Zidane at the Sherbrooke Museum of Fine Arts

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Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, Zidane, a 21st Century Portrait (2006), 2 channel digital video installation, 90:00 minutes, installation dimensions variable. NGC

Curator Sarah Boucher figures the timing could not have been better.  With Sherbrooke, Quebec hosting the 2013 Canada Summer Games in August, she wanted to make sure the city’s Museum of Fine Arts had an exhibition that would appeal to sports fans and art lovers alike.

She found it in Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait (2006), on loan from the National Gallery to 2 September, 2013. “We were looking for an exhibition that could accompany the Summer Games; but not something just about sports, something that also relates to art because we are a fine art museum. So we had to do something special. Zidane was the perfect way to do that, because it is made by visual artists and it has a sports subject.”

Zidane, a 21st Century Portrait is a compelling 90-minute video shot when French soccer superstar Zinedine Zidane was at the height of his sports career. The video, produced by internationally renowned artists Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, explores our fascination with pop stars and modern-day sports heroes.

“The purpose of the video is to show how our society creates heroes and takes someone like Zidane and makes him into an idol,” Boucher says. “And I feel like it is working with me, because I think I am in love with him,” she laughs. “You feel like you are on the field with him. You can hear him breathe and talk. You see his body and his feet move. I was amazed and very happy that we chose this installation.”

Gordon and Parreno positioned seventeen cameras throughout Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, during a championship soccer match between Real Madrid and Villarreal in 2005. Each camera operator was directed to remain fixed on Zidane—then-captain of the French team—through the entire match, resulting in a slickly edited video that is juxtaposed with raw game footage projected on an adjacent screen. The soundtrack captures the roar of 80,000 fans, Spanish television commentary, and original music by the Scottish band Mogwaï, for an experience that is immersive, transporting and dramatic.

“It’s more than a soccer video because you don’t get to follow the game,” Boucher says. “You follow Zidane himself. You don’t even know what the score is. You see him, you hear the screaming of the crowds, the breathing, the music. It’s not a soccer game, it’s an artistic vision. It’s a portrait of him during a soccer game, interacting with his teammates, the special bond he has with them.”

One of the highlights of the video comes when Zidane himself talks about soccer. In a voiceover, Zidane describes how he grew up with the game, as well as the impact of playing in front of thousands of fans.

The experience is literally heightened with Zidane’s every move magnified and projected larger than life onto the various screens in the exhibition. The cameras train an intense, unwavering gaze on Zidane, giving viewers insight into the people we turn into heroes.

“People were calling the museum before the opening in June, because they wanted to see it right away,” she says. “People here in Quebec know him. We also have a lot of French people from France in Quebec, so they were excited about this exhibition.”

She says Zidane is a fitting tribute to the Canada Summer Games, but stresses it is not just a soccer video. “I don’t have kids who play soccer, I don’t play soccer, and I am not a soccer fan. But when you are in the room, and it is dark and the music is playing, it’s really an experience. We often say contemporary art is an experience. You have to feel it; you have to see it. This is a great example of that.”

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