The Robb Interview: NBA Star Amar’e Stoudemire Now a Major Player in the Arts

From power forward to patron of the arts, the longtime NBA star is stepping up in a big way as a curator and activist.  

The NBA great Amar’e Stoudemire—a six-time all-star and the first player ever signed out of high school to be named Rookie of the Year—has a new mission since retiring from the league earlier this year. An art expert whose Miami home is filled with dozens of contemporary works, Stoudemire has set out to encourage more of his fellow athletes to discover the joys of collecting. Acting as an art adviser, he brings together athletes who need guidance in the notoriously hard-to-navigate industry and emerging artists who are seeking patrons for their pieces. Among the athletes he has advised are Miami Heat player Justise Winslow and Memphis Grizzlies forward Chandler Parsons, who recently acquired a painting by Oklahoma artist Robert Peterson after spotting one of his works on Stoudemire’s Instagram feed. The venture is part of Stoudemire’s Melech Collection (melech means “king” in Hebrew), a rubric that the married father of four uses to encompass all of his art-related pursuits, from his own collecting to his charitable In the Paint series, which organizes art-and-basketball events for children in underserved areas. In August, Stoudemire returned to basketball himself, joining the Israeli team Hapoel Jerusalem.

How do you introduce your clients to art and collecting? 

For a little while now, I’ve been really reaching out to entertainers and athletes about how to get involved in art. Some people want to collect, but they are not sure of the value of works. I play the liaison role of helping them understand what they are buying. Will it appreciate in value or will it depreciate? Is it a smart buy or not? Is this guy a good artist or not? I give them kind of a breakdown study on the actual piece.

How do you develop someone from curious novice to collector? 

When someone gets into art, they never go full force. They always want to take their time, to buy one piece maybe once every 4 months or once a year. It’s a slow process. It’s a matter of teaching them what the art is really about and how to become immersed in it. I’m kind of a teacher. My job is giving them knowledge about that particular piece, that art, and then they make decisions from there.

You’re not charging commissions for your work? 

It’s not a business. I’m not doing it for profit. As far as me curating and teaching athletes and other people about art, I do that out of the kindness of my heart. The beautiful thing about this is that I’m giving emerging artists an avenue they wouldn’t have had by giving them exposure, by getting their pieces in certain people’s hands. It’s about giving back to the artists themselves. Obviously with more clientele, it can become a business.

Are you doing all this by yourself? 

I have a group of friends that I talk to as far as advice on pieces and purchases, for sure. It’s not an actual company board. It’s a group of friends of mine, including [hip-hop artist] Swizz Beatz and [artist] Daniel Arsham, whom I consider kind of my board members that help me.

What’s in your own collection? 

It’s a combination of emerging artists and established artists. A lot of it is a mix of contemporary, pop art, street art, and I’m starting to venture into European art. Those things are very hard to come by. I have pieces by Hebru Brantley, Taylor McKimens, Retna, Rob Pruitt, Basquiat, Jojo Anavim, Robert Peterson, Devin Troy Strother. The list goes on and on. Some of it is in a secure storage area. A lot of it is displayed. One of my most recent paintings is my Eddie Martinez piece. What he is able to encompass in his work is very unique. His work is just going up in value like you wouldn’t believe. 

What’s the secret to identifying new artists whose works will gain value? 

You’ve just got to have a nice group around you. A lot of people try to sell you art that is not worth the price, and so you don’t want to be that person who gets caught up in that situation. What we do as curators is that we hear about which artists are growing and which artists are not growing, and we are able to pass this information on to the next person who wants to collect. You need to know, is there a lot going on around this artist? It’s like watching the stock market. It’s like sneakerheads collecting tennis shoes. You know certain things are going to rise in price. 

What was your first significant piece of art? 

My first expensive painting was a gift. It was gifted to me by the artist herself, Tonia Calderon out of Los Angeles, when I was playing for the Phoenix Suns. It was a painting of myself with Tupac [Shakur] lyrics in the background. From that moment on, I fell for art and wanted more pieces. 

What was the first piece you acquired? 

One of Rob Pruitt’s panda paintings. I invited him to a Knicks game, and we ended up becoming friends. My family and I went over to his studio. Building connections with artists and getting to understand them is a great thing.

Did you work with an adviser yourself early on? 

I did not. It was a slow process for me. I was speaking with a lot of my teammates and a few people who were into art and collected pieces, and I started to develop an interest in it and I decided to get totally involved in it. [Art] helps to preserve history. I’m a history guy, and I love to preserve history and culture. I’m not selling any pieces, and my collection is going to continue to grow. I’ll pass my collection on to my children.

What are some of your favorite places to see art

Every city I travel to, I go to the art museum and go see a few galleries. It’s just what I do in my spare time. Miami has a great art scene. To be quite frank, Jerusalem has been an eye-opener. The Israel Museum is probably one of the best museums I’ve been to in a long time.

You just did your fifth In the Paint event at the Israel Museum. Tell us about the In the Paint series. 

It’s a double entendre. It plays on both basketball [the painted area in front of the hoop] and painting. I bring in students from certain areas, and the students get to paint with artists like Retna [in Los Angeles] and Hebru Brantley [in Chicago] and also play basketball. It brings them another area for success. It allows us to connect with youth in a more creative way. The kids can enjoy not only playing basketball, they can also enjoy art. And the Melech Collection presents a check to community centers and schools. This is all fun for me. Giving back is a part of our obligation. 

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