Photographer: Jerritt Clark

NBA Star Amar’e Stoudemire Has an Idea to Extend the Art Boom

The player is building a museum-quality personal collection, with plans to connect the sports world to the art world.

Miami Heat player Amar’e Stoudemire watched the way the fashion and sports worlds have connected in recent years—with Anna Wintour sitting courtside for tennis and basketball games, and players like him, Russell Westbrook, and Victor Cruz sitting front row at Fashion Week—and he had an idea. What if he could connect the stars of sport with the art community?

Stoudemire with artist Jen Stark at a dinner for Bloomberg Pursuits.

Stoudemire with artist Jen Stark at a dinner for Bloomberg Pursuits.

Photographer: Jerritt Clark

The logic goes this way: Top pro athletes have the money to spend on art. Emerging artists need that money to survive and continue making art, and the exposure of having famous collectors can go a long way toward building a name and a career. By connecting the two previously distinct groups, Stoudemire hopes to help both—financially and culturally.

“We’re going to educate the rest of the sports world how important it is to collect art, and how important it is to connect with emerging artists who are going to be great, but no one knows they’re going to be great yet,” Stoudemire says. He sees athletes purchasing art now at a reasonable price. “Five years from now, it becomes triple the amount, and now you have a gold mine on your hands.”

Currently, Stoudemire keeps a robust collection of postwar and contemporary art in his home, including works by Basquiat, Warhol, Retna, and Rob Pruitt. Last week, during Art Basel Miami Beach, where he co-hosted a dinner with Bloomberg Pursuits and the artist Jen Stark, he bought a painting by Hebru Brantley from the “No Commission” art fair.

“I went to a lot of fairs and I saw a lot of art,” Stoudemire says. “But that one was something that I wanted to add to the Melech Collection.”

That’s what he calls his personal art collection, after the Hebrew word for “King.” While he plans to always own that art and to pass it to his children, his next step will be to formalize a group of friends and advisers he relies on for advice and buying tips, he says. Those friends currently include the producer Swizz Beatz (husband of Alicia Keys and the brains behind the “No Commission” fair), post-conceptual artist Rob Pruitt, and street artists Retna and Mr. Brainwash.

Once he has his advisers formalized, Stoudemire plans a website and platform that will help emerging artists sell art and find collectors—also under the name “Melech Collection.”

“So many players ask me how to get involved. Just like purchasing a car, a home, the latest Lanvin sneakers, players want to buy art,” Stoudemire says. “I plan to guide them and ease them into being participants in the art world at any budget.”

While Stoudemire is not the first athlete, or basketball player, to collect art, he plans to become a pioneer anyway.

“There are a number of people in the [sports] milieu who have already shown an interest in buying art,” says Marion Maneker of the Art Market Monitor. “Could there be a lot more? Yes.”

Stoudemire in front of a work by Rob Pruitt.
Stoudemire in front of a work by Rob Pruitt.
Photographer: Jerritt Clark

Maneker, an expert on the global art market, says that what Stoudemire is trying to do is a familiar trend in the financial sector and the world of real estate investors and developers. And then there’s the world of celebrity. 

“The problem with art is that it’s not really marketed to people, it’s done socially. So most people who start buying art buy art because some of their peers buy art,” Maneker says. “We’ve seen a lot of people from the music business and from Hollywood, and one presumes that there’s overlap among the elite sports figures and their age peers in music and film.”

As for how this will help emerging artists, it’s long been the case—since the Impressionists—that having important collectors as an emerging artist presaged success in galleries and museums.

“The art market tends to reinforce itself,” says Maneker. “It’s like movies and television and music. People are attracted to things that other people are attracted to.”

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