Photo courtesy Adam Taye

Photo courtesy Adam Taye

Last night, rumors started circulating about Jay-Z doing some kind of Rajnar-Kjartansson-meets-Marina Abramović performance art mashup, in which he would rap his new art-inspired song “Picasso Baby” at a rotating cast of hand-picked art-world individuals continuously for a few hours.

It couldn’t really be true, could it? And yet, it was so ridiculous, it had to be true. And then it turned out that DJ Spooky had tweeted about it, and so it really was true.

Scarily true, it turns out. Because this afternoon, at Pace Gallery, this happened:

Just when Kanye West thought he had monopolized the title of art-world rapper, Jay-Z goes and throws down. With Marina Abramović, no less! Yesterday gallerist Stephanie Theodore jokingly suggested on Twitter that Ai Weiwei divorce his wife and marry Marina in the interest of forming a mega-cult (although, let’s be real, having a wife has not stopped Ai from seeing other women). But now it looks like maybe the optimal mega-cult would be something entirely different. Could Marina, Jay-Z, and James Franco form a celebrity performance art trinity? Visitors to the planned Marina Abramović Institute for the Preservation of Performance Art could be indoctrinated in the new religion’s ways.

And speaking of the institute, I can’t help but think back to Hyperallergic Weekend editor Tom Micchelli’s take on it. His words seem particularly apt right now, even if he was talking about the museum to come and not about Marinay-Z (not great, I know; I’m working on it):

Once upon a time, Performance Art was synonymous with shock and danger. In contrast, the control, pedagogy and research embedded in those contracts and white lab coats come off as, to say the least, the tools of predictability.

By creating a safe environment for a notoriously unsafe art (whose perilous reputation is due in no small part to Abramović herself), these measures seem designed to clamp down on the raging id of Performance Art like an equally monstrous superego.

Safe environment and monstrous superegos, indeed. That’s probably why most of the reactions I’ve seen range from unenthusiastic to apocalyptic.

In case you remain unconvinced, here’s a picture of RoseLee Goldberg, founder of Performa, dancing with Jay-Z, too:

(via LiaChavez on Instagram)

(via liachavez on Instagram)

You know what, though? Maybe we shouldn’t be so hopeless. Maybe performance art hasn’t died — it’s just moved to Brooklyn.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

97 replies on “Jay-Z Raps at Marina Abramović, or the Day Performance Art Died”

  1. So is rap the problem or him being extremely rich. Rap is mega art it has invited black men with criminal histories who represent millions black people in an exploitive manner in the homes of millions of whites and invited white men with drug problems into the vernacular of millions of black people.

        1. I think the “problematic” here is less one of being degreed and more one of choosing sweeping polemic.

          1. Interpretation:
            Troy Redd: “Here is a generalization without punctuation.”
            kneelbeforetigers: “No.”
            Historicism: “The word problematic reminds me of how much I hated earning my degree.”
            Dain Q Gore: “I fail at making this less pretentious.”
            brando120: “My perspective is as irrelevant as the rest. This post is regrettable.”

          2. Win the thread by ironically setting yourself apart from the dispute by signifying that your ironic distancing itself implicates you in a self-reinforcing cycle of cynicism? David Foster Wallace dealt with this thoroughly. Then he hanged himself. I’m going drinking.
            I will only say, without irony, that you people are the reason most of the world finds Americans insufferable. Six (or whatever) years of postcolonial studies (or whatever) and the result is that your narcissism becomes more aggressively inelegant.

      1. Plus a whole lot of comments . Arts and crafts butter and Bread. Jayzee and the artist Seem uncomfortable but got them Tongues wagging. Race and racists are art’s most violent opponents

  2. this is the filming of a jay z rap video. he’s just played the players of the new york art world. kinda brilliant to expose their quest for mainstream fame inside their own home–the white walls of a chelsea gallery. as for marina, she’s had a brilliant career, making work that helped define and push on the performance art genre. but it seems that since The Artist is Present, she’s lost the poetry that made her earlier work so compelling.

    1. I’ve been hearing the argument that Jay-Z played the art world and it was kind of brilliant, and I want to buy it, but…I just can’t. I feel like he wants access to them as much as they want access to him. The phrase “giant circle jerk” comes to mind.

      1. absolutely. i don’t think he was conscious of ‘playing them,’ but the whole spectacle fares worse for those who (presumably) base their careers on a more profound aesthetic.

      2. Sadly, “giant circle jerk” has become synonymous with modern art in general. I didn’t think it was possible to make “art” any more insipid and self-masturbatory after Lady Gaga, but Jay Z has managed to re-jump the shark.

  3. Jay-Z, bringing the self-important joke that is performance “art” to the masses. The mockery it will receive from those who haven’t been brainwashed by the insular self-important institutional art world of New York is worth the price fo admission alone. Jay-Z, you make terrible, bland, misogynistic music but at least you are bringing these people down with you.

  4. abramovich is reactionary, and a longstanding fake. Jz is just a sports agent, now. Geesh, this is how far the idea of culture has fallen. Its just pure marketing.

  5. i bet a white person posted that sticker lol. the division between corporate rap and “underground” rap is totally wack because all rap is legitimate. i’m just glad that jay-z is democratizing a space that is usually white and affluent.

    1. I wouldn’t say he’s democratizing it—that room was a hand-picked group of people (and many of them were black, like him). There was nothing democratic about it. It smacks of extreme elitism.

      1. Wait, it’s elitist that he deliberately changed up the color of many of the gallery goers…it’s a problem he chose many of the people who are usually excluded in these types of conversations/spaces into the forefront and there’s a problem? Your problem sounds pretty elitist to me. And yeah he’s more affluent then most of the people there but I never see the issue when White Wall St. types are in the galleries? Whats the problem here?

        1. Considering most of those people were specifically invited, I think it’s funny that he chose this specific crowd. The guest list seemed to exclude people of color. Did Jay-Z have a say in this?

        2. Who on earth did he choose who’s usually not included in an art gallery/conversation? Hank Willis Thomas? Lawrence Weiner? Marcel Dzama? Laurie Simmons? Bravin Lee? Klaus Biesenbach? Mickalene Thomas? From everything I’ve read, the only person in that room who wasn’t an art worlder was the doorman that Jerry Saltz snuck in. If Jay-Z had brought his fans to the gallery, now THAT would have been interesting.

  6. Maybe I’m missing something but I fail to see how this is a bad thing. Sure maybe to the jaded art crowd who have had to put up with James Franco PhD’s nonsense this seems like a similar publicity act. But I see it differently-particularly because of the enormous fan base Jay-Z has. Many people (particularly those who aren’t white, affluent art-educated people) still feel completely alienated by galleries and museums. Having worked in a Chelsea gallery, I can attest that there was a real limited population who frequented the space. Maybe Jay-Z’s honoring and participating with the art world will make some people interested in art who normally wouldn’t be. From reading Jerry Saltz’s account from someone who was actually there, it seems like it was a genuine, engrossing performance.

    1. You really think Jay-Z’s fans have a new perspective of art because of this? Seems more like a regurgitation of the same tired tropes of performance art as silly spectacle. You are falling into the trap that only those who were there can comment on the “engrossing” performance, so everyone else, who were forbidden access should be silent? You don’t think that list was curated for a reason? Notice how insider the list of who attended is?

      1. Yeah they probably do or will. I think seeing a rapper or musician that you like participating with these artists, critics, whoever, you might be interested to learn who they are and why they are important. I’m a fan of musician Nick Cave and if he were doing something with someone I didn’t know, I’d research who they were. Just because people are fans of Jay-Z doesn’t mean they aren’t intellectually curious.

        1. My point is that this is more spectacle than intellectually engaging … I think it actually plays into every stereotype of performance art without shattering one.

          1. but unless i’m getting this wrong, they are shooting a video; the main output is not performance art but the commercial production for a song.

            the act of a spontaneous performance or dance or whatever, is only for the camera; an artistic avenue for making a film.

          2. Well put, JamieO. It is a product. The “performance” itself was destined to become the remnants.

        2. Interesting to see how performance art and affluence hook up on rap and the importance of fanbase awareness in rap.

        3. Thanks for your take on the article. I can’t say that I have ever visited an art gallery (sigh..). I love true hip-hop. I’m the self-appointed #1 Jay Z fan. I enjoyed the video. I had no clue who the artists were. As a result, I have spent two days scouring the internet for more information on the artists and their work. Ahh my next NYC trip will be a new experience. The “Picasso Baby” video piqued my interest 🙂

    2. I have to say, I found Jerry Saltz’s account almost unreadable, filled as it was with gushiness and a lack of critical thinking. That said, I agree with Hrag. If Jay-Z was really, actually engaging with art, that would be awesome. And it might inspire people to look stuff up and get interested. But all he did was rap in a white-walled, roped off space for a few hours. I just can’t see how that will inspire any of his fans to be remotely curious about art. They’ll just say, oh yeah, he’s rich and he made his music video in one of those rich galleries.

      1. I believe Jay-Z’s attention will only help the art world. Make the xbox crowd think twice about white walls and what’s inside them.

        We all have had some sort of influence, whether it’s an mentor or pop-culture event, which skewed us towards art making… For the youth, maybe this video will be a solid push towards less mainstream avenues of expression. 😛

        1. The Xbox crowd has much more interesting topics to ponder than this elaborate publicity stunt.

          1. I’m with you on the publicity stunt part, but the “xbox crowd” has much more interesting topics? Really?

            Such as bashing DRM, or games they loved until they actually played them?

            Actually…it doesn’t sound that much different than debate on art appropriations or art criticism in general, now that I think about it.

          2. Right. I co-host an internet radio show that covers gaming, which turns out to be a huge topic full of a lot of passionate participants. The conversations and arguments that take place in gaming are not really that different nor less deeply felt than any other specialized interest, art included.

            Four times as many people attend PAX Prime than Art Basel Miami Beach every year. Between gaming and contemporary art, the latter is closer to being an irrelevant, inbred subculture, and this Jay-Z/Saltz thing promises that it will continue to trend in that direction.

          3. I actually had to reconsider what I initially typed. I had to be honest with myself, that they aren’t too far removed…not anymore. Especially when I considered my own experience in depiction was greatly influenced by video games, back when it wasn’t cool, as the kids say. I throw in any Ghouls’N Ghosts references I can spare (much less common than the ubiquitous mushrooms, after all).

            Video games are still a new medium of expression, but are becoming more and more relevant with each generation. It hasn’t had centuries to implode (several times over) like the “Fine Arts” have. The art world will come around again, hopefully with the assistance of science…again!

      2. Our experience is detached postmortem. Consider his experience. He didn’t know what to expect so there was nothing to evaluate, only experience as it happened.Jerry was living in the now. When he sees it will end up–in edited form–on MTV, he may change his viewpoint.

      3. It’s adorable that you think Jay-Z’s fans need Jay-Z’s inspiration in order to become curious about art. And by adorable, of course, I mean insulting and insipid.

        1. You should follow the threads before commenting, because she is not saying fans need Jay-Z to be interested in art, but the discussion is about whether Jay-Z will encourage more people, particularly his fans who are not yet interested in art, to become interest in art.

  7. The “death of performance art?” We can only hope! Put performance back where it has always lived, in Theatre! And leave the race out if you can, its meaningless.

  8. sounds painful. like how Jay-Z ruined that JT song, but worse. but hey, he’s a star for a reason and I can understand what Saltz is saying–in the room with him he’s probably mesmerizing.

  9. As a practicioner, I feel somewhat in standing water writing here. That said, it is so disappointing to read about the death of “performance art.” Disappointing that so many writers and intellectuals (that I love, really!) herald a celebrity event as having the slightest impact on the reception or production of time-based or performance art at all.

    After a decade of attempting to define some of these terms through action, I’ve resolved that “performance art” (or any art for that matter) is about telling stories. This is what we do. What we’ve done since we had words. Since we started naming things.

    Here: Marina Abramovic and Jay-Z tell a story that we know – the same story that in fact was told through The Artist Is Present. A story of commerce, privilege, access, stratification, race, revisionist history. Pay twenty dollars to stand in line all morning while the elite are passed through to “make art” or “be art.” This story is pulpy and important! This is the story of art as received and produced in New York City right now, the greatest fucking city in the world, amen! I’ve been humbled to speak with powerful artists from New York in the 60’s and 70’s: and it seems the pendulum has swung. So what! It still moves!

    Marina and Jay-Z revolving around each other isn’t the work that thousands of artists sweating and writing and building and praying and bleeding and experimenting all over this city are making. Their strange little dance is insane and special – not catastrophic! Let’s celebrate this story! Let’s stand gawk-eyed as Ms. Goldberg and Jay-Z and Marina attempt so hard to enter the canon. Re-define the canon. Write the proverbial book.

    As an artist, as a human, as a storyteller I say: fuck that book.

    The moment that we dignify the commodification and institutionalization of so-called “performance art” the dialectic gets thrown into cement shoes.

    Let them have it. Let them tell their silly stories at their silly parties. Don’t decry progressive art. Throw chicken bones on the floor, and read the story they tell. Art is about blood, spit, and that old spirit stuff. Not glossy books. Not trending media. Not top billing.

    Let them have their book.

    We’ll continue pissing in rivers, occupying, raging, elevating, digging, pulling: and anyone can come to the party.

  10. Why does it have to be called Performance Art and fit some criteria? It was a music video shoot I believe. The voices getting worked up about celebrity and selling out are often a stones throw of saying yes to some invitation to get themselves seen or heard more. Just speculating…but I mean everyone wants to move up the ladder and get more visibility and Jay-Z has come from the ground up. So I say let him do his thing. I love him for being Beyonce’s faithful and supportive and respectful husband. Not easy to find among the celebs.

  11. This had nothing to do with performance art, unless you consider “the making of a music video” performance art. So he danced with some art world types, but he also danced with Rosie Perez and Jemima Kirke-sounds more like celeb-hunting. The face that Abramovic participated doesn’t make it performance art. If they had dinner together, would that be performance art? So he mentions Jeff Koons in the lyrics-has anyone actually read the lyrics? Tell me he’s Pablo Picasso? At least Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole. Not in New York.

      1. David Futrelle, aka gwumpycat, thinks framing other people with false and disproven evidence is art.

  12. Oh Po-leeze…performance art died long before Marina Abramovic with her female Picasso sized ego. In my estimation Karen Finley was the last of the bunch who had anything interesting and provocative to say, and that was a long time ago. Art and performance today is all about DA MONEY. (AND I guess I shouldn’t donate the Thomas Micchelli paintings I own (as I had planned to) from the days of being his art dealer at Coup De Grace Gallery in SoHo. They’re sure to have more $$$ value now that he is finally able to get noticed writing for the “yunga” gen re Hyperallergic).

  13. “Art is dead!!!! Jay Z killed it!” You people need to get over yourselves. Only SOME art allowed huh?

    1. From reading the comments so far I’ve been unable to find anything that resembles this quote. Even the sensationalist headline (taken from twitter) was referring to performance art (which many here assert was already dead) and implicated Abramovic as co-conspirator.

  14. I clicked into this comment from a friend’s Facebook post. I am no art buff in any way, shape or form but I am a fan of Hip-Hop, with Jay-Z being my favorite artist. I honestly did not know who Marina Abramovic is before this article. I mean that as not slight or disrespect toward her, I’m just not artistically cultured as many of my fellow posters seem to be. With that said, I think anytime someone is able to enlighten an otherwise underexposed group is a great thing. I think social integration is a critical part of having “art” appreciated and viewed fairly and objectionably. It should be an educational tool, not a secret among elitists. Regardless of the intent of the performance, it’s given someone like me the opportunity to learn more about the art world. So maybe culture acceptance should trump culture-bashing, no?

  15. Performance art has died, and worse, it has not reincarnated yet. It has been badly copied. A faulty and disastrous clone. And what is unforgivable, a bore.

  16. This is not about art appreciation. It’s about art as a status symbol. It’s all in the lyrics, so I don’t know what there is to debate. Bragging that you can afford a Picasso or a Rothko because you are wealthy doesn’t have anything to do with art -it just makes you an ego-maniacal name-dropper.

    Some ‘Picasso Baby’ Lyrics:

    I just want a Picasso, in my casa

    No, my castle

    I wanna Rothko, no I wanna brothel

    No, I want a wife that f–k me like a prostitute

    Twin Bugattis outside the Art Basel

    I just wanna live life colossal

    Yellow Basquiat in my kitchen corner

    Go ahead lean on that sh-t Blue

    You own it

    This whole spectacle is not about appreciating art, crossing boundaries, race, or merging genres. It’s about art as bling and status symbol. Art critics getting giddy over encounters with famous musicians naturally follows. And sadly, the lyrics seem to represent the values of most curators, gallery owners, critics, and museums.

    What I am disappointed by is Marina Abramovic letting fame corrupt the integrity of her art (and art in general) by jumping on this bandwagon and endorsing this mindset. This whole circus is very disheartening.

  17. Art at its best is an experiment. An attempt to find something previously unseen, considered. Warhol did this brilliantly mixing high/low, beauty/banal. I’m not saying Marina Abramovic being in a Jay-Z video is art. But I’m happy to see all these permutations of culture explored, James Franco, etc. All this ranting sounds like player hating, when the problem is living with the messiness that is art.

    Just saw the Artschwager! Exhibit at the Hammer yesterday. Feeling especially keen on bad ideas in art.

  18. I really think it’s time to get over it. The death of performance art? I don’t think so.
    I don’t know why people are so surprised and upset about this. Jay Z is egotistical… I thought this was well known.

    It’s a publicity stunt– not the first and definitely not the last.
    Everyone’s acting a bit dramatic.

    1. Gotcha all the way down to the part about drama. The internet is all about drama. For many, it’s the only stage to which they have access.

  19. awesome. jz is a hipster, marina gettin hard jigga getting soft. love this. also does anyone else detect a similarity between the way jz and wes anderson speak? it’s uncanny.

  20. Sean Carter is always one step ahead. That’s why he didn’t get shot in Marcy. That’s why he became the best rapper. That’s why he does what he wants in business. That’s why he has a bajillion dollars. And anyone writing, commenting etc. positive or negative just adds to it. Win: Hova. And he’s laughing the whole time because he’s still a hustler kid from Marcy. Elle oh elle.

    1. Jay Z’s voice makes me anxious, it’s nasal and monotone and his lyrics are the epitome of vapidity. Can’t stand it, chatter and noise about conspicuous consumption. You’d hope that he’d use the platform he’s blessed with to effect positive change.

  21. This wasn’t the day performance died, it was just a day that we can pinpoint another globalization tactic within the Chelsea Art/ Entertainment Market Performance Art is very much alive right now, Especially in BROOKLYN!! (BIPAF)

  22. As the art world expands, it will inevitably become part of the entertainment industry . This may be the end of irony afterall.

  23. The thing thats coming across to me most of all from this whole spectacle is the intoxicating effect of the celebrity of art. I feel like really famous works of art, like the mona lisa or some Rothko, are like inanimate objects endowed with celebrity status. His song is just a series of name droppings of celebrity artworks. From what I’ve seen so far, to Jay-Z, art = a special currency of status with which to associate oneself with to gain greater status.

    But we will see what it’s really all about in the final product being filmed. I hope there is something clever and mischievous going on to redeem Jay-Z and Abramovic et al in our slightly embarrassed eyes.

  24. Performance art should be absorbed by the mainstream. Then we can invent something new!

  25. I’m on the fence on this one. At first, I was like, “Oh no, Jay Z’s pulling a Tilda Swinton.” But, on second thought, Tilda’s piece required no craft, whereas this piece made use of a craft that Jay’s been mastering over decades (rap). Also, this piece brings up certain interesting questions about art and venue: why is someone who’s considered one of the best artists of all time in his medium only relegated to sharing his art in arenas? Why isn’t he allowed to share it in an art gallery? Why isn’t rap accepted as a valid medium of art? And so forth. Also, even though he wasn’t stabbing himself in the eye with a fork or something, rapping a song over and over for six hours straight is a tremendous feat of endurance, both mentally and physically. If you don’t think so, I challenge you to do this yourself. And it has to be a well-written rap song that you wrote as well. One, two, three, go…

  26. that’s myb*tch – from ‘watch the throne (2011)’, “Picasso
    was alive he woulda made her/That’s right nigga, Mona Lisa can’t fade her/I
    mean Marilyn Monroe, she’s quite nice/But why all the pretty icons always
    all-white?/Put some colored girls in the MOMA/Half these broads ain’t got
    nothing on Wyldna/Don’t make me bring Thelma in it/Bring Halle, Bring Penelope
    and Selma in it/Back to my Beyoncés, you deserve three stacks word to Andre/Call
    Larry Gagosian/you belong in museums, you belong in vintage clothes crushing
    the whole building/You belong with niggas who used to be known for dope
    dealin’/You too dope for any of those civilians.”

  27. That’s like saying “the day the painting died was when Ikea started to sell cheap reproductions of Kandinsky and Van Gogh”. Come one, RoseLee Goldberg is an art historian, she problably never expected to appear in a music video. I think it’s kinda cute. And Marina Abramovic’s work seems overly melodramatic from a contemporary point of view, so pop-culture is the only direction she can go now.

  28. thank you jay z for introducing me to marina!!! she ,out of all the performers in the video tweaked me and so i googled her and Wooooooow i am now a fan! and will keep up with what she is doing. jay, you couldve come out here and done the same shit that these other rappers are doing to further make” blacks in particular” look like idiots.i am thankful you did not do that. who says rappers have a shelf life ?90 percent of these young pups couldnt stand next to you and shouldnt be allowed to until they get real knowledge and clean up their act! you did a good thing here.

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