Art and football meet in immersive exhibition

Four-time Champions League winner, four-time German champion — that’s almost as good as it gets. But former national team player Josephine Henning has left the pitch in favor of art.

As artist in residence at Dortmund’s German Football Museum, she is now designing participatory art and creative workshops for the European Championship.

The museum is bringing art and football together in a kind of friendly match: Titled “In Motion  — Art & Football,” the immersive show features paintings of 20th-century European art, as well as little-known or rarely seen images focusing on football. The immersive spatial experience includes 41 projectors, 45 loudspeakers, 110 spotlights and huge projection surfaces covering 1,000 square meters.

A smiling woman leans on a painting.
Following her success with the German Women’s Bundesliga, Josephine Henning is now painting instead of dribblingImage: Deutsches Fußballmuseum

Dali, Polke, Lagerfeld and soccer

Fashion star Karl Lagerfeld, who died in 2019, is represented in the show with a caricature of soccer functionary Uli Hoeness, who was convicted of tax evasion. It shows him as a pot-bellied footballer with leather trousers and shackles.

Even though surrealist artist Salvador Dali is not typically associated with the sport, he too is featured in the exhibition, as he once painted his writer friend Jaume Miravitlles as a muscular footballer.

In a case of “shooting instead of shooting,” a piece by elusive artist Banksy, depicts a “football terrorist” with a Kalashnikov dangling from his shoulder executing a bicycle kick.

All these paintings are projected in large format, and every country participating in the UEFA EURO 2024 is represented by at least one artist. 

View of the immersive exhibition at the German Football Museum in Dortmund.
Immersive art and football experience in DortmundImage: Stephan Schuetze/Deutsches Fußballmuseum

But why does the hype of 22 players and a ball fascinate art of all things? “Football was an expression of modernity in the 20th century. Artists were enthusiastic about the way soccer captured people’s lives. Soccer in the 20th century is a new achievement. Today it is part of life. But back then it was an expression of something new,” explains museum director Manuel Neukirchner.

Parallel development of art and soccer

The exhibition posits that art and soccer are two phenomena that have more in common than we think. Athleticism on the pitch, movement, speed, drama — artists discover a wide range of themes in football. The avant-garde art movement of Futurism at the beginning of the 20th century, as in the works of painter and sculptor Umberto Boccioni, took a liking to the mass choreography of bodies in space.

View of the exhibition in the soccer museum shows a ball on which people are cheering
Soccer and art generate diverse emotions — and lots of moneyImage: DFM/Angerer

The beautiful game promises enthusiasts a roller coaster of emotions, an adrenaline rush for 90 minutes — or with extra time when necessary. Thus this exhibition shows the light and dark sides of football.

However, as in reality, women are heavily underrepresented at this exhibition. In art, too, it tends to be a man’s game. The German Football Museum, therefore, has plans to redesign the permanent exhibition with women’s soccer taking center stage. Josephine Henning is optimistic about the future and would like to see more big dreams for women’s soccer and the resulting long-term prospects.

Incidentally, art of a somewhat different kind can be found in the German Football Museum’s treasure trove. The original trophies won by the German team in recent decades — three European Championship trophies and four World Cups — can also be viewed here. This is as close as you can get to the coveted awards.  

Trophies protected by glass cases at the German Football Museum.
Trophies are a must in the German Football Museum, which also has a treasure chamberImage: Carsten Kobow/Deutsches Fußballmuseum

The exhibition at the German Football Museum in Dortmund runs until January 25, 2025.

This article was originally written in German.