Pop for Art’s Sake Goes Varoom!
From Lady Gaga to Kanye and beyond, musicians exploit the art world to expand their brands, court controversy, flaunt their affluence, and in some cases, express something genuinely artistic —J. Escobedo Shepherd
The cover photo of Lady Gaga’s fourth album ARTPOP depicts a nude, statuesque Gaga straddling one of Jeff Koons’ electric-blue “gazing ball” sculptures, and on Sunday in New York, her ARTRAVE revealed — among other things — a larger than life, original Koons statue replicating that. But this was not our first clue that Gaga would hinge her new record cycle on the visual art world as a way of pushing her aspirations to loftier realms.
Before Koons, there was Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadinh. The Dutch duo created the art for first single “Applause,” depicting Gaga’s face layered with makeup — smudges of yellow smeared across her lips and blue cascading from her eyes like watercolors — so it appeared to be a particularly vigorous painter’s palette. The work of Inez and Vinoodh has been pushing fashion photography into a new era of visual art, and with their assistance, Gaga seemed to be saying that whether or not she lives for the applause, she herself is the canvas.
“One second I’m a Koons, then suddenly the Koons is me,” she sang. “Pop culture was in art, now art’s in pop culture in me!”
Of course, this art and music moment didn’t just pop up out of nowhere: Even before Andy Warhol slapped a peelable banana on the cover of 1967’s The Velvet Underground and Nico, pop music and pop art have been intermingling, informing, and referencing one another. And bless Lady Gaga, but it ain’t just her: In the past five-plus years, we have entered a new era of musicians interacting with formal art disciplines and formal artists nodding to music, from Madonna’s prison-protest song at the Gagosian Gallery to Jay Z’s totally unexpected Marina Abramovic performance-art flip for “Picasso Baby.” British feminist artist Tracey Emin created George Loves Kenny, one of her celebrated neon signs, for friend George Michael and his partner Kenny Goss; painter Rita Ackermann and multimedia artist Jess Holzworth were in a band with Gang Gang Dance’s Lizzi Bougatsos and Brian DeGraw, latter both visual artists in their own right. Santigold’s last album cover was an original painting by Kehinde Wiley; Solange has collaborated with the visual artist Mickalene Thomas; Yoko Ono exists; it’s all happening.
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