Art Meets Basketball in Miami

by December 24, 2010

by Kyle Stack / @KyleStack

It turns out there is more to connect basketball and Miami than the NBA’s latest version of the Big Three. On the heels of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teaming up to re-establish Miami as a relevant basketball locale, the multi-cultural city can become the first to be associated with basketball-related art.

Even though artwork exists in Orlando’s Amway Center and New Jersey’s Prudential Center — and, conceivably, will exist in yet-to-be-built Brooklyn’s Barclays Center — there aren’t many art exhibitions in which hoops is the main focus. That changed earlier this month when Connecticut-based Public Works Department presented the Art of Basketball collection, an art program held December 2-5 at the nationally-recognized art festival Art Basel Miami. The exhibition, curated by Billi Kid and James and Karla Murray, presented the first wave of 180 basketballs and 180 basketball backboards which were depicted at each artist’s discretion, many of whom were graffiti and street artists.

The project’s intent was for each artist to interpret basketball in the way he or she saw fit. With balls and backboards donated by the NBA, Billi Kid had the exhibition he wanted since he began working on the project since last February.

“I’ve always wanted to do exhibitions that carried art through that [graffiti and street art] theme,” Kid said by phone. “I have a high interest in trying to widen the audience for these artists beyond the [current] fan base.”

Kid approached the NBA about donating basketballs and backboards. The League agreed, and it incorporated its NBA Cares charitable program as a tie-in to the event, which donated some proceeds to local charities. Prices for the backboards ran at $10,000-plus, but success was attained with the first 35 ‘boards sold to a group of buyers, collectors and investors. According to Art of Basketball, that enabled Public Works Department to pay the artist’s fees to the 31 artists who participated in the exhibition.

The Art of Basketball estimated over 500 visitors attended the exhibition, which gives the organization confidence that there is a bright future for basketball-related art exhibits. Kid stated the sport was a natural fit such a project.

“We feel urban culture has always had a love affair with the game of basketball,” Kid said. “Of all the sports, basketball probably has the closest link to graffiti and street art and the urban landscape.”

When Art of Basketball runs another exhibit, it will be covered. More are on the way as Kid and Art of Basketball representatives stated this was just the first phase of a multi-exhibit goal. What follows here are five of the backboards which were at the exhibit, along with the artists’ explanation of the piece.

gaia-annulus1 Annulus by Gaia

“I try not to venture into a more commercial realm. However, I couldn’t pass up painting on the back of a backboard. And they had it delivered to me, so I thought it’d be fun to have it at my house for awhile.”

“I just wanted to epitomize athleticism in sports, and not have a basketball be within the concept of the work. So, I just have these huge hands with the circle in the middle as a reference to the ball.”

“It’s called Annulus because it’s just a ring. (Ed note: In mathematics, an annulus is a ring-shaped geometric figure.) The circe was a generation of a created life cycle. So, I called it annulus to locate the ring in the center, as the focus on the piece.”

urny-morethenagame1 More Then a Game by URNY (Fernando Romero)

“Growing up and playing basketball, it’s what you did — you either played ball or you were in after-school studies. I was one of those kids playing ball in the streets. The whole theme hit home for me.”

“The challenge of creating the ‘board was similar to the challenge of being a good ballplayer. We took the hurdles one faces of growing up in that environment, and we transcribed that onto the ‘board through mixed media. We pieced together different courts from around New York City and we made it one image. What you look at when you’re looking at that image is probably 30 or 40 different images compiled together.”

“I grew up in Astoria, Queens, so Steinway Street was a big. During that time, there wasn’t much to do as a kid. You either hung outside, you wrote graffiti…you were limited in what you could do.”

“Color is super important. We wanted to make it pop, but not too much. So, we delved it down with the collage. If you look at the ‘board, we took advantage of the entire ‘board. We used collaging as the background but we pained the front. We left certain areas blank so that the viewer could appreciate the floor, which we left all black and white. We did that so that the viewer would know it’s a floor. We used color and collage, or the lack of it, to separate the piece. The buildings are brown and black with color behind it. As far as the sky, it was blending colors and scratching into it that gave it that effect. We wanted to be ‘street’ and urban and graffiti yet we wanted to be really classy. We just wanted a really nicely finished ‘board. The color of that guy is just the opposite color of the ‘board — a complementary color.”

131projects-untitled Untitled by 131 Projects

“I’m currently working on a series of documental art pieces. I document different subjects that I find interesting in my environment (Miami as of now). Cement inscriptions, royal palm tree carvings and the use of “aqua green” color in south Florida. When I was approached by the “Art of Basketball” curators, they asked me to do a piece relating to basketball. I asked them to provide me with an extra basketball so that I can carry it around with me on a daily basis and when I found myself in a situation in which I could get an interesting picture I took it. I adapted what i was already doing to this new subject, it was easy since i like watching basketball (the Heat).”

“I worked on it on a on and off basis during a two to three week period. I first used a glass etching rotary tool to etch my “131” visual binary code pattern on the glass of the backboard. I then took the pictures, after that I resized them — 8 by 10 inches each — color corrected them and printed them on transparent paper. Then I taped them onto the backboard and pored epoxy resin on it in order to seal it.”

“I didn’t have any particular agenda for the audience in this particular piece. What I did want to do is something that would stick out in the shows context, and continue the type of work I was doing prior to this art show. Maybe by taking the basketball out its usual environment and treating as subject, the viewers would look at it differently.”

billikid-theloveshaq The LoveShaq by Billi Kid

“Tupperware® Brands, one of the most well-known and trusted names in home product design, commissioned me to produce an original artwork in tribute to basketball great Shaquille O’Neal. The original artwork is constructed from 7,744 Tupperware Smidget™ Containers and stands tall at over fifteen and a half square feet.”

“I had large scale in mind once it was determined that the Smidget™ containers were going to be the pixels. Having researched the Tupperware product line, I was immediately drawn to the Smidget™ container due to it’s connection to the Boys and Girls Club of America (BGCA). A portion of the sales from each container is donated to the BGCA. Shaquille O’Neal’s own involvement and generous contribution to the BGCA made him the natural candidate for the commission.”

ewokone5mh-defence Defense by EWOK

“The piece focuses on the face-to-face, man-to-man nature of the game, the period of time when it’s not team against team. Especially when I was in high school and payed ball daily, there’s a point where it didn’t matter who was on your team, you wound up face-to-face, and if you didn’t have skills you weren’t getting past him, not to say you can’t pass off to a teammate. There’s almost like a center stage point where everyone watches to see if you can get by and do it in a smooth manner. Add in the fact you’re playing street ball, you add in shoving, attitude and the exchange of words and something magical happens.”

dash-harlemstyle Harlem Style by Dash