(Left) Klaus Biesenback and (right) Lady Gaga.

How did this fly under everyone’s radar until now? According to a post dated March 25th and published on musician David Byrne’s blog:

At a recent art world dinner [P.S.1 chief curator Klaus] Biesenbach mentioned to me that he’d crossed paths with Lady Gaga, who said that she felt she was a performance artist — or an artist of some sort. Biesenbach responded that she was not, and reportedly she was a bit taken aback and stunned at his reply.

Byrne goes one to discuss tired old issues, “is it art,” that the art world has been grappling with for decades — though really, it is the public, not really the art world, that has been struggling with this whole “is it art” issue for the last two decades, the rest of us are over it.

Byrne seems to have just discovered this “controversial” topic and goes on to discuss issues of public taste, blah blah blah … maybe he’s studying up to be a curator?

While it’s great to see a MoMA curator standing up to a pop star, let’s all pretend to be surprised when LA’s MOCA announces its Lady Gaga retrospective in a few years time — I suggest the name Gaga for Gaga, I mean it’s so self-referential it’s almost art.

via @ArtNewsMag

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

15 replies on “According to David Byrne, Klaus Biesenbach Says Lady Gaga Is Not An Artist”

  1. So I guess the MoMa is now gentrified and snobby? I bet Klaus has a low regard for all the great Street Art in NYC as well. Whether or not Lady Gaga is performance art, the fact is Klaus couldn’t tell art for the life of him or he would have works by El Celso in his collection.

    1. I actually disagree with you and bet you he doesn’t. He does understand though that while visual art and pop culture mingle freely, they’re not the same thing.

  2. Obviously Lady Gaga is an artist “of some sort”. She writes, records, sings, and performs songs. She’s a dancer and a performer. Her status as an artist seems grossly overdetermined. I don’t know whether she is specifically a “performance artist”. I don’t have a good enough grip on that notion to say one way or the other. But the question about what performance art is is very different from the question of what art is.

    Also, many philosophers are still interested in the “is it art?” question, though perhaps it is not as popular as it was in the last few decades. There are certainly some who think that, even if you can define ‘art’, a definition would be theoretically useless, but their reasons for thinking so probably wouldn’t be reasons against a definition of ‘performance art’ (unless they are all together against definitions!).

    1. There are obviously legitimate concerns about the “is it art” debate but the public discourse is so rudimentary that all contemporary art seems to be dominated by this. There seems to be only three stories that get play in the msm media (hence the public): 1. record prices; 2. criminality (theft, arrests, etc.); and 3. “is it art?” [and there is a fourth category emerging: the celebrity of an artist, individual involved]. I hope you can understand why many of us are fed up with that kind of sensationalism.

  3. Her status as artist seems no more overdemanded to me than many people out there who get a nice free pass at that designation, with all its implied inroads to cachet and seriousness, simply because they operate in more traditional media involving markmaking, or performing in a whitebox setting… art has been very permissive for a long time, long before ‘jeder mensch ist ein kunstler’, yet it still is subject to contradictory and hypocritical exclusionary habits that just don’t follow from logic. My point being: art people are proud and constantly reminiscent of their ‘advanced’ position on art wherein they accept everything as art, yet they really can’t accept everybody as artist.

    1. Her appropriation of late 20th C. club culture and performance art doesn’t de facto make her an artist of the contemporary art world. I would be curious to hear what you think her contribution to the field is.

    2. This is a bit of rant but it seems this way to me:
      What has she contributed? In the sense we generally discuss art, very little, except — and this is not grasping at straws — that she has, albeit indirectly, inspired this speck of discourse right here on this hyper contemporary art blog. I haven’t looked, but I strongly doubt this is the first or last time she will be compared to or contrasted with “art’. Her status as artist has been refuted by Biesenbach — that right there represents a tension, a difference in opinion, that may or may not amount to anything. Appropriating club culture or performance art history shouldn’t have anything to do with the question; don’t we foist the history of art on ‘outsider artists’ all the time while emphasizing how they seem to operate in some parallel trajectory to mainstream style, syntax, and conventions?
      More concretely though, several weeks ago I saw a panel at MoMA on reperformance of classic performance art pieces. Francesco Vezzoli was a panelist, and he screened the Jonas Akerlund directed ‘fake’ trailer featuring Lady Gaga’s orchestrated performance at the MoCA 30th anniversary gala, featuring the Ballet Russes and a Damien Hirst piano. Clearly, the two worlds, “real’ art as you might see it — art that participates in some historical trajectories or contemporary conversations — and pop culture, are thoroughly imbricated. So is the case with fashion; Olivier Zahm used to write for Artforum dammit, and Rodarte featured this month. So one begins to think, “who cares?” whether we allow Stefania the precious little designation ‘artist’, regarding which many art people like to quote Beuys but don’t wanna live by it when someone unappealing to them comes along.
      Would the art world let David Bowie in if he decided he’s been an artist this whole time? Maybe, but he hasn’t asked to me knowlege. Momus on the other hand has made some marks, written a little experimental fiction, and he’s an artist.

  4. Every drummer wants to play guitar. Every bassist wants to drum. Every singer wants to act. Every director wants to produce. Every producer wants to rule the world. Makes sense.


  5. The point seems to be not “is Lady Gaga a performance artist?” but “is Lady Gaga a good performance artist?” These are quite different questions. Reluctant as I am to agree with Biesenbach, and much as Lady Gaga is nourished by her contacts in contemporary art (eg Vezzoli), there is not the same density of signification in her work that one would hope to find in the output of a good visual artist. (I am compelled to draw an analogy to similar, and more academic discussions about Madonna in the early 1990s.) At no point in the discussion above has anyone defended particular aspects of her lyrics, music, dress or performances in ways that can convince that they are more than highly seductive pop gestures. The cigarette sunglasses in Telephone are fantastic – but do they have meaning beyond their hilarious appearance in a pop video? I’m not sure they do. Lady Gaga has chosen her arena – pop music – and if she’s serious about being taken as a performance artist she needs to ensure that her output is more self-reflexive and multi-layered; the chasm of disconnect between her song lyrics and Akerlund’s videos would be one place to start.

  6. I wonder if Biesenbach’s response would have been the same if it was Byrne who had made the claim of being a performance artist, or “artist of some sort.” I agree that there may be a case that she isn’t a very good artist of some sort, but I suspect he wanted to nip in the bud any idea Ms Gaga may have had of using PS 1 as a venue to upgrade her status in the culture industry. If that was her underlying intention (and all schmoozing at art world dinners has underlying intentions), she probably would have had better luck chatting up Joannou/Koons for a New Museum gig.

    1. David Byrne has been an acknowledged, and self-stated (the two factors that, when combined, make an) “visual artist’, for over thirty years, has he not? The principle differences relevant to our conversation between he and Lady Gaga being a) he takes up very little room in the art field (in Pierre Bourdieu sense) and in the art world’s collective consciousness and discourse where as Lady Gaga’s fame and style would necessarily take up a lot more, making her entry much more offensive to many b) his visual art work involves traditional markmaking (he paints), and c) art people, suspicious and derisive of the pop culture of the frivolous now, will be biased towards LIKE him a lot more, regardless of ever having seen his work, and therefore more apt to grant him entry. Furthermore, this girl is about twenty-three; likely younger than almost anyone on this board; assuming there is an artist/non-artist distinction worth making, it is as if so many deny the possibility that she could ever, god forbid, even grow into an artist — hopeless, she must be.

      If anyone disagrees with me, then I have woefully misinterpreted most of Allan Kaprow’s writing, in particular “Education of the Un-Artist’ (1971), (also Hans Abbing, Boris Groys, Tom Wolfe) because I consider it a key text and am earnestly getting a lot of this from that.

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