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Sunday
Aug 04 2013

Performance Art, Baby?

Jay-Z,not content to let James Franco get all the"i'm not a ___,I'm actually an artist!"action,recently performed his new single "Picasso Baby"at MoMA for six hours (with breaks) as invited guests like art world giants,cool dancers,and several actors (Alan Cumming,Jemima Kirke,Adam Driver,Rosie Perez,etcetera) sat down across from him or stood on the sidelines to watch.The "art piece"(i.e.single / music video) really ought to have a "Jay-Z.Featuring Marina Abramovic"style byline since the rapper owes the basics of the concept to the performance artist who enters barefoot and touches heads with him.At least he gives her lots of footage in the video by way of homage.

Jay-Z with Marina Abramovic.Many artists are present.

Those of you who saw her in New York or caught last year's documentaryMarina Abramovic: The Artist is Presentalready know the gist of her most famous piece.[More...]

She sat in a chair for days on end,and museum visitors were invited to sit across from her one by one and stare into her eyes.People waited in line for hours upon hours for a minute or two with her.

Abramović remained silent and still,enduring thirst,hunger,and back pain (and speculation as to how,exactly,she was or was not peeing),while visitors,confronted with her placid gaze,variously wept,vomited,stripped naked,and proposed marriage.

It's unnerving to look a complete stranger in the eyes without speaking or blinking and the piece really moved people sparking conversations about intimacy and vulnerability and silence and more.But watching someone perform a song is a far more mundane pleasure;we do this every day!

In normal life when you drop marquee names into guest lists,conversations and personal anecdotes,it's considered slightly desperate or boastful.But weirdly celebrities are usually celebrated for doing the same.The chief takeaway of "Picasso Baby"for me is 'Look how many famous art world people and celebrities Jay-Z can summon on a (carefully orchestrated) whim!'  The celebrities are numerous and they even get title cards to help remind you that they're famous.It's a public service announcement for fame...but reminds us that music videos,even the artistic or artfully minded ones are commercials for new releases you can purchase.WhenTilda sleeps in a boxor Marina lets strangers stare into her soul for hundreds of hours,you're not purchasing anything.That'sperformance as art,not advertisement.

But I don't want to sound grumpy since the end product has good group energy and I'm all for the not remotely new but delicious assertion that we are our own works of art.(I'm not sure about the song,though,which I haven't parsed lyrically but for noticing there's a bit of political discourse about institutional racism mixed in with traditional hip hop boasting about wealth and possessions.) In the videos cutest most inclusive move (for what was an invite-only event -- another way in which this isn't exactly art.Marina didn't handpick the people who stared her down) a couple of little kids get credits too "9th grader"and "superhero"

My runner up favorite of the cameos is Judd Apatow who pretends to take a phone call (puncturing the pretense with self-deprecation).The clear "I'm fabulous"winner is Taraji P Henson.She broadly swoons,she kicks her legs in joy,she feigns prudish shock at a lyric about cock,she dances.

It's not Performance Art either,but it sure is Sassy Correspondence.

Dear Everyone,remember me?I'm fabulous!"

Rosie Perez gets less air time but sends the same message.Can someone please build a buddy movie around the two of them right now?

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Reader Comments (8)

It would probably be more populist than anything Kanye (who I much prefer but boy can be bizarre) would do in a similar piece.Not the biggest Abramovic fan but it is pretty cool he is bringing her art to a mass audience.But yeah,it was more of a celebrity row (specifically NY celebrities) with a mix of some average people.

There were a lot of Girls cameos,not just Jemima,Adam,and Judd but you see Laurie Simmons,Lena's mom and who has acted in both Girls and Tiny Furniture for some brief moments.

Can we have a doc chronicling the performance art life of Tilda Swinton,please?I need in her my life in as many times as possible.

I hope Taraji is making good money on her CBS show because the promos barely acknowledge her existence yet,as you said,woman has sass and charisma for DAYS.

August 4,2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

Taraji is,as Wendy Williams would say,*doin it*.

August 4,2013 | Unregistered CommenterHayden W

Taraji needs more movies she can steal.

August 4,2013 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I see this exercise as a good thing.Pop culture and high art in the same room as a communal experience.Everyone enjoying themselves whether the select famous or a member of the anonymous public.To scoff at any of these defeats the purpose of wondering where are all the regular people supporting the niche causes you feel will reward them to if they only gave it their time.

August 4,2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I think it's kind of hilarious watching Jay-Z and Kanye West duke it out for most pretentious hip hop star.Pretentious is a word commonly misused in reference to art and especially by us film nerds,but when Kanye West "remixes"The Canyons trailer by tacking on a vaguely different,less effective music track and pointlessly changes the title cards to tonally conflicting rainbow colors,he's being a phony and treating himself like he's special and talented.He's being pretentious.When Jay-Z performs his new song at MoMA to celebrity friends while an actual performance artist performs next to him,he's also being comically pretentious.If these dudes were putting any genuine effort into these laughable attempts at artistry I wouldn't so casually dismiss them.Franco annoys me too but at least he seems to be trying,these clowns just want everyone to think of them as creators of high art.

August 4,2013 | Unregistered CommenterCasey Fiore

"Pretentious is a word commonly misused in reference to art and especially by us film nerds,but when Kanye West "remixes"The Canyons trailer by tacking on a vaguely different,less effective music track and pointlessly changes the title cards to tonally conflicting rainbow colors,he's being a phony and treating himself like he's special and talented.He's being pretentious."

I just think it is cool he is aware of certain arthouse cinema.Like the "All of the Lights"video that took from the opening credits of "Enter the Void".I would not be surprised if he is an actual film nerd.I am sure he lit up like a Christmas when he got word that Scorsese wished to sample "Black Skinhead"in The Wolf of Wall Street trailer.

And no,there is no way Jay could ever out-do Kanye for being pretentious.Lou Reed's pretentious.David Byrne is pretentious.Prince is pretentious.They're all geniuses and I am fans of most of their work (sorry Lou,that Metallica collaboration was tragic) but to me those guys are taking risks and having a lot of bravado and arrogance to their work but never have time to take the temperature in the room of how famous they are and exactly why they are famous to a lot of people.Jay is way too populist and every move he does seems to try to balance his ambition with what his fan base thinks.He can get a little safe.That "Empire State of Mind"song is so broad-reaching.It's more Springsteen and Billy Joel than anything Kanye does now.James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem was right to say Kanye is this generation's real rockstar because he really does want to be the greatest and does not really feel apologetic about any of his actions.

And this was your modern music report from CMG.

August 4,2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

CMG: I couldn't have said it better - and you're right.Kanye is a total film-nerd.

August 4,2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Agree with just about everything CMG wrote.

I've come to realize that the last thing I want is a modest rapper.Sure,Jay Z's admittedly inflated sense of self and Kanye's general assholery can get a bit tiresome,but we're not hanging out with these people,we're just listening to their music.And although I haven't been much impressed with anything the former has put out as of late ("Empire State of Mind,"despite Alicia Key's lovely chorus,is essentially a tribute to New YorkandJay-Z),there is no artist in the music world (and precious few in other fields) who takes more daring risks and yields such staggeringly rich results than Kanye.Just re-watched the "All of the Lights"video after reading CMG's post and re-realized that it's the boldest,hardest-hitting piece of music I've heard in a while,with a nuancednarrative(!) to boot.

August 4,2013 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Eng

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