Images of David Beckham are being auctioned in aid of Unicef - but is it art?

Images range from classical Adonis to smooth sportstar

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The Independent Culture

David Beckham gets the highbrow treatment tonight, with a charity gala auction at Phillips that's selling off collected photographs of the great man in aid of Unicef. It's a strange mixture of narcissism, commercialism and celebrity, allied to a good thing. A bit like some contemporary art, really – or Becks himself.

Becks's body constitutes a work of art in its own right – most men would give their eye teeth to have the Essex-born footballer cum fashion-icon's physique. The curator of this unique collection, Kathy Adler – formerly of the National Gallery – compares his body to that of a classical Adonis: lean, lightly muscled and perfect. This heavenly body is captured from every angle by a formidable roster of celebrity photographers, among them Nadav Kander, Steven Klein and Annie Liebovitz. Like Michelangelo's David, Becks shows off his gently rippling torso, his sexy V-line, the "wing" muscles of his upper back – but never his … ahem … "bits". Instead, modesty ensures that our gaze is curtailed by a low-slung pair of jeans – or brought to rest on the gentle bulge protruding from a pristine pair of designer underpants.

David's features are perfect, too – but they are rarely expressive. Any narrative plays out instead across the taut skin of his body, in the form of a repertoire of tattoos, or what Adler describes as "a dense and complex biography". This "ink" comprises a bewildering personal iconography encompassing Christ (nursing a foot on top of the tomb he has risen from), Pre-Raphaelite-style angels, Native Americans, a galleon in full sail, cherubs, cherished names, texts in several languages and numerals relating to key personal events.

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Fashion-icon's physique: Beckham in an Armani ad (andrew@positiveview.org.uk)

There are some striking images among those destined to go under the hammer: one of the best, and least self conscious, is an early portrait, by Marc Hom, of Beckham with the football that is his natural attribute, blazing with youthful determination and intensity.

The pair of Annie Leibovitz photographs, taken while he was at Real Madrid and England captain, are a class act, too: entitled David Beckham, Toledo, Spain, they feature a Spanish palette of matador red, and evoke Catholic imagery (with Beckham wearing his hoodie in the style of the hooded cloak of a saint, complete with dangling crucifix, in one view – and with his sons' names, "Romeo" and "Brooklyn", tattooed across his upper and lower torso, in a view from the rear). Vincent Peters' Manchester Diptych and Triptych show David's body dripping in black oil, while diamond crosses glitter in his ears.

Some works have been specially commissioned for the event, including artworks by Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin and Tessa Traeger. Hirst's Beautiful David Beckham Spin Painting, a glossy, rather vapid affair, is the most expensive item in the collection, with an estimate of £80,000 to £120,000. Hirst and Beckham already have form: in 2014, the Beckhams bought a huge pink heart-shaped Hirst adorned with butterflies for their daughter Harper's birthday.

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Marc Hom's early portrait is one of the best (andrew@positiveview.org.uk)

In Paul Wetherell's fashion plates, Becks – now with his trademark quiff – looks uncomfortably self-conscious. In Alasdair McLellan's Hoxton photos, Becks looks like Clark Kent, albeit in designer glasses. And by the time we get to Josh Olins fashion pictures for Esquire, Becks seems to be working the Blue Steel pose from Zoolander.

Becks only appears truly relaxed in the photos reflecting his Unicef role – smiling, out in the field, surrounded by the children he is so committed to helping. Art or not, "David Beckham: The Man" is a venture to be applauded: this gala auction is in aid of Becks's own 7 Fund at Unicef and the Positive View Foundation.

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