It’s kind of old news by now. There once was a man named Andy Warhol with white hair and a penchant for black turtlenecks. He had a bunch of funky groupies circling his workplace called The Factory, where a few people eventually died of drug abuse and ill health, but mostly everyone was exceedingly cool and came to define contemporary art. Warhol is of course well known for his update on the Duchampian readymade, with everything from Brillo Boxes to Marilyn Monroe being hyper-duplicated and recolored as a statement on modern commercial excess and the cult of celebrity.
As with pretty much everything he ever touched, Warhol’s emphasis on celebrity still resonates today. His images of Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor continue to come up at auction via high-end collectors. But more than just an art historical and even omnipresent lineage in his own realm of art, Warhol’s influence on the marriage of art and fame extends to current collaborations, with some of the biggest — wait for it — pop musicians experimenting with the fine art world.
Lady Gaga’s latest album cover for “Artpop” (yep, easy title there) was designed by contemporary art powerhouse Jeff Koons, who she also names in the song “Applause.”
Koons is known for his larger-than-life kitsch, with everything from plastic white dogs to life-size Michael Jackson statues. My favorite so-bad-it’s-good moment was when Koons took over Versailles in 2008, filling the Baroque palace with humongous balloon dogs.
In the image, Lady Gaga is grabbing her naked breasts with a balloon-like ball between her legs, surrounded by divisive color. Koons explained to MTV that he drew from many periods of his life to create the image, including “Made in Heaven,” “Banality,” and early collage.
Koons was briefly married to an Italian porn star named Cicciolina, who served as muse to a brightly colored series known as “Made in Heaven” in the early ’90s. The series was explicitly sexual, aiding in the address of Lady Gaga in context as a pop and sex symbol.
“Banality” included a sculpture of Michael Jackson. (FYI, I once saw one of these in the back rooms of Gagosian. Will this violate my confidentiality agreement if it was three years ago?) The combination of sexuality and musicianship, as well as early collage, all served as a perfect merge for Gaga.
Lady Gaga + Bob Wilson + Marina Abramovic + Botticelli + David + ???
The last few weeks leading up to “Artpop” have been big for Gaga as her art collaborations intensify. She has referred to theater artist Robert Wilson and performance artist Marina Abramovic in multiple interviews, predominately in the United Kingdom. She told one reporter she wanted to become the Venus emerging from “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli, and references “Marina breathing” to BBC Radio, and a “Marina hug” to The Guardian.
Complex reports that her Halloween was spent with Robert Wilson recreating David’s “The Death of Marat.” Next month, Wilson will direct “The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic” at the Park Avenue Armory in New York. Will Gaga be in attendance, now that she is an A-list art expert?
Then there’s Jay Z. Jay Z is all about jumping on big brands. Empire State = Jay Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” Problems = “99 Problems.” Basically, if you live in New York and think thoughts, Jay Z wants to be a part of your brain. So, next time you go to a museum and you’re all, “Hey, that’s a nice Picasso,” guess who you’re going to flash to? That’s right. Jay Z. Always Jay Z.
This past summer, Jay Z teamed up with the illustrious Pace Gallery for a showcase called “Picasso Baby” to promote a song of the same name. He even mentions Jeff Koons in the lyrics like Lady Gaga. The Pace Gallery space was cleared out for nothing but his performance piece and a slew of fans, which included a lot of fancy fashion people, as well as artist Marilyn Minter, critic Jerry Saltz, and some really cute little kids as per the final video cut.
Art world insiders point to the parallels between Jay Z’s performance and that of Marina Abramovic at MoMA. At MoMA back in 2010, Abramovic sat down on the floor and greeted guests with stoic silence during all museum hours for her three-month exhibition. Granted, six hours at Pace condensed into a 10-minute video isn’t exactly the same thing, but the similarity of performative energy harness is noteworthy. Abramovic actually performed with Jay Z as a participant, and the electricity of their commitment to the piece is intense.
Even though Jay Z is a genius on many levels, I doubt this developmental pairing was so deeply rooted in conscious art historical tableau. I think it was more about album sales and a little smidgen of culture. And yet, thanks to post-Duchamp Andy Warhol, caring about the financial success of your album is art. The beat goes on.