March 10, 2020

SHINY HAPPY PEOPLE

FriendsWithYou share the good vibes at the Dallas Contemporary

Two smiley orbs—one baby girl pink and one baby boy blue—do a cuddly pas de deux across the concrete floors of the Dallas Contemporary to a mellow soundtrack of wind chimes. Held every hour on the hour the museum is open, “The Dance” is an instant mood lifter akin to visual Xanax.

For Samuel Albert Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III—the artistic duo better known as FriendsWithYou—their performance piece is just one in a long line of positive works that have brightened both the fine art world and pop culture at large.

From their “Little Cloud” balloon that graced the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to collaborations with brands such as Moncler and Alice + Olivia, it seems like their gentle graphics are everywhere. Even on children’s television, in the guise of their Netflix cartoon collaboration with Pharrell Williams, True and the Rainbow Kingdom. And if you think their cheery characters are just for kids, well, think again. FWY see their work as an essential message for a weary world.

“I think we’ve been really focused on operating from the present, like what we feel is good for the world and good for us,” says Borkson of “The Dance.” “It’s continuing to get past even what we’ve done before to be even more relational and loving and kind and sweet and offering an experience that’s tender and disarming and fun and joyous.”

Adds his artistic partner Sandoval: “What we’re trying to do (with the piece) is reconcile any shallow difference that might plague your existence on that day. Just letting go of that and being content with the realization there is no difference—we’re all a lot closer than we are apart. That is what the whole intent is, to bring people together.”

Formed in 2002 in Miami, the duo (Sam and Tury) didn’t have grand plans to change the world when friends introduced them, they were just having fun.

“I was living in Orlando going to the University of Central Florida, and Tury was going to Florida International University,” says Borkson. “We were both doing college, but I think school was not that important to us, we were on our own paths. When I had moved back to Miami, we started playing with toys, and looking at art and design books. We just started creating some things, and these plush dolls we were making exploded, so we were like, ‘This is weird, let’s pursue it and see where this goes.'”

It led to the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, where their bouncy installation “Cloud City” was an instant hit during 2005’s Art Basel. In attendance was Dallas Contemporary executive director Peter Doroshensko, who decided to bring FWY to Dallas for Art Week in 2015. Four years in the making “The Dance” is a continuation of that relationship.

 

“Internes” (2019) | Photo: Kevin Todora

 

In addition to this interactive work, FriendsWithYou are also exhibiting two big pieces that better illustrate their fascination with pop culture. The 18-by-6-foot canvas “A Beautiful Place II” is populated with imagery from Star Wars, the Flintstones, and Magritte. The epic “Internes” of plasticine behind plexiglass is a Claymation celebration attended by Felix the Cat, Piglet, and Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction (to name a few).

If the high/low influences Sam and Tury draw on may occasionally skew a little twee, there’s a deeper intent at play. They look at their art as a way to help solve the problems of the world while reconciling oneself with the imperfect beauty of being human. Planning for upcoming collaborations that go deeper into these themes (as well as addressing such varied subjects as family dynamics and nutrition) the Friends’ positive propaganda is, as Sam says, “almost like world domination but with love—world lovination!”

 

Close up of “A Beautiful Place II”  | Photo: Kevin Todora

 

“We feel like we’re the children of Disney and Warhol and Buddha—all of the things that have ever existed, plus the common man,” he explains. “The naivete of all that spinning together to change the world in a major way. There a lot of people that are incredible artists and thinkers, and people that are joining in this idea that it’s not really climate change that’s our major concern, it’s human change. We really have a chance to help and be in service of the world. That’s daunting, but at the same time, we’re prepared to do it.” —Kendall Morgan 

The Details; “The Dance and Recent Works” is on view through March 15 at the Dallas Contemporary, 161 Glass Street.