ART SCHOOL

A Brief History of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade’s Surprisingly High-Brow Art Balloons

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Courtesy of Macy’s

It has only been two weeks since Yayoi Kusama opened a new infinity room in New York, effectively conquering Instagram once again. And yet, the indefatigable 90-year-old is already moving on—to the city’s skyline, no less. This morning, Kusama makes her debut at the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with a gigantic floating polka-dot face. Her balloon will mingle with the parade’s expected Spongebobs and Pokémons, as thousands of spectators look on from below. Her participation might seem unlikely, but Kusama isn’t the first contemporary artist to join in on the spectacle. Jeff Koons, KAWS, Takashi Murakami, and FriendsWithYou have all contributed inflatables to the portion known as Blue Sky Gallery—though until now, the parade has only ever showcased men. Take a look back at their creations, including a populist version of the most expensive artwork ever made, here.

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Courtesy of Macy’s

Sculptor Tom Otterness’s take on Humpty Dumpty (2006).

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In 2007, Otterness ceded the throne to his natural successor: the balloon enthusiast and emblem of art-world excess known as Jeff Koons. Earlier this year, a smaller, solid version of the silver rabbit he created for the parade sold for a record $91.1 million, making it the most expensive work ever by a living artist.

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In honor of what would have been Keith Haring‘s 50th birthday, the 2008 parade committee paid tribute to the late artist by super-sizing one of his signature figures.

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Perhaps to make up for the fact the parade’s lack of art in 2009, Takashi Murakami created not one, but two balloons for the 2010 parade, known as KaiKai and KiKi.

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Fun fact: Kaikai Kiki is the name of Takashi Murakami’s studio.

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In 2011, Blue Sky Gallery switched gears and tapped Tim Burton. Naturally, the filmmaker went the extra mile and crafted a macabre backstory for his character. B., who also goes by B. Boy, was apparently built Frankenstein-style, from the remains of leftover birthday party balloons at a hospital in London. He eventually retreated to the hospital’s basement, where he became obsessed with the film The Red Balloon.

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Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Companion, the character who recurs throughout the oeuvre of the artist Brian Donnelly (aka KAWS), made for an odd addition to the 2012 parade. Surrounded by cheery cartoon characters, it resembled what some described as “Mickey Mouse’s Dead Body.”

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There was nothing little about the version of Little Cloud—a symbol of “light, tranquility, and unconditional love” created by the artists FriendsWithYou—that joined in on the fun in 2018.