The new Arsenal stadium artwork: what it looks like, how they did it and why
It just is Arsenal Don’t be afraid of big ideas. A year ago, they made the decision that the Emirates Stadium needed to be renovated. The original artwork installed in the stadium’s early years was faded, sun-damaged, and out for most of its time.
It didn’t take long for the club to prove that a touch-up or subtle replacement wasn’t what it wanted. So, what should they do with a white cloth about the size of a playground?
They arrived at their answer via an elaborate and meandering tour of the art and design worlds and supporter consultations. Mounting eight images on the concrete cores that hold the stadium together recreates the UAE in a vast outdoor gallery. The artwork showcases different concepts, different artists, and different motifs, and the result is intended to be eye-catching while also bringing together what Arsenal means.
Like any art collection, viewers will be drawn to some images more than others. Critics have their opinions. Fans will respond in many ways to what they see. Art is personal, football is emotional – at times, those involved in the project spent so much time thinking about the minutiae of something so big that it’s surprising they can sleep at night. For a football club to take the path of art in such a broad context is quite ambitious. Most stadiums around the world are famous for their architecture. Highbury sure was. The UAE will now be known for its art.
The club put heart and soul into creating something that would make the Emirates feel special. The previous design linked 32 legends from the past around the field, arm in arm. The new design had scope for much more. But where do you start? Where do you stop? How do you get to where they were trying to go with this? In the words of CEO Vinay Venkatesham, “It quickly became clear that this was a huge undertaking.”
The brief boils down to Arsenal values and a sense of teamwork. Venkatam explains what they hoped to achieve: “How do we bring all parts of Arsenal back to life? Via new art, we have 150 collective fan flags, over 700 fans, Arsenal men, Arsenal women, the academy, Highbury and two of the club’s greatest achievements ever.” It’s all there. It feels like all the different threads of what we represent in 2023. Teamwork is how I sum it up.”
The basis of this process was consultation. It all started from listening to notes that came out of meetings with fans, many of whom were traumatized by the return to football after the pandemic lockdown, when the pitch was not in its best condition. Venkatam captures the story.
“The starting point was our fans. We asked for input on improving the spectator experience. The Cores, as we call them — the eight outfield blocks — were very high on the list. Not only did people feel like they were tired and battered after being there for so long, but they felt that in 2023 They didn’t represent what the club is today.
So we went away wanting to replace them with something completely new. It will change the look of the stadium. This is what motivated the project. We knew it was going to be outstanding and there would be many different opinions, so we effectively set about doing the most engaging consultation we’ve ever had. More than 100 former players, supporters, members of the community, families of former players and Arsenal employees were present. They were all talking about what Arsenal means to them.”
The club handled a host of representatives from all aspects of the fanbase. There were three main gatherings at various stages during the process – first at a local pub, The Tollington, then they moved on to the Diamond Club, the most refined meeting place within the Emirates, to view work in progress and collect feedback.
It was evident how passionate those involved in the process were about what was represented, and Arsenal tried to distill these diverse perspectives into the main themes of the artists to interpret them creatively. There was a lot of back and forth.
Arsenal commissioned three artists and other professionals, all of whom are either supporters or neighbors of the club in Islington. Robin Dangoor has previously worked with the club on adidas projects. “I’m a Gooner for life, so everything is a little surreal,” he says. Jeremy Deller is a conceptual artist who won the Turner Prize in 2004, the same year Arsenal completed their unbeaten league campaign. David Rudnick is a print designer who was keen to work on new lines for the club.
In the subjective spirit of art, I’ll start with a personal favourite. We all follow The Arsenal is a fan club with over 150 official teams from all over the world. Ed Hall, a craftsman who makes banners and flags by hand, spent hours meticulously assembling designs onto the flags to be blown wide to create the effect of billowing flags. He pricked his finger when working on this masterpiece – the blood, sweat and tears are right there in the symbolism of it all.
Moving from something modern to something historical (and another sentimental favourite), the most beautiful image is Remember Who You Are, a Highbury painting that connects the Art Deco Stand Arsenal, listed as a Building of Rich Architectural Value, to their current home.
It’s a great way to pay homage to memories of the past year and includes some excellent details, such as the club’s top scorer progression, from Cliff Bastin, through Ian Wright, to Thierry Henry, with their goal totals etched in Roman numerals, and the famous four full-backs getting offside. This is the only painting in which the central insignia or patron punctuating each core has been removed so as not to detract from the old-fashioned Highbury in all its glory.
The Victoria Concordia Crescit, which refers to the club’s crest, has the feel of a classic board full of club legends around two giant cannons. It’s meant to feel dramatic, though a tiny Gunnersaurus bound in yellow bands lends a touch of cuteness. Martin Keown wears a headband, while David Seaman wears his ponytail. The research undertaken to determine the exact hairline and hair color of George Male, one of the legends of the 1930s, has required considerable flexibility by the club’s historians.
Invincible is another Dangoor feat, acknowledging Arsenal’s unique achievement in an unbeaten 2003-04 season Premier League Champions and winners of the 2007 UEFA Women’s Cup – the only British team to lift what is now the UEFA Women’s Champions League. Arsene Wenger and Vik Akers, managers of the respective teams, are very much involved in these bits.
There are two other simple pieces of graphic design by Deller. Eighteen Eighty Six is based on the year Arsenal was created and capitalizes on a new theme that Arsenal are trying to embed in their thinking – always forward.
Come to see Arsenal will be positioned to be seen from trains that come from outside the capital to King’s Cross on the mainline which runs alongside the stadium.
Found A Place Where We Belong (the title is a quote from Dennis Bergkamp) is a mosaic of a rallying scene depicting over 700 supporters. Some are famous or already notorious for their dedication (Maria Petri, for example). Some of them are as well known as Nick Hornby. Some are historical and some are current. There are staff and supporters who have made a positive contribution to the local community. Dangoor took 45 minutes to hand-draw each of the two supporters – it’s highly detailed, not quite finished, but well worth the wait.
Future Brilliance was created to reflect the production line of homegrown players, something the club has relied on since its first double in 1971 and is still seen today, in numbers. Bukayo Saka And Emile Smith Rowhopefully tomorrow, in the form of Ethan Nwaniri Who made his debut this season at the age of 15.
It shows young players who go through the academy as children and emerge as club legends. The key message refers to a quote from Wenger that Mikel Arteta placed at the entrance to London Colney: “Here you have the opportunity to discover the greatness that is in each and every one of you.” The most recent player to be photographed, Jack Wilshere summed up how the more than 32 Originals feel about decorating the stadium. “Being a part of the artwork is really humbling and an honor,” he says.
Perhaps the most sensitive aspect of the entire consultation process was the question of whether or not to use existing players. In the end, it was decided that those still playing were still writing their stories at the club and it was too early to include them.
A line had to be drawn somewhere. What if Arteta and his team win something in the near future? Can they be added? The answer is not now. This art is curated as an expression of the club in general, not what it might be or do at the time. Who knows what Arsenal will look like when those photos are broken and another renovation is made in a decade or so?
There are many across the group. “What one person thinks is 9/10, another person will think is 3/10,” says Venkatam. “The good news is there are eight of them. So there’s something for everyone. I’m probably not supposed to own one, but my favorite is Highbury (remember who you are) – that one on the East Stand is so pretty and I love that the longer I stare at it, You see little details that you miss on the first preview. My favorite part is the four back on the side windows with their arms in the air. I’m looking forward to people noticing and standing there and spending time figuring out all those details.”
Returning to the theme of synergy, Venkatcham hopes this is another step in cementing ties between the club and its fan base, which has been an obvious goal in recent years.
“I hope this is also another good example of the work we are all trying to do around strengthening that connection,” he says. The recent vibe is a result of many things, including working with fan groups like Red Action, Ashburton Army, AST and AISA.
“Amazon Documentary Another good example of opening up the club a bit more. We have the Arsenal advisory board that Tim Lewis and Josh Kronk sit on. We’re really trying to take a step forward in how we communicate with our fans and put them at the heart of the big decisions we make. We ended up with something designed for the Arsenal family, by the Arsenal family.”
New art will start to be rolled out soon (weather permitting, as high winds will make work difficult during the winter) and with luck the first piece, the Victoria Concordia Crescit, should be in place before Arsenal’s next home game against Manchester United. Then the remainder will follow over a period of several weeks.
Before long, visitors to the Emirates will have plenty to see on and off the field.