The Macy's Thanksgiving Parade is by far one of the most traditional traditions that New York City has to offer. Not only do more than 3 million people from the Northeast crowd to Manhattan to watch it, but another 50 million American families tune into NBC to watch it live. Needless to say, it's an incredible platform for publicity and, similar to the Super Bowl broadcast, is often used as such.
So where do the fine arts come in? Well, it all began with the inception of Macy's Blue Sky Gallery in 2005, whose mission was to inject the contemporary arts in the parade through a number of 'sculpture balloons'.
Contemporary sculptor Tom Otterness's "Humpty Dumpty" balloon was the first contribution to the Blue Sky Gallery's cause. The balloon, featuring an upside-down Humpty Dumpty, was 33 feet tall, 27 feet wide and 20 feet long, and highly resembled the whimsical bronzes the artist is known for.
Two years later, in 2007, the iconic American artist Jeff Koons was asked to create a special balloon for the Macy's Parade. Dubbed a helium 'sculpture' by New York Times' art critic Roberta Smith, the 50-foot silver 'Rabbit' floated down the parade route to much confusion. No one had ever seen anything like it in parades before. 'Rabbit' replicated one of Koons' earlier designs from the mid-1980s of a silver futurist Easter Bunny. Sure, it wasn't as recognizable as Shrek or Elmo, but it certainly got people talking.
In 2008, the Macy's Parade used the Blue Sky Gallery initiative to celebrate what would have been the 50th birthday of the city's major art icon, Keith Haring. Standing at 48 feet tall, the "Figure With Heart" balloon was inspired by Haring's 1987 "Untitled (Figure With Heart)" composition. While a huge hit in execution, the balloon is perhaps most famous for colliding with the NBC Broadcast Booth, causing correspondents Al Roker, Meredith Viera and Matt Lauer to be temporarily cut off the air.
Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami was the next to be invited to contribute to the Blue Sky Gallery. The directors behind the gallery were heavily inspired by a Murakami retrospective on exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in 2010. And later that same year, he sent his trademark characters Kiki and Kaikai to float through Manhattan as a super cute pair. (Murakami even attended the parade to send his beloved balloons off with a traditional Shinto ceremony of good luck and fortune.)
A year later, and after much convincing, filmmaker Tim Burton created a special balloon specifically for the Blue Sky Gallery's cause. From this collaboration birthed B.Boy, a fanged Frankenstein-style little boy who, according to his backstory, was stitched together from the leftover balloons used at children’s parties. The wonderfully strange balloon helped add further publicity to Tim Burton's MoMA career retrospective that year, injecting a little goth-whimsy into the parade.
And finally, the last of the Blue Sky Gallery series thus far was the appearance of street artist KAWS' famous 'Companion' figure. The project certainly meant something different to the New Jersey raised artist, who spent much of his early years tagging anything from city walls to subway cars with his trademark designs. It also validated street art as a true form of contemporary art in front of a very mainstream audience.
Spokespeople for Macy's Blue Sky Gallery insist that they have more artists lined up for later Thanksgiving Parades, but are keeping them secret until the actual day. With that being said, which artist would you like to see joining the ranks of the Blue Sky Gallery's talent roster? (Personally, I think Gary Baseman's Toby would make an incredible balloon!)