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A Unique Goal

Jocks and Artists Are Opposites, Right? Then This Soccer Team Is Breaking a Rule

April 26, 2001|VIVIAN LETRAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In most ways, art does not imitate soccer.

Artists create in solitude; athletes play on a team. But a group of artists who practice at Hartfield Park in Long Beach each week are out to tear down stereotypes of the unintelligent jock and sensitive artist and bridge the gap between athletics and artistry.

The L.A. Art Stars look professional in their Sunday soccer best: crisp, shiny maroon jerseys, cleats and shinguards.

The efforts of these artists from Orange County and Los Angeles will culminate in an art exhibition titled "The Soccer Show," a multifaceted cultural exchange focused on the two spectator events of sport and art at the Fine Arts Center in Irvine, land of soccer moms.

Team coach and center curator Carl Berg will co-curate the exhibition next year--in sync with the World Cup in Asia--with independent curator Theo Tegelaers from the Netherlands. A group of 30 artists--15 from Southern California and 15 from the Netherlands (four players from each team are reserves)--not only will display their artwork but will face off on the pitch.

Consider it a performance piece.

The exhibition functions as a metaphor for the mechanisms of the contemporary art world. The two seemingly polar activities have some things in common.

"The similarity between soccer and art is that when you're playing soccer, the focus on getting the ball down the field is so intense that everything else becomes irrelevant. It's the same as art. You're in the zone, as people call it," said forward Max Presneill, 38, who dons the No. 8 jersey and is one of the more experienced players.

In sport and art, there is a rivalry among the participants for recognition and monetary success. Compromises are frequently made, and risks often taken. Instinct, skill, style and attitude play roles in both endeavors.

"I wanted to juxtapose popular culture and art into an exhibition," said Berg, who plays center fullback. He glamorously christened the team, which satirizes a general obsession with the "star image" of Hollywood actors, celebrity artists and athletes.

"A lot of people can relate to sports a lot easier than they can relate to art, especially contemporary art. Most people have some opinion or interaction about sport, and I think people in that way can relate to this show. It's a good entry point to the ins and outs of art. Part of the education is to demystify the artist."

The show is essentially about the making of art shows from the selection of artists and works to gallery displays to building a Web site, video and catalog around the exhibition.

"This whole show is a production," Berg, 41, said. "This is an opportunity to push the envelope of what art and artists are about. The activity of an artist tends to separate them from the general public. A lot of people think of artists as people who live in lofts or studios and make their art in isolation. But it doesn't make them all the same. It's a very specialized field, but a lot of artists like to socialize like anyone else, play sports, music, have a family, raise kids. Artists aren't all tortured souls."

Fusing soccer and art into a single project was natural for Berg, who grew up in Holland, where soccer is the national sport. What started as a few friends kicking around a ball locally turned into an organized team. Berg hopes to raise the team's skill level and recruit female players.

Most of the Art Stars have varied experience with the sport. Most played youth soccer in grade school but have not played since.

Midfielder Brian Boyer, 25, is a painter who also works full time as chief preparator at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach. His abstract paintings deal with space and creating space.

"My work definitely has a certain quietude and subtlety about it," said the soft-spoken Boyer, and that carries over to his style of play.

Matt Driggs, a midfielder with the physique of a champion high school wrestler, prefers to tear down the field.

"My art used to be really massive. I was working with vast objects that you can see from 100 feet away," said Driggs, 27, of Santa Ana, who does mixed-media installation work and video. He shares a studio and runs Raid Projects art gallery with Presneill, who has more recently worked with photography and video. He's also known for his conceptual paintings.

Being an artist who plays on a soccer team does pose particular challenges. Artists are typically solitary and in complete command of their work. That mentality doesn't translate well in team sports.

"I think there's a synergy that's lacking in our team, because most of us aren't used to not being the sole decision-maker, and that's frustrating," said No. 10 fullback Ed Giardina of Huntington Beach. Giardina, whose work is on exhibit in the "Cyborg Manifesto" show at the Laguna Art Museum, said he sees parallels between his playing style and his art, which takes a playful, biting look at architectural structures and personal space.

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