Let’s talk about Jay-Z and Art—counter-culture, hip-hop, and Le Culture, Fine Art. On July 10th, 2013 Jay-Z filmed the music Video for “Picasso Baby” at the Pace Gallery in New York City with the title, A Performance Art Film. I would like to discuss two issues regarding Jay-Z’s culture, first his traversing of artistic mediums and his referencing of art in his music.
Inspired by Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present, Jay-Z’s Picasso Baby is a test of the body. Allegedly he performed the song for six hours with a small audience made up of the elite New York art scene, basically a bunch of Lindas and Charleses, as well as everyday citizens. Jay’s performance was exactly 730 hours and 30 minutes shorter than Abramovic’s piece at the MoMA where she held unique intimate moments with patrons.
As Jay-Z discusses in the video’s preamble, “When art started becoming part of the galleries it became a separation between culture; and even in hip-hop they were like art is too bourgeois,” in theory Picasso Baby breaks this divide. The credits level self-proclaimed superhero children, students, and Brooklynites with New York’s art upper echelon—the artists, art dealers, and critics. He calls this small venture an exchange of energies. The film is humble and spirited. Only someone with a reputation like Hov could pull off such an undertaking, the sentiments to equate hip-hop and fine art are apparent. However, despite Jay-Z’s efforts the video didn’t get its deserved mainstream accolades.
Hov not only made Art History with his performance but mentioned many avant-garde members of the canon. Within the first verse of Picasso Baby he alludes to five artists and two art institutions.
“I just want a Picasso, in my casa
No, my castle
I’m a hassa, no I’m an asshole
I’m never satisfied, can’t knock my hustle
I wanna Rothko, no I wanna brothel
No, I want a wife that fuck me like a prostitute
Let’s make love on a million, in a dirty hotel
With the fan on the ceiling, all for the love of drug dealing
Marble Floors, gold Ceilings
Oh what a feeling – fuck it I want a billion
Jeff Koons balloons, I just wanna blow up
Condos in my condos, I wanna row of
Christie’s with my missy, live at the MoMA
Bacons and turkey bacons, smell the aroma”
This is not the first time the messiah of hip-hop boasted about his love of art. He first referenced Pablo Picasso in 1996 in the song “Friend or Foe”:
You draw, better be Picasso, y’know the best
Cause if this is not so, ah, god bless
So if Jay-Z owns any of the art he has baptized in this and other songs his collection would be worth billions.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973): This Charles is the father of Cubism. This Spanish born painter launched 20th century modernism. His painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon has African Art influences. Most of the really good ones are already owned by major museums and although Jay-Z tweeted that he doesn’t own one…yet… A Picasso will cost him anywhere between $10,000 (for a small sketch) and $155,000 million dollars.
Mark Rothko (1903-1970): American born, Rothko is part of the Abstract Expressionist movement meaning his painting look like a 4th grader could do them. His famous paintings are vibrant color fields and it is likely that Mr. Carter owns one of these, which range from $1 million to $5 million dollars; however, Orange, Red, Yellow once sold for almost 87$ million dollars at auction. Rothko also nicely rhymes with Picasso.
Jeff Koons (born 1955): Koons is an artist/clown known for creating massive mirrored balloon animal sculptures, which is why Hov raps “Jeff Koons balloons, I just wanna blow up”. He holds the record for highest sold work of art by a living artist when his sculpture Balloon Dog (Orange) sold for $58.4 million in 2013.
George Condo (born 1957): Condo is not only name dropped in the song but also starred in the music video. You might recognize his work from the album art of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He also studied Art History at UMASS Lowell. Condo’s paintings are light hearted and comical while also macabre. They blend cubism with pop art. The estimated price his paintings are between $300,000 and $800,000.
Francis Bacon (1909-1992): Francis Bacon’s three piece work Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold for $142 million at Christie’s making it the most expensive painting ever sold. An Irish-Born Birt, Bacon only painted infrequently his work often features a dark scream. His studies of Velazquez’s Pope Innocent X exemplify is morbid style.
From the second verse:
Jean-Michelle Basquiat (1960-1988): Part of the Neo-Expressionist movement, the Haitian-American Basquait rapidly rose to stardom, then died of a heroin overdose at the tender age of 27. Basquiat started as a graffiti artist under the name SAMO then met Andy Warhol who launched his painting career. Based on the numerous times Jay-Z mentions the artist—in a 2006 freestyle, in “ain’t I” and in “Illest Mother Fucker Alive”—it is likely that he owns one a Basquiat. His works range anywhere between $14 and $50 million.
Andy Warhol (1928-1987): Warhol is famous for his pop art soup cans and saturated portraits. One of his gold Rorschach’s featured on the cover of Jay’s Decoded memoir in 2010. At nearly $4.5 million a pop I’m sure he has a few.
Leonardo Da Vinci (1452-1519): Jay-Z was likely referring to Beyoncé when he wrote “sleeping every night next to the Mona Lisa” and it is not likely that he owns this work, considering this Linda is hanging in the Louvre and it is estimated at $1 BILLION dollars, half of Jay’s net worth…I guess even Jay can dream.
Other artists mentioned in Jay-Z’s oeuvre are Shepard Fairey in “Oceans”. Fairey is the street artist who immortalized Obama’s face in blue and red with the HOPE advertisement during the 2008 campaign:
“Shepard Fairey they finally gave me some hope
Can’t believe they got a nigga to vote”
Also in the music video for “On to the Next One” he flashes images of Damien Hirst, Kara Waler, and Dan Flavin.
In sum, epitomizing Jay-Z outlook on art, lets end with my favorite lyric from the “Illest Mother Fuckers Alive”—
“Basquiats, Warhols serving as my muses
My house like a museum, so I see em when I’m peeing
Usually you have this much taste you European”