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Every December, the denizens of the art world converge on Miami for its many art fairs such as Art Basel Miami Beach, Design Miami and Art Miami. Celebrities, gallerists and collectors create conversations and make headlines, and most of it disappears as quickly as it materialized. However, a few key pieces remain, while others just occupy headspace as beautiful memories.
This year, arriving and staying a while is Starchild from L.A.-based duo Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III, also known as both Sam and Tury and as the art collaborative FriendsWithYou. The duo has created a new 50-foot tall public sculpture commissioned by the city of Miami Beach at Henry Liebman Square, which celebrates the creative team’s 20th anniversary and also the same benchmark for Art Basel.
Since their start in Miami decades ago, Sam and Tury — who jointly describe their synergies as “different, but we’re almost the perfect different” — have become darlings of the music world, collaborating with J. Balvin to create rainbow-and-clouds inflatable art sculptures and video content for his 2019 Coachella performance as well as his Arcoiris Tour. Other fans, friends and collectors include Lil Uzi Vert, Diplo and Pharrell. They are best known for their joyful Little Cloud character, which had its own Guess capsule collection in 2021, and for the Netflix animation series True and the Rainbow Kingdom.
Starchild is the main character of their newest body of work, which they embarked on two years ago, a longform conceptual project in which the artists are renaming the Earth as “Ocean” as a means to unify the planet. In this metaphor, Starchild, a symbol of light, power and nature, is a key archetype inside the origin story of Ocean lore; he marks the beginning of life on Ocean.
The artists say their goal remains the same no matter the medium: explore emotional healing through culture, creation and art making.
“Each work is created with the intention of transcendence and nurturing care for the viewer or participant. FriendsWithYou’s meaning is in its name, in that everything in the universe can and wants to be friends with you, an aid in the promotion of love, harmony and peace in our lives,” says Tury.
“Countries really haven’t gotten together, governments haven’t really gotten together, religion hasn’t really gotten it together, so maybe us as artists can,” says Sam. “We’ve created a new set of myths to bring us together versus separate us. And Starchild is kind of like the first main character of the creation.”
At Art Basel, they premiered a new plastiline sculptural painting of Ocean, titled Adventus, which was generated with the help of AI in collaboration with the artists and depicts the moment when Starchild arrives on Earth.
They also revealed a new line of accessories named Friend, with the first release of the amulet, Starchild. If you see someone wearing the Starchild amulet it signals the wearer is a Friend — an ally, a helper and a kind human.
With one foot in the fine art world and one in the pop culture world, Sam and Tury wouldn’t have it any other way. They have invited visitors into the Rainbow City Roller Rink in Detroit, as well as a whimsical playland known as Happy World in Hong Kong, and have decked out the atrium at Aria Resort in Las Vegas in rainbows for Pride month, all the while showing at galleries and through Sotheby’s around the world.
“This was very much intentional,” says Tury, of the artist’s choice to allow the viewer to be part of the creation. “A lot of traditional art is very intimate and is powerful in that sense. But it doesn’t really allow for a communion of an interaction with the psyche. What inspired us are rituals, and we wanted to make art that was influenced by the idea of creating a ritual in a modern context.”
“And to wrap it in play,” adds Sam. The result is work that resonates with both kids and adults and transcends through various media.
Following up on their popular Netflix show, the two are developing two new entertainment projects. One they describe as a live-action format show similar to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood or Pee Wee’s Playhouse with many of their famous friends popping in.
“It’s going to be a literal art piece that will be a television show, and we are going to try to save the world,” says Sam.
In addition to that, “With Pharrell, we are creating a lazy river concept, which will be one of our first rides, and it will be at Groot Hospitality’s Goodtime Hotel in the Bahamas. We love painting and sculpting and thinking futuristically with artificial intelligence and then springboarding from the Macy’s Day Parade [where a Little Cloud balloon debuted in 2018] to J. Balvin to a collector buying a fine art piece,” adds Sam.
In 2021, FriendsWithYou created a “Little Cloud Sky” of inflatable sculptures above a Miami street for Art Week and also took a toe dip into the NFT boom, which they have now backed away from.
“We are definitely sitting back and watching how that technology progresses. We still feel like there’s a lot of value in the idea of digital goods, but it began to spin out of control, it became very speculative,” says Tury.
“The NFT craze was very anti-art. In the end of this first phase, it got really ugly for us. Any artist that is still promoting those things while they’re losing value is not servicing what it needs to become,” Sam says. “It was going to be an art revolution, and I don’t think that was even close to happening. There’s a whole different set of collectors who are bidding up these fake prices. It’s not the same collectors, who know all of our history. It is a very volatile market with crypto money, and as crypto money goes up and goes down, so does the value of art, and that’s not good for any artist.”
Around Town: The Art Basel Miami Beach Scene’s Full Gauntlet
While the NFT conversation was noticeably downplayed this year, hotels, galleries, automotive brands and fashion houses threw parties and revealed collaborative installations with the same fervor as ever.
One of the cornerstones of Miami’s booming art scene, Wynwood Walls, unveiled nine new murals from the likes of Bicicleta Sem Freio (Brazil), DULK (Spain) and Shepard Fairey (U.S.), among others, as well as a solo show by Hebru Brantley featuring Great Debate, a 16-foot steel and fiberglass sculpture that explores what a superhero character of color would look like.
Audemars Piguet took over a waterfront mansion on Hibiscus Island and hosted guests like Travis Scott, Serena Williams and John Mayer alongside AP CEO François-Henry Bennahmias and CEO Ginny Wright for the launch of Code 11.59 by Audemars Piguet Starwheel timepiece featuring a wandering-hours complication. At the event’s close, a spectacular fireworks display lit up the skyline.
The Ritz-Carlton South Beach debuted “An Exhibit for Peace.” Featuring 30 specially commissioned paintings drawing correlation between the Ukrainian flag and Miami Beach’s sun, beach, water and sky, the evening directed a portion of its proceeds to José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen. The resort also featured “A Concert of the Seven Decades & Beyond” with the Miami Symphony where orchestra members played 3D-printed instruments created by Eric Goldemberg and Veronica Zalcberg of MONAD Studio in collaboration with luthier Scott F. Hall. Conductor Eduardo Marturet curated a soundtrack of songs central to Miami’s identity. After the event, the artistic instruments, called sonic sculptures, were then displayed throughout the hotel.
At Art Basel Miami Beach at Miami Convention Center, Louis Vuitton exhibited select works by artists with whom they have collaborated. Attracting passersby were such art pieces as two wax figures of Yayoi Kusama as well as never-seen-before pieces from her forthcoming collection; a panda figure sculpture by Takashi Murakami on a vintage Louis Vuitton trunk; paintings by Richard Prince and Alex Katz; a photo by Jean Larivière; and the now-iconic Artycapucines collection.
Art powerhouse Gagosian once again teamed up with Jeffrey Deitch for 100 Years, a group exhibition at the Buick Building in the Design District, an ongoing collaboration now in its seventh year. 100 Years not only includes some of the most compelling creators in the modern era including Urs Fischer, Tom Friedman and Taryn Simon, but also presents new artists to international collectors and museums. Gagosian sold more than 50 works on opening day. “It’s fascinating to look back on the last 20 years of Art Basel Miami and see how the surrounding arts community has blossomed. Miami collectors have played a critical role through their commitment to local institutions and generosity opening their collections to the art world. The influence of the region is now felt across the United States and internationally,” said Millicent Wilner, senior director of Gagosian in London.
The Art Miami fair brought out collectors such as Jon Bon Jovi, Donna Karan, Ariana Rockefeller and Carl Icahn to view works from dealers like the U.K.’s Maddox Gallery, which showcased the work of photographer and conservationist David Yarrow, whose muses include models like Cara Delevingne and Cindy Crawford. Yarrow also signed copies of his book Storytelling for which Crawford wrote the foreword. During the fair, Maddox Gallery sold Andy Warhol’s Siberian Tiger for $250,000; Keyes Art sold an untitled 1989 Reflection by Roy Lichtenstein for $1.5 million; and David Benrimon Fine Art placed Fernando Botero’s Dancers sculpture, priced at $1.1 million. Gloria Steinem unveiled a collaborative work at the Sponder Gallery with artist Max Steven Grossman called Gloria Steinem Bookscape, an artistic expression of the activist’s extensive personal book collection. The event was a fundraiser for her Gloria’s Foundation, which supports and nurtures the feminist movement.
Painter Kehinde Wiley partnered with Shop with Google to unveil his fall catalog and reboot his storied Fish Fry party at The Edition. This year’s celebration touted the achievements of Wiley’s artist-in-residence program Blackrock Global Arts Foundation, which connects artists and creative thinkers with opportunities to collaborate, create and live in locations of cultural significance on the African continent and throughout the African diaspora. Then, a massive disco party broke out when singer Chaka Khan took the stage.
Design Miami featured a one-of-nine Shroom CACTUS by A$AP Rocky and his newly launched design studio, HOMMEMADE. In partnership with radical Italian design brand Gufram, Shroom CACTUS popped up in a signature shade of green within a utopian forest scene surrounded by fluffy clouds and gigantic mushrooms. Gufram first debuted its iconic CACTUS in 1972, now celebrating its 50th anniversary. “This is the first collaboration from my HOMMEMADE decor studio, and since I’ve always advocated for mushrooms, it was only right that we made a cactus with them,” says A$AP Rocky. Also in the green swing of things was Jason Jacques Gallery, which brought Kim Simonsson’s Moss Children and a never-before-seen Moss Giant into a large-scale Urban Canopy installation.
Kreëmart, known for their artistic work with pastry and as self-described “provocateurs of experiential consumption,” together with Brazilian gallerist Luciana Brito, presented Leandro Erlich: Liminal, on view at Pérez Art Museum Miami, until Sept. 4, 2023. The exhibition kicked off with You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It Too, a large-scale, edible sculptural installation and performance by Erlich. A one-to-one replica of a daybed from the Barcelona collection by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe — made entirely of cake by Dessiree Salaverria of the Netflix show Is It Cake? — was cut into and shared with audience members.
Saint Laurent Rive Droite once again constructed a gallery-in-a-box on Miami Beach. This year, the pavilion showcased an exhibition planned and curated by Madonna and the house’s creative director Anthony Vaccarello to celebrate the re-edition of the singer’s 1992 book Sex published by Callaway. Madonna, Hailey Bieber, Zoë Kravitz, Rocco Ritchie, Grace VanderWaal, Vincent Gallo, Tony Ward, Alek Wek and Scout Willis were among the many in attendance celebrating the book and its iconic images by Steven Meisel.
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