Despite eliciting only raised eyebrows every time I suggested visiting ’David Beckham: The Man’ at Phillips in Mayfair, I found myself hopelessly lured to it like a moth to a flame.
Managing to sneak in on my own just before the gala party for the auction, I was so caught up in the mediatic whirlwind generated by the evening that I found it very hard to focus and judge the photographs purely on their artistic merit.
Since the brand Beckham relies almost entirely on being seen to maintain an iconic status, it did not come as a surprise that most of the photographs on display looked rather familiar. Most of them were previously unseen images from widely advertised fashion shoots on well known magazines. There were also commissioned works by Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Nadav Kander and Tessa Traeger, all in support of ‘7: The David Beckham UNICEF Fund and Positive View Foundation’
Whilst a steady presence in the media almost invariably guarantees interest and a high turn out for any event, the over exposure risks to depreciate the value of any otherwise exceptional collection.
A favourite of mine was ‘DB7: From Analogue to Digital’ by Guy Whitby, 2015.
The work of many photographers is constantly challenged by the immediate availability of similar images on the internet. The ownership of a shot might legally resides with the author, but it is for all intents and purposes relinquished the moment it becomes very popular. This is the thought I repeatedly came back to when looking around this exhibition. I struggled to remind myself of the artist behind the work and the intrinsic value of the piece because the ownership had been expropriated by its ubiquity.
The different hairstyles of David Beckham and the regular addition of ink to his body, rather than any evidence of ageing, made it very easy to date most of the works.
At auction the oldest images fetched the least amount of money: maybe a sign that people are more attracted to his more rounded and sophisticated persona than to the young footballer he was once. The jury is still out as to whether his star quality is going to withstand the passing of time. Tracey Emin’s 2016 work ‘Always Loving Never Forgetting’, the one I least related to, might in the long term prove to be an ill omen rather than a celebratory motto.