ball, he defends the role of a museum of civilization, reflecting the popular traditions of his time. Football, universal and global sport per excellence, "logically, has its place". "Everyone is concerned about football, especially those who hate this sport, and we cannot ignore the fact that football is the most popular sport in the world: should we remember that more than one billion viewers watched the final game of the last World Cup? " defends Florent Molle, "for a museum of society, evoking football is obvious."

"Football is a Polaroid of our societies"

In fine, after juggling with the difficulties and dribbling prejudices for many months, the big exhibition "Nous sommes Foot" opened its doors on October 11, 2017 in the heart of the walls of the box designed by the architect Rudy Ricciotti. With a collection of more than 400 artworks, unusual objects, photos, installations and videos from collections, museums and football federations, it is presented in Marseilles, stronghold of a certain Zinédine Zidane, a city where football is lived more intensely than elsewhere. Diving into the arcana of the pure essence of football.

Put clichés offside

When you push the first door of the exhibition, you start a journey that starts very badly. One enter a disgusting changing room, noisy, nauseating and releasing only the bad smells of the usual stereotypes that stick to the skin of footballers and that this sport carries as a burden. Everything is there. Charlie Hebdo's Satyric Featured, Francois Hollande's harsh criticism, Pierre Desproges's creaky words... remind these clichés: the football player is just a shorts’ stupid people running behind a ball, who wins too much money, who does not know how to line up two words and football is only good at generating millions in a world where sport is dead shot by corruption and doping. Strange way to welcome the visitor, confronted from the first seconds to this dark and cursed face of football, but nevertheless invited to get rid of these clichés by scribbling them on a slate available at the entrance. Once this step is over, therapy can begin.

Tactically, the exhibition "We are Foot" is organized into three main components: Passions, Commitments and Mercato. It is a call to our child's soul that is proposed in the first part. The passion of a kid who becomes a relentless supporter of a collector of Panini vignettes who finishes singing in the spans of a stadium, here the round ball and the religion are juxtaposed. This love of football is always born in the family circle and quickly engages the identity belonging to a club, a city or a nation. MuCEM then collected portraits, legendary videos, rare pieces of collectors and singular objects that remind us, passionate or not, how football can become a great vector of integration, respect and sharing. Thus, the 1998 World Cup rubs shoulders with the colors of different clubs, the puppet of Zizou is combined with the old photographs of amateur teams, the incredible images of tifosi collected by the Italian sociologist Daniele Segre contrast with the mythical videos of genius-thug Argentine Diego Armando Maradona. 

In this first part of the exhibition, the most remarkable piece is a sort of isolated cage with screens on three walls and powerful speakers carrying the visitor in the wild and boiling atmosphere of the grandstands of the biggest Mediterranean stadiums. We inevitably find ourselves in the middle of the Vélodrome, with its famous "Aux armes!" sung by the two curves that meet each other, but also in the heart of other thundering speakers like the Camp Nou of Barcelona or the Karaïskaki of Piraeus in Greece. It is after having a curious look at all this that the sentence hammered by Pier Paolo Pasiloni, takes all its meaning "Football is the last sacred representation of our time".

Ultras, concentration camps and Cristiano Ronaldo

Naturally, the MuCEM Marseille had no right to hide the OM in his exhibition. Not only because the pictures of Patrice de Peretti says "Depé", one of the only supporters in the world to have given his name to a tribune, the famous North Vélodrome curve, this wedding dress with blue sky and white colors, and Marcelo Bielsa's cooler are unmissable pieces, but also because Florent Molle and Gilles Perez have investigated in an exceptional way the roots of the Ultra movement, born in France in Marseilles, after a journey in the 1980s Italy with a few friends in the stadiums of Genoa and Turin. After several trips, the duo of commissioners collaborated hand in hand with the Commando Ultra and the Vieille Garde, and some findings are unique on Olympique de Marseilles, but not only. The visitor plunges into the universe of ultra Mediterranean in Algeria, Tunisia, Palestine, Bosnia and of course in Italy. 

If the enthusiasm of the supporter is honored, the exhibition does not forget its excesses, as evidenced by the iron bars collected after the scenes of battle on the Old Port before the England-Russia match at the Euro 2016. "We wanted to make this cage a non-obligatory passage of the exhibition”, details Florent Molle."As if to say to the visitor: 'You who are strong and who have chosen the passion, you are forewarned, you can only enter into violence after consent.'"

The exhibition continues in the Commitments section, and reminds us how much football and politics have so porous and held boundaries. Magnifying mirror of the moral values of its time, the history of football tales of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: totalitarianism, colonization, wars... Football has always been a theater of resistance through players, enthusiasts and heroes. The stadium remains today a faithful reflection of our contemporary society. In that way, the various posters calling for the boycott of the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, then held by the dictatorship of General Videla, photos of a sports outfit from the Mauthausen concentration camp, the shame match between the FRG and Austria, the racism of the Italian stadiums, the commitment of Rachid Makhloufi or the rage of Lorik Cana are all images that shoot to the eyes of the visitor.

Another football is possible

The last part of the exhibition is certainly lighter, but the enthusiast will wince as much. Highlighted, the evolution of football has removed it from its purest essence. From its professionalization, begun in the 1930s, to the rise of economic liberalism, football has been constantly changing. It has become today a business object with huge financial stakes, as much as a media product, and the exhibition did not hesitate to demonstrate it. From cheating to corruption, from the Blatter scandal to Qatargate, the transfer market, the “starification” of sandwich players, commodity football, all these elements remind us that football is slowly moving away from the spirit of its origins. Finally, part of the exhibition entitled "Prolongations" is a reason for hope for lovers of the round ball and a nice snub to all the criticism of the first hour. Demonstration of citizen initiatives and humanistic visions through football: local social actions, management of clubs by supporters or teams gathering around solidarity values. These words keep their meaning at the mention of the godmother of the exhibition, Honey Thaljieh, female captain of the first national team of Palestine and the godfather, the team of Alma de Africa. Evolving into the third division, it is made up of refugees and evolves with Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights flocked to the jersey. "A more positive vision of football by remembering that it always offers the possibility of a world of solidarity and citizenship. Its future depends only on what we do with it." concludes Florent Molle.

The exhibition "Nous sommes Foot" is more than just a pilgrimage for the vulgar supporter of Olympique de Marseilles. Like football in society, it touches everyone, passionate or not, young and old, men and women. And for those who still doubt the place of this sport in a museum, know that the aesthetic, political or media reach of the ball has inspired the greatest, in all styles: Picasso, Nicolas de Stael, Keith Harring, Salvador Dali , Rene Magritte or Niki de Saint-Phalle to name some few. Debate closed, ball in the center.


"Nous sommes Foot" | Marseilles, MuCEM | J4 level 2 (800 m²) | From Wednesday, 11th October 2017 to Sunday, 4th February 2018.