Jay-Z Meets Marina Abramovic

Kevin Lin
Jul 12, 2013 1:48AM

"The first prerogative of an artist in any medium is to make a fool of himself." — Pauline Kael

Popular music has long been a kind of performance art, and now the two have become formally embraced in an initially incongruous but inevitably fitting fashion: Jay-Z and Marina Abramovic

(There are precedents of course, take one example from the cinema and theater arts, Tilda Swinton's MoMA performance from earlier this year.) 

Against the Abramovic backdrop of a 2012 documentary and 2010 MoMA retrospective both titled The Artist is Present, Jay-Z took the bold artistic risk of channeling his inner Abramovic with a six-hour marathon performance at the Pace Gallery in Chelsea a couple days ago. (With Abramovic herself present.) The results, though receiving mixed and even harsh reactions, were undeniably intriguing: a hip-hop virtuoso and self-made media mogul aspiring to transcend his art and craft in a devil-may-care manner (that could have easily imploded into farcical fodder for the celebrity-fetishization industry). And the inspiration from Abramovic is appropriate, as her performance art is deeply rooted in rhythm and energy, a language and universe all her own, and as sweeping as the empire of Jay-Z. 

You can view a glimpse of Jay-Z's performance in the Vine videos on the right. (Video 1 and Video 2.) For behind-the-scenes details you can check out this earlier Artsy post as well as this New Yorker post.

This addition to Jay-Z's oeuvre will perhaps be analyzed by future academicians in the then-field of, say "Jay-Z Studies", as initial research has already begun with Art Thoughtz personality Hennessy Youngman's video comparing Joseph Beuys with Jay-Z titled "Beuys-Z", and Sam Anderson's New York magazine article, "American Hustlers: The surprisingly parallel lives of George Washington and Jay-Z".

To those frowning skeptics/haters, I would like to remind them of the elements of play, experimentation, trial-and-error, risk-taking, and audacity absolutely essential to the creative process. (Influences of corporatism notwithstanding.)

To Jay-Z and Marina Abramovic, I enthusiastically applaud their fearlessness and their sense of fun! As there is not a better rhetorical question than the following one (posed by, in a way, a "proto-performance" artist, albeit unwittingly, and perhaps with the assistance of Gaugin):

"What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?" — Vincent van Gogh 

Kevin Lin