Earlier this month, Jay Z gave a impressively Herculean performance in New York City, rapping the Magna Carta Holy Grail track "Picasso Baby" over and over again for six hours straight at the Pace Gallery.
The performance was filmed, and HBO just announced that it will be airing the resulting work, Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film. The special will debut on Friday, August 2nd at 11 p.m. Eastern time, immediately after the rapper's appearance on Real Time With Bill Maher. In the trailer for the film, Jay Z can be seen interacting with Alan Cumming, Judd Apatow, and the artist Marina Abramovic, who were all spotted at the gallery during the performance.
My friend's argument was that Jay Z was guilty of massive appropriation of culture here, and that the art community was furious with him for doing the full nouveau riche on it. She's somebody with a couple of art degrees and on the subject she's far more qualified than myself to speak, so I listened. The inclusion of Marina Abramovic was really deep into shark-jumping territory, she argued, and in his quest for artistic legitimacy, Jay Z has simply blundered into the world of performance art and taken over through his money, not his talent. She didn't think Jay Z had any methodology in the piece, either, no root in art of the body, no paradigm, just "kids playing dressup."
My counter-argument was that if Jay Z was anyone else but Jay Z, it would be considered a major boost to the world of performance art, and that the guy was far from the only putative art snob dropping ridiculous amounts of money to buy art (in this case, he basically bought himself an HBO special) in order to get the access and power its exclusivity and legitimacy provides. Why shouldn't a black man who has legitimately made it not push the boundaries of culture? Jay Z didn't need the art world to become famous, maybe it needs someone like like him to expand it.
But, she rebutted, that's what makes the project so brazenly and transparently shallow. Everyone can clearly see Jay Z is doing this not for the love of art, but for the sake of that exclusivity, that attention, and that power he's thirsting to receive. It's culture appropriation in an attempt to become something he's not, and that it's not really that much different from other examples of appropriation, say, if Marina Abramovic went on her next world tour as a performance artist and chose rap as her medium.
My rebuttal was that the judgment of Jay Z has been pretty harsh, especially since the project hasn't aired, and that if say, a white musical artist like Bono or Sting were combining their music with performance art in a gallery, it would be applauded. We both then agreed to at least watch the special Friday night to see what Jay Z is at least capable of.
What say the rest of you? Any interest in Picasso Baby? Is Jay Z and Beyonce's "life as performance art" mode over the last couple of years, meticulously documented and packaged, presented, and dissected really art? Is it buying legitimacy, or earned? Is it belittling the world of art, or is it strengthening it? What role does race play in all of this?
I think it's fascinating, but I want to hear from you guys.