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Renowned artist revisits iconic US Open theme art 20 years later

2017 US Open Theme Art by Peter Max

Renowned pop culture artist Peter Max helped introduce Arthur Ashe Stadium to the masses when his iconic painting of the largest tennis stadium in the world was used to celebrate the show court’s grand opening at the 1997 US Open.

Now, two decades later, the USTA has collaborated with the artist once again.

Max unveiled the 2017 US Open theme art marking the 20th anniversary of Arthur Ashe Stadium at his Manhattan studio Wednesday, showcasing his signature expressionistic style and familiar use of vibrant colors.

The art depicts two tennis racquets over the stadium against a fiery sky of reds, yellows, greens and blues. With it, Max wanted to suggest two crossed swords, a depiction of the fierce competition of the final Grand Slam of the year.

As with his first commission in 1997, Max’s latest painting of the stadium captures the passion and energy that surround the event.

“We could not think of a better way to kick off the 20th anniversary of Arthur Ashe Stadium than by ‘returning to source’ and having Peter Max create another signature work that truly captures the power of tennis’ grandest stadium,” said USTA Chairman of the Board, CEO and President Katrina Adams.

Peter Max poses with the artwork he created for the 20th anniversary of Arthur Ashe Stadium. Ashley Marshall/USTA

Twenty years ago, the US Open was transformed by the introduction of Arthur Ashe Stadium. The centerpiece of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Arthur Ashe Stadium provides the game’s greats with a stage unmatched in the sport. 

Boasting a capacity of more than 23,000, Arthur Ashe Stadium is the largest tennis-only stadium in the world, allowing the Open to welcome more than half a million more fans than when its namesake won the men’s singles championship in 1968.

The stadium has grown with the times, most recently adding a retractable roof – featured prominently in Max’s latest theme art – in 2016. The addition of a roof banishes rain delays to the historical record and ensures that the event’s loyal legion of supporters will continue to experience the grandeur of US Open tennis regardless of the weather.

USTA Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer Gordon Smith called Max’s work “iconic” as he recalled Opening Night in Arthur Ashe Stadium 20 years ago.

“I had the privilege as a much younger volunteer at the USTA to be there that night, and it was magical,” Smith said. “Whitney Houston sang ‘One Moment in time.’ Thirty-eight US Open champions came back for that night and it was a night to remember.

“A lot of people have forgotten the ceremony, but they haven’t forgotten two things that have lasted about that night. Number one, the stadium was named after the great moral, cultural and sports icon, Arthur Ashe. Number two, the USTA built the biggest and best tennis stadium in the world. They were completing the job of taking tennis out of the country club and giving it to the country, and in fact, that stadium has revolutionized Grand Slam tennis. It’s made it popular around the world and it exudes everything positive about New York.”

Artist Peter Max poses in his Manhattan Studio between the artwork he created for the 1997 US Open, the first year of Arthur Ashe Stadium, and the 2017 US Open. Ashley Marshall/USTA

For six decades,  Max’s art has been part of the fabric of American pop culture – from his numerous museum and gallery exhibitions to a painted fuselage of a Continental Airlines 777 super jet, and a 600-foot-long Woodstock music festival stage.

Max has been official artist for five Grammy Awards, five Super Bowls, the NHL All-Star Game, the 2000 World Series, Kentucky Derby 2000, the U.S. Winter Olympics, World Cup USA, the Indy 500 and many other notable events in sports and music. Max’s portraits have honored U.S. Presidents, foreign dignitaries, rock stars and jazz musicians, movie stars and sports icons.

Now, for the second time, he will forever be linked with the US Open and Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I remember the artwork from 20 years ago that the great Peter Max did for us,” Smith said. “Frankly, if I went home to my drawer I would probably find a T-shirt somewhere in the bottom of the drawer with this [1997] artwork on it. It was iconic and so many people loved it. So what better thing to do than go back and ask the great Peter Max can you do it again for us 20 years later.”