The Saatchi Gallery’s inspired new exhibition celebrates 125 years of Arsenal Football Club. Its evocative photography and soulful documentary rethink football and its fans as a cultural community.
Packed into the top floor of the West London gallery, the buzz of Thursday evening’s private viewing reflected the anticipation surrounding this free-to-view, five day exhibition. Created with the attentive touch of avid Arsenal fans, it has the feel of a personal homage, paying tribute to the club’s stirring cultural heritage.
Behind the striking photography are collective DoBeDo. Led by i-D loyalist Tyrone Lebon, DBD combine the talents of established British photographers and the best of London new-skool. Sultry and intimate portraits of players contrast with the furor of match-day imagery, capturing the transient ‘magic’ of footballing ritual.
Arsenal Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis highlighted ‘pride’ as the exhibition’s buzz word: “this isn’t a club that does things in a usual kind of way. We are always thinking, how do we do this event in a stylish way with excellence? What has been produced is really stunning and a great testament to what the club is and also the people who put it together.”
Film production company Ridley Scott Associates’ (RSA) short film provides a deeply personal insight into the mindset of the fans. Original cinematic depictions of vast crowds, simmering with collective excitement and mutual despair, were a refreshing change from recent examples of mob mentality. During the viewing, the groans of Arsenal loyalists in the audience continued the vibrant hub of shared emotion portrayed on-screen, as well as the bitter intensity of past disappointment. As Arsenal goalie Wojciech Szczęsny admitted to i-D online, “It’s a good movie but it’s a little bit annoying for me because it brings back bad memories.”
The exhibition’s stirring and intimate insights reflect the personal affection evidently at the core of its curation. It is an exhibit for the fans by the fans; celebrating their dedication and the neglected beauty found in their commonplace routines. Szczęsny wisely synopsised; “the managers change, the directors change, the players change, but the fans are always there. The fans are the most important part of the club.” With the grim pessimism greeting Arsenal’s start to the season, I wouldn’t envy them.
Free to view, The Arsenal: 125 is open until August 23rd so hop to it.
Text: William Severs