Poppin’: A chat with Instafamous artist Sivan Sternbach
Sivan Sternbach’s (@sivansternbach) playful ceramic balloon art is made for Instagram. Bold, bright, and totally fun, the Israeli artist, at the time of publication, has over 12,000 followers, and many are loyal collectors. Sternbach’s signature are classic floating balloons – which come in varying sizes, colors, and levels of inflatedness – as well as helium balloon shapes, animals, and letters. Her ‘balloon language’ has been featured everywhere from the iconic windows of Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan, to the Ritz-Carlton in Herzliya and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
What is your background?
I studied hotel management at New York University as well as pastry at the French Culinary Institute. In 2000, I left New York and came back to Israel with my husband and two small children and opened a chic pastry shop in Tel Aviv called Crème Fraîche. [Sternbach sold her share two years later to be a more hands-on mother]. Once I started studying pottery many years later I felt an immediate connection to the clay; it felt like I was working with dough again. It was love at first touch!
How did you become fascinated with balloons?
Around 2010 an art curator took me to art galleries, museums, and to visit artists in their studios, that was the time I fell in love with art and early on I was inspired by balloons. When I started building balloons, art curator Keren Bar Gil saw them and loved them so I gave her one. That’s how it all began. Keren started promoting my work and she still represents me today
What is the process to make one of your signature pieces?
I hand build all my balloons. I start with a real inflated balloon, which I cover with clay. Besides the classic balloon shapes, I also make helium ones in various shapes and popped balloons that are left deflated.
What’s the coolest spot you’ve seen one of your pieces?
In 2015, I participated in a beautiful exhibition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, celebrating the museum’s 50th birthday. Also, in August of 2017, all the windows at Bergdorf Goodman had my balloons!
How did the collaboration with Bergdorf Goodman come happen? Decorating Bergdorf Goodman’s windows was a dream of mine. I contacted David, the creative director, and with Israeli chutzpah didn’t let go until he agreed to meet me. The rest is history. I received amazing response from New Yorkers, tourists, and the media.
From where do your buyers hail?
My collectors are from all over the world; these days I would say 60% from around the world and 40% from Israel.
How has social media impacted your output?
Almost all of my international sales are through Instagram. When an influencer posts about one of my pieces I notice a spike in sales. For example, an interior designer saw my pieces at Bergdorf Goodman she then introduced them to @StephanieGottlieb (who has over a quarter million followers). Gottlieb posted about my balloons and she then, in turn, introduced them to @ArielleCharnas (who has over 1.2 million followers) and she also posted about my balloons. This is just an example among many others, and I really see the effect.
How does living in Israel inspire you?
There is so much history in Jerusalem, so many parties and restaurants in Tel Aviv, great museums and art everywhere, beautiful beaches, and many young designers. I love the Carmel Market, an early morning coffee at the beach, a day at the Tel Aviv Museum or Israel Museum in Jerusalem and a visit to the Machne Yehuda market.