Want to Kick Poker Night Up a Notch? A Playing-Card Company Has Teamed Up With the Whitney to Release Artist-Designed Decks

The first deck is designed by Shantell Martin, and it runs only $10.

Shantell Martin playing cards for Theory 11's Whitney Museum project. Image courtesy the artist, Theory 11 and the Whitney Museum.
Shantell Martin playing cards for Theory 11's Whitney Museum project. Image courtesy the artist, Theory 11 and the Whitney Museum.

If ya like your poker or blackjack games with a dash of flair, you’re in for a treat.

Speciality playing-card designer Theory 11 has teamed up with the Whitney Museum of American Art to produce a series of playing cards designed by prominent artists.

The first offering will be released May 3 and has been imagined by art star Shantell Martin (who also just so happens to have recently done a Whitney gift shop redesign with her signature whimsical black-and-white squiggles).

“We keep pushing ourselves to do things differently,” Theory 11 founder and C.E.O. Jonathan Bayme told Artnet News. “We want Theory 11 fans to know that every deck is something new and different. That led us to this.”

Shantell Martin playing cards. Image courtesy the artist, Theory 11, and the Whitney Museum.

Shantell Martin playing cards. Image courtesy the artist, Theory 11, and the Whitney Museum.

Theory 11 started out in 2007 designing cards for magicians, but brand collaborations with everything from Star Wars to Marvel comics to James Bond films—and painstaking attention to high-quality letterpress printing and detailed designs—quickly turned the cards into sought-after collectibles.

“We pride ourselves on putting an unreasonable amount of effort into making our playing cards.For example, on the Star Wars decks, we spent weeks getting the exact angle of the tilt of the lightsaber just right,” Bayme said.

The response has been intense.

“I’d relate it to sneaker culture, where collectors have whole walls of their houses decked out in these card decks,” he said.

Fans of Martin are sure to recognize her designs, which have been highlighted with dashes of color. The Jack of Hearts, for example, is surrounded by a jumble of letters that spell out “Joy” and “Helper.”

“Martin often explores themes such as intersectionality, identity, and play,” according to a statement from the Whitney. “In the design for her decks, Martin generously offers completely custom artwork on each card, the box, jokers, and sticker seal, and includes a personal note about her own experience playing cards. The result is an intimate and joyful collectible, available in two colorways.”

Shantell Martin playing cards. Image courtesy the artist, Theory 11, and the Whitney Museum.

Shantell Martin playing cards. Image courtesy the artist, Theory 11, and the Whitney Museum.

“It’s a fun, new, creative canvas that she had never experimented with before,” Bayme said. “We got to work side-by-side with her and lend some of our print expertise.”

Interested buyers will be delighted at the price of the decks: a very affordable $9.95 each for a set of two at theory11.com. The decks are also available individually at the Whitney shop.

“We want to encourage people to play with them and use them. If they spill something on them, they can buy another deck,” Bayme said. Some devoted collectors have been known to buy two decks—”one to play with and one to keep sealed in cellophane.”

The Shantell Martin decks will be available at 3 p.m. on May 3 at the Whitney gift shop, as well as online at Theory 11’s website.

 


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