The Unlikely Story of How This Giant Spaceman Landed in the Caribbean
This article originally appeared in Town and Country Mag.
The sculpture, on display at a resort in Antigua, is the work of artist Brendan Murphy, who is collected by everyone from Serena Williams to Warren Buffett, and wants to be the next Jeff Koons.
The 22-foot, 3,000-pound, steel and carbon fiber spaceman, positioned arms up in a V inspired by a signature Michael Jackson pose, did not just land at the end of a pier at the Hodges Bay Resort in Antigua.
The site-specific sculpture, titled "The Boonji Spaceman," required three days, 12 men and a crane and custom scaffolding to erect and mount in five feet of solid concrete—all designed to withstand up to a Category 4 hurricane.
The commission is the result of a year-long endeavor between artist Brendan Murphy and Christopher Harding, an angel investor, and one of the hotel’s owners.
Gone are the days when impeccable accommodations, five-star service and fun in the sun were enough to put a luxury resort such as Hodges Bay on the map. In the social media age, there has to be a wow factor to a destination, a status attraction to anchor your guests’ personal content, letting everyone know exactly where they are. See Damien Hirst’s Golden Mammoth sculpture at the Faena, Miami and the Dubai Frame as other examples.
Murphy, whose patrons include Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Larry Ellison, Larry Page and Warren Buffet, describes himself as being “in the business of wow.” How he got there is as interesting and improbable as a 22-foot spaceman basking in the Caribbean sun.
A boyish 50, Murphy has the tan, blond hair, athletic build and T-shirt and tattoo look of a surfer. He lives between Malibu and Miami, where his studio is located. When he speaks, his voice is still thick with the accent of his South Boston childhood. He grew up in Quincy, MA, a blue-collar area known for its tight-knit Irish Catholic population and big families. Murphy has just one sister but 28 cousins, all of whom still live in the neighborhood.
“Every single one of them,” says Murphy. “On the same street.”
Somewhere along the way, Murphy found himself in a different world. He played professional basketball in Europe before moving to New York City in the Nineties to be a trader on Wall Street. After September 11th, he decided finance wasn’t for him and started pursuing art.
“My paintings were terrible but I had a lot of rich friends,” he says. By Murphy’s own estimation, his relationships and his time are his currencies. The former is fueled by his natural modesty and what-you-see-is-what-you-get attitude.
“I have good energy,” he says. “I'm an honest guy, a very loyal guy. I have no agenda. I just want to make really cool stuff and to provide for my kids. That's it.”
To be fair, if that were it, there would be a lot more finance guys turned collectible artists in the world. Murphy’s sports connection has taken him a long way, too. A serious interest in tennis followed his pro-basketball career. A ranked player with the International Tennis Federation, he first connected with Harding on an ill-fated line of tennis apparel in the early 2000s. Murphy’s game has connected him with Williams and Djokovic, who commissioned Murphy’s first spaceman sculpture. Basketball gods Steph Curry and LeBron James have also commissioned paintings.
If Murphy’s only agenda is to make cool stuff, he has an entrepreneurial philosophy toward it. Most of his patrons view their collections as an asset class. They’re willing to fund his big ideas to mutual benefit.
“That’s what Jeff Koons did with Peter Brant,” Murphy says, referencing the famous orange balloon dog that sat on Brant’s lawn for years.
Having a collector with a vision is key, says Murphy. So is having a vision for himself.
“I feel like I'm going to take over the whole art world very soon,” he says. “I know it. This decade, I would like to be the David Bowie of art. I'm not Britney Spears. I'd like to be important.”