MIAMI — At SCOPE Miami Beach, former Hapoel Jerusalem player and 2017 Israeli League champion Amar’e Stoudemire is having a Jewish moment.
Standing in front of a 40-foot-tall (12 meter) installation depicting the siege of the Second Temple, Stoudemire corrects viewers who mistake it for a Hanukkah piece due to an image of a menorah. It’s a natural mistake: on Tuesday night the New York Knick alum was welcomed back to Madison Square Garden — this time as a fan — to help light a ceremonial scoreboard menorah on the first night of Hanukkah.
“No, that was the Greeks — this is the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE,” he says, pointing toward the painting. “What’s happening here is he’s blowing the shofar [ram’s horn] to announce the war, this is the Pharisee reading and praying as the war is happening, these are the artifacts being taken out of the Temple with the fire, and that is Jerusalem. The last piece is of Titus.”
The painting by Brooklyn artist Steven Cogle was commissioned by Stoudemire, who requested Cogle create a work to be included at the SCOPE Miami International Contemporary Art Show, which ran from December 5-10.
SCOPE Miami beach attracts thousands of artists and collectors from all over the world. Stoudemire, who lived in Israel while playing for Hapoel Jerusalem, wanted to present imagery capturing the events that laid the foundation for world Jewry as we know it today.
The cataclysmic siege of the Second Temple is significant on the timeline of Jewish history because it prompted a mass Exodus from the land of Israel as a result of a decree banning Jews from living in Jerusalem.
Despite the tragic destruction of the Temples and dispersal of the Jews commemorated on Tisha B’Av, Stoudemire references Jews in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and China as hope that Israel will one day be home to all Jews.
“I wanted him to create something that would pause history,” Stoudemire says. “During this time a lot of the children of Israel started to go off in the Diaspora. Now the children are waking up to come back out of that Diaspora. You see an awakening that’s happening with Jews all over the world.”
During the week-long art fair, Stoudemire debuted the 40-foot installation as a part of his Melech Collection, which comes from the Hebrew word for king.
The former basketball player owns a Samurai painting by Cogle that hangs as the only piece in the man cave of his 14,555-square-foot Miami mansion. But Stoudemire said he wanted to give Cogle a space to publicly showcase his talent.
“I do think visibility is very important. There are a lot of great artists in the world a lot people don’t know about,” Stoudemire said during a panel discussion he led as an ambassador of Sotheby’s.
Creating a platform for emerging artists like Cogle is a part of the Melech Collection mission. To date, Stoudemire’s collection houses more than 70 works by artists such as Andy Warhol, Jean Michel Basquiat, Eddie Martinez, famed street artist RETNA — who attended the panel — Hebru Brantley and Bradley Theodore, just to name a few.
At SCOPE Stoudemire walks through the stark white exhibition corridors wearing a wine-colored suit and cheetah print sneakers. Even if his 6-foot-10-inch frame didn’t tower over the crowd, his fashion sense alone would be cause for stares.
As he leads his friends and press to the back wall of the beachside pavilion to view Cogle’s piece, he’s trailed by a cameraman and photographers documenting the experience. It was his first time participating in SCOPE and he took the opportunity to share his connection to Jerusalem.
“I brought Steven Cogle down because I wanted to do a time capsule,” Stoudemire says. “The painting is of the Second Temple and I wanted to capture history and he was able to paint my thoughts on the canvas.”
The painting is Cogle’s formal introduction into the international art scene. His pieces have been acquired by film industry heavyweights such as “Sex and The City” stylist Patricia Fields; star of the box office hit “Creed” Michael B. Jordan; and Rob Weiss, an executive producer of the HBO shows “Entourage” and “Ballers” — but it was his first time in Miami and first time showing at SCOPE.
The opportunity came so fast, Cogle had only three days to complete the large scale project.
“I got a text asking me if I wanted to be a part of Art Basel,” he said. “I didn’t even know who it was at first.”
The painting was completed in Miami under Stoudemire’s direction. The mood of the piece required Cogle to step out of his comfort zone. The Caribbean-born artist is known for a bright color palette representing elements of island life.
After doing research on the destruction of the second Temple, he gravitated towards black, gray and red, using only white to distinguish the city of Jerusalem. Cogle, who was influenced by the panels of African -American painter Jacob Lawrence, said when he visualized the piece he knew it was going to be powerful.
“It’s a dark subject so I used subdued colors,” Cogle said. “There was war, bloodshed, and death. I used dark colors and painted gray around the edges to make the subjects pop out. I want people to be transported to the scene.”
Cogle’s work reflects African tribalism as experienced in the concrete jungle. His established role as the creator of what some call “future history” makes him perfect to interpret the foundation for what Stoudemire has deemed a “Jewish awakening” said Eric Shiner, Sotheby’s Contemporary Art SVP.
“Even though it’s a beautiful contemporary abstract painting it’s making a lot of references to history, especially Jewish history, with its depictions of Jerusalem and the Temple in the work,” Shiner said. “There are soldiers in the work that start to emerge from the abstraction as you pay careful attention, so he’s definitely going back in order to move forward.”
Stoudemire also credits the siege of the Second Temple for his heritage. He identifies as a Black Hebrew Israelite, a group that claims to be direct descendants of the biblical Jews. He wears his hair in dreadlocks and has committed to memory detailed portions of Jewish history.
He spent a year in Israel playing for Hapoel Jerusalem as a forward and was part owner of the team. The power forward led them to win an Israeli Basketball League Cup and Israeli League championship in 2017, but due to an inability to reach a deal, Stoudemire didn’t return after the successful season.
“They couldn’t figure out a deal for me so I retired and all the fans wanted me to come back and play. I called to try and work out a deal and they said ‘you’re done,’” Stoudemire says.
“I would love to live in Israel again and I’ll always go back and forth. Last year I went for free and played for the love of Israel. I’m trying to work out something where I’m comfortable and not losing money,” he says.
His favorite part about living in Israel was Jerusalem, and he calls his time there a “spiritual awakening.”
“I loved waking up and being able to walk to the Old City,” he says. “That’s why I want to live in Jerusalem because of that reason… it’s amazing.”
Despite being in his own form of “exile,” Stoudemire, who once described himself as a “culturally Jewish,” now fully embraces his identity.
For him, this painting is more than a work of art — it holds the secret to his existence as an Israelite of African descent.
“It’s a reminder of why we went into the Diaspora — because we were disobeying God and following Roman and Greek gods, so therefore, this sadly happened to the children of Israel,” Stoudemire says. “So this is a reminder to stay firm in your beliefs.”