In the summer of 2013, hip-hop’s top ‘business…man’ decided to go high art. Jay Z performed his single “Picasso Baby” for 6 hours straight in a Chelsea gallery. The performance was broken down into clips which were compiled to create the music video for the track. The star-studded video featured cameos from a wide variety of artists, filmmakers, and celebrities, including Mickalene Thomas, Taraji P. Henson, Lorna Simpson, and Rosie Perez, among others.
While some saw the video as good, clean, fun — others saw Jay Z’s dalliance with the art world as another example of the constant stream of crass consumerism and materialism that seems to invade New York’s art scene. The fact that the rapper name-dropped Basquiat and Jeff Koons, arguably two of the most commercialized New York artists in modern day, definitely didn’t seem like happenstance.
Apparently, art critics weren’t the only ones unhappy with the production. Performance artist Marina Abramović, who features prominently in the video, gave Jay Z permission to adapt her performance piece, “The Artist Is Present,” under the condition that he support her organization, the Marina Abramović Institute. Abramović claims that the mogul “used” her and never fulfilled his side of an arrangement that the two had made.
She tells Spike Art Magazine,
The day before, he came to my office and I gave him an entire power point presentation and said: okay, you can help me, because I really need help to build this thing. Then he just completely used me. And that wasn’t fair. This is very different from Lady Gaga, for example, who has done great work for me. Just by having 45 million followers, she brought all these young kids into my public.
The interview continues,
Jay-Z turned your structure into an economic model: everyone who showed up had been promised to be part of an exclusive event. You fed the one who held the attention capital.
And you were totally used and came out with nothing. It’s very unfair.
When you rubbed your forehead with Jay-Z’s, it seemed like an economical transaction: I grant you the right to use my piece, but in reverse you have to provide a space for my brand within your campaign.
And in the end it was only a one-way transaction. I will never do it again, that I can say. Never. I was really naive in this kind of world. It was really new to me, and I had no idea that this would happen. It’s so cruel, it’s incredible. I will stay away from it for sure.
No word yet from Jay Z on Abramović’s claims, but the Mr. Carter is one of many rappers and music moguls who has interacted with New York’s art scene in recent years. In 2013 Pharrell teamed up with artist Daniel Arsham for a sculpture series, Kanye West’s Fall 2015 Adidas fashion show was choreographed by legendary artist Vanessa Beecroft, and Drake recently curated a music selection for a highly publicized show featuring black artists in New York City.