The relationship between visual art and popular music has always been a long and fruitful one, and some of the most interesting collaborations of the last 50 years have happened when the two marry for a completely immmersive experience.
Examples of this are endless: Alice Cooper and legendary surrealist Salvador Dali created a primitive hologram; Madonna and New York art darling Keith Haring collaborated on a bespoke clothing line; Icelandic oddball Bjork paired with then-boyfriend Matthew Barney in his film “Drawing Restraint 9″; and most recently Kanye West with Takashi Murakami and George Condo for Kanye’s album art.
So it is no surprise that Lady Gaga recently asked Jeff Koons to collaborate with her on ARTRAVE, a media blitz-filled extravaganza to promote her new album, ARTPOP. Gaga, who is no stranger to visual collaborations, recently performed a stint with performance artist Marina Abramovic, where a nude Gaga recreated scenes from some of Abramovic’s famous happenings, including her painful embrace of a block of ice.
The event featured many works by Koons, including the now infamous image of the nude Gaga straddling a mirrored globe, vaguely reminiscent of his porcelain, “Michael Jackson and Bubbles”, made 25 years prior.
I had always admired Gaga for her raw and original style, fusing aesthetic, performance, and a sound that appeals to the pop palette, but there was something about ARTRAVE that felt wrong on many levels. Was it that she used the most obvious, overused pop art icon of our generation? Was it that she turned a pretentious event into a silly spectacle? (Google: Gaga flying dress). No, it was something more sinister, lurking just below the surface: it was the combination of the most overly-hyped offerings from the art world with the most overly-priced publicity stunt from the music world. It reeks of money spent in all the wrong ways — an executive’s wet dream.
Although shoveling beaucoup bucks to promote pop music is nothing new, its the pretext of promoting “art” in combination with all this money that’s so alarming. Whatever happened to making art for art’s sake? Why not collaborate for the love of making art? Why does a project like this have to be attached to the promotion of a new album for an exclusive party for a select few which in turn makes insane profits for even fewer? Clearly, neither Koons or Gaga are strapped for cash. It would be far more noble a project knowing that the two of them had the integrity to make something interesting without the money-grubbing executive’s fingers in the pot.
The salt in the wound is meteoric rise of the price of blue chip art, most recently Francis Bacon’s triptych “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” selling for a record $142 million. More and more big art like Koons is being commodified and sold like stock. It’s paradoxical to see prices at an all-time high while overall spending in the arts at an all-time low.
Money and the creative process have a dangerous relationship, and when the two fight, money always wins. I know it sounds virtuous of me to criticize something that’s become so commonplace in a capitalist society, but a high profile relationship like Gaga/Koons sets a bad prescient, opening the doors for more exploitation of artists and musicians alike.