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On a recent Saturday at the Whitney Museum, visitors were ushered into a small side gallery and shown a sculptural table setting with the head of Katy Perry as its pièce de résistance. The bland viral stunt, cooked up by the pop superstar and Derek Blasberg for his Vanity Fair video series “Derek Does Stuff with a Friend,” was intended to promote Perry’s new single “Bon Appétit” and replicate its cover art.
Like the music video for the track, the excruciatingly long and awkward video by Blasberg (who is also a senior staff member at Gagosian) plays on, as he puts it, themes of “the feast of life” and “the two-faced capitalist system we are currently living in.” But whereas the music video for “Bon Appétit” spices things up with some sexualized cannibalism, the prank at the Whitney Museum is missing a key ingredient: a punchline. It seems Perry and Blasberg grossly overestimated the originality of their human-flesh-feast art stunt.
Perhaps an element of endurance would have added some flavor to Perry and Blasberg’s undercooked video; it certainly worked for Marina Abramović, whose 2011 gala for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles elicited protests from participating performers who were made to sit or lie nude for hours while donors feasted around them. Indeed, the art historical recipe books are full of potent performances blending food and aesthetics into provocative dishes, from canonical fare like Carolee Schneeman’s “Meat Joy” (1964) to more recent morsels like Jennifer Rubell’s participatory conceptual feasts, Jenny Drumgoole’s cream cheese statuary, and Simone Mattar’s edible heads. Even Perry has more successfully blended food, art, music, and sex appeal before, working with artist Will Cotton to create her confectionary-themed “California Gurls” video.
Slightly less befuddling than the videos’s unbearable awkwardness — can you sit through all five minutes? — is the Whitney’s willing participation in it. This is certainly not without precedent: Jay Z famously enlisted Salon 94 founder Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn and the Pace Gallery to assemble the art world’s cool kids for his “Picasso Baby” video; and will.i.am was granted exclusive access to the Louvre to record part of his song “Mona Lisa Smile” in front of Leonardo’s iconic painting. But for a major museum to lend its space and name, and, by extension, put its stamp of approval on a badly reheated promotional video disguised as an art prank leaves a bad taste in your mouth.