From Warhol’s Factory to today, the Playboy Rabbit Head has inspired artists for over half a century. This week, in collaboration with SuperRare, Playboy announced the Miami Beach Art Collection, featuring the animated works of Ayla El-Moussa, REK0DE, Jon Noorlander and MBSJQ (each incorporating the Rabbit Head), and an original heritage photograph unearthed from the Playboy Archives of a Playboy Bunny water-skiing outside of the Miami Playboy Club in 1970, all minted on SuperRare.
SuperRare sat down with Liz Suman, Vice President of Art Curation and Editorial at Playboy to discuss the collection and the role of Playboy as an artists’ muse over the last century.
Paying homage to the Playboy brand, I took inspiration from the iconic September 1968 Playboy cover to evoke a film noir inspired Bond Girl. I combined the forever appeal of Playboy with my eminent love of the ocean and sensual female form to embody the “Bunny stance” in a modernized way.Ayla El-Moussa
LEFT: Ride the Wave
SR: The Playboy Rabbit Head logo is such a well-recognized symbol, could you talk a little bit about how it has been utilized by artists over the years?
LS: One of the reasons I think it’s such a powerful symbol, beyond just its status as an immediately recognizable cultural icon, is because it’s equally universal and personal. Something about the cheeky but sophisticated figure speaks to people around the world regardless of their age or gender or background or point of view—but it can still mean something different to everyone. That dichotomy creates a rich complexity, which becomes a very interesting jumping off point for the creative process.
Incredibly, Playboy’s founding art director Art Paul sketched the original image in one take in less than an hour, having no clue that it would have such an important impact on the relationship between art and publishing, and on graphic design and logo development as a whole. A Rabbit of some kind has appeared on nearly every cover of PLAYBOY magazine since its second issue in December 1954 (oftentimes cleverly hidden – a little insider wink for those in the know). By 1959, the Playboy logo was so widely known that a letter mailed from New York with only the symbol as an address was successfully delivered to Playboy’s Chicago headquarters.
By being such a universal symbol, the Rabbit Head opens up an immense amount of freedom for artists to play with the iconography of it. It’s such a simple, clear symbol that even when reimagined it’s still irrefutably Playboy – and everything that represents. To that point, it’s served as a source of inspiration for artists of every ilk for nearly 70 years and counting. It’s been reimagined by everyone from Keith Haring, Andy Warhol, and Salvador Dalí, to a group of synchronized swimmers, to a researcher at MIT (The latter transformed the logo into quarter-millimeter-wide carbon nanotubes with bow ties approximately the width of a human hair).
Given its storied history across pretty much every discipline and medium in the art world, using the Rabbit as one of the themes for our first collection of animated NFTs felt like a fitting choice. It’s been exciting to see how each of the artists incorporated it into their creations.
With this iconic piece, I wanted to bring color, fantasy, life and soul to Miami and more importantly to Playboy. It was super fun blending the profound and psychedelic space-world of Astro & The Universe with the fun-filled world of Playboy. Astro really did turn up to the party, as well as adding humor with the party atmosphere. My aim for this piece is to make you smile and get into the party spirit, whilst holding a cocktail or 9.MBSJQ
LEFT: Miami Dance
SR: With the above question in mind, what lies in the future for Playboy as a brand that collaborates with and supports artists? How does this SuperRare collaboration fit in with those goals?
LS: Our goal is to build on our 67-year-old history of championing artists and ignite meaningful conversations about censorship, sexuality and freedom of expression, by continuing to provide a platform for artists, writers, and photographers to break taboos and express themselves with total freedom. We’re having so much fun carving out new ways to use art and curation and collaborations to tell stories in new ways with new technologies. We’ve always taken risks when it comes to exploring new art forms; NFTs are just a natural next step of that evolution. SuperRare and Playboy are both brands that curate through a discerning lens and are pushing the boundaries of digital art by working with interesting artists with something to say.
SR: Can you talk a little bit about Playboy’s commitment to empowering female artists?
LS: It’s a huge priority for us in both the digital and physical art worlds. One of my constant goals as a curator is to create opportunities to platform and collaborate with female artists. Recent examples include Marilyn Minter, Betty Tompkins and Shantell Martin, and we have a ton of other collaborations with diverse, boundary-pushing female artists in the works. Representation is always a priority, and it feels especially urgent in the fast-moving world of NFTs, which has (accurately) been characterized as a male-dominated space. It’s exciting to create opportunities to work with incredible female artists that the digital art community–and the art world at large–may not yet be aware of.
With this piece, I wanted to capture a classic Miami setting combined with the scale and form of the iconic Playboy brand.REK0DE
LEFT: Twice as Vice
SR: Does Miami have a special significance to Playboy as a brand and company? Can you talk a little bit about that relationship?
LS: It does! The second-ever Playboy Club was located in Miami, on 77th and Biscayne Boulevard. The Miami Playboy Club opened its doors (and its dock) in September 1961 and maintained a presence in Florida for nearly a quarter of a century. The Miami outpost featured all the requisite amenities of Playboy Clubs at that time— a Playmate Bar, a Library, a Cartoon Corner and a VIP Room—but unlike other Playboy Clubs, its unique entrance let keyholders arrive by land or by sea (Guests could moor at the club’s private dock).
And prior to the club’s opening, model-turned-Playboy photographer Bunny Yeager regularly scouted for Bunnies across the city, including, notably, Bettie Page. Yeager herself was a trailblazer, credited with transforming the concept of the erotic pin-up into high art; her collaboration with Page catapulted both women to household names.
In recent years, Playboy’s Miami footprint has included a consistent presence at Art Basel, and most recently, the 2021 Bitcoin Conference, where the Miami Beach Art Collection was originally previewed!
SR: How were the artists chosen for this collaboration?
LS: I wanted the collection to be both beautiful and playful; all of the artists in the lineup are people I knew could speak to the collection’s themes—a uniquely Miami aesthetic, the ever-evolving crypto-currency landscape, and of course, the incomparably iconic Playboy Rabbit Head—in compelling ways. Ayla El-Moussa’s animated water collage work is a beautiful marriage of digital art and fine art photography, and I immediately imagined how cool it could be to have her reimagine our August 1968 cover from her unique point of view. She’s also a huge supporter of the Oceanic Society, which felt fitting for a Miami-themed collection. MBSJQ’s intergalactic world is a perfect home for a Rabbit Head having a party. REK0DE’s digital creations are filled with witty nods to the art and crypto worlds, which he mixed with a dominatrix-inspired bunny. Jon Noorlander’s work is so smart and fun; we had a blast figuring out how to incorporate Miami and Playboy into a video game-like world starring a crypto-currency monster whose heavy steps cause Rabbit Heads to fall from palm trees.