Mike Tyson Art Show Pays Tribute to the Champ

Be honest – you kind of want a painting of Mike Tyson beating the shit out of someone.
Be honest – you kind of want a painting of Mike Tyson beating the shit out of someone. Photo by Travis Cohen
When you think of Mike Tyson, what kinds of images come to mind? Probably explosive punches full of speed and power. Maybe you recall snippets from wild press conferences laced with expletives and overtures so intimidating they sent a chill down your spine. But do you picture paintings on canvas, fine art renditions of the former champ's most iconic bouts? No? Well, guess what – Mike Tyson art is now a part of Art Basel.

The fighter once known as the baddest man on the planet has become a staple of the American pop culture landscape — and what better proof of that than an Art Basel event made up of pieces inspired by the man himself? That was the scene last night at the Hyde Beach in the backyard of the SLS Hotel, where the boxer turned entertainer turned entrepreneur held court from his poolside bungalow. It was a night Tyson couldn't have imagined in the early days of his career in the ring.

"Not in a million years," says Tyson. "It's very humbling. I'm very grateful and humbled."

While Tyson's boxing career was often colored by controversy, the career he has cultivated since he left his gloves behind has made him into an entirely different kind of household name. After portraying himself in The Hangover, Tyson has gone on to star in his own Broadway one-man show and has his own Scooby Doo-style adult animated series. Today, he is a beloved piece of Americana.
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Mike Tyson and Lenny Kravitz are the Art Basel 2018 mood summed up in one picture.
Photo by Robert Ramos
Earlier this year, he added yet another feather to his cap: marijuana mogul. Back in January, Tyson broke ground on Tyson Ranch, a 40-acre piece of land where he intends to not only grow his own pot but to start a full-on weed resort. Down the line, he even has plans to host his own festival there.

"In about 18 months, we're going to have our own festival," explains Tyson. "Out in the Palm Springs area. It's going to be like an oasis in the desert."

The Tyson Ranch brand was a big part of last night. One of the centerpieces of the event, a painting of Tyson by Bolivian-born street artist and muralist Herbert Galarza, was flanked by Tyson Ranch's newest endeavor: glassware to help enjoy the ranch's harvest. Specifically, big Tyson-sized bongs.

Those familiar with his career are probably aware that Tyson has a history of struggling with sobriety and substance abuse. But over the past few years, the boxer has become a staunch advocate of the benefits of cannabis. That shift came partly from his relationship with one of his collaborators on the release of his line of glass pipes, athlete turned doctor turned medicinal marijuana expert Hervé Damas.
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Doctor and former NFL linebacker Hervé Damas is one of Miami's most outspoken advocates for the benefits of cannabis.
Photo by Travis Cohen
Damas, who has spent years researching the benefits of cannabis on athletes suffering from repetitive stress injuries, linked up with Tyson as a result of the Colorado-based study he was working on at the time. For Damas, this star-studded evening wasn't just about the promotion of Tyson's bongs – it illustrated how the times are changing in regard to mainstream acceptance of marijuana.

"This is the only cannabis event that's happening during Art Basel," says Damas, before laughing to himself in astonishment and adding, "It's the first one, isn't it?"

Tyson, for his part, spent most of the evening in the private cabanas, mingling with celebrities like Lenny Kravitz and Fat Joe. And while he may not have been out and about in the streets of South Beach, he certainly had a clear-cut opinion of the town.

"Miami is the only city you can come to and feel like you're in another country," says Tyson. "It's awesome!"
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Travis Cohen is a writer for Miami New Times and covers subjects ranging from arts and architecture to marijuana and monkeys with herpes. He graduated with honors from Vanderbilt University with a bachelor's degree in English in 2012 and began working with New Times shortly thereafter. He was born and raised in Miami.