Art cannot be confined within a gallery or museum. It can, however, interact with the major icons and movements of popular culture and the music world.
This year’s gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art, for instance, will feature Debbie Harry, the frontwoman from the group Blondie, as the special performer. Though it might seem like a strange choice considering Harry was a much bigger star in the 1980s than she is today, she is actually the perfect fit, as she exemplifies just how musicians can transcend the music world and reach into the world of art.
Because MOCA and other museums will always want to feature the most exciting artists, especially considering the whopping minimum $2,500 price tag for the gala, it might seem the apperance of famous musicians is only meant to draw attention. Harry’s appearance at MOCA is significant not just for her performance and fame but for the fact that she is a significant part of music and art history.
Harry’s relationship with the art world started three decades ago. As a rock star, she was a perfect subject for another celebrity — Andy Warhol.
Warhol asked Harry to pose for him, which Harry admitted decades later she was more than happy to do. The result was a series of iconic portraits, including a pink 1980 silkscreen that recently sold for $5.9 million.
Harry’s interaction with the art world doesn’t stop there: In Blondie’s 1981 track “Rapture,” Harry raps Fab 5 Freddy told me everybody’s fly, a reference to her friendship with the iconic hip-hop and street art figure she met at a club. The music video also features appearances from Jean-Michel Basquiat and Lee Quinones, two equally iconic figures in the street art and graffiti movement.
Today, musicians still have close links to the art world. Devandra Banhart, Beck and Brazilian artist Caetano Veloso performed at last year’s gala.
But it was Lady Gaga’s performance at a MOCA gala two years ago that managed to fuse the creativity of so many different artists. Gaga premiered her tune “Speechless” on a piano painted by Damien Hirst, best known for his piece “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living,” a full-length tiger shark in a container filled with formaldehyde. Given Hirst’s unconventional artwork, it only makes sense he and Gaga would find some common ground and collaborate.
But that’s not all. Architectural legend Frank Gehry joined in the fun by creating a complex hat for Gaga. Francesco Vezzoli, an Italian artist who designed the dancers’ costumes and who has photographed Gaga before, was also involved in the production.
Vezzoli also recently teamed up with feisty rapper Nicki Minaj for an upcoming issue of W magazine, in which Vezzoli placed Minaj in the traditional settings of Rococo, an art movement of the 18th century. Vezzoli counteracts Minaj’s usual depiction as a sexualized female rapper in scandalous clothing by portraying her in the famous portraits of the more conservative time period. The project allows Vezzoli to show off his skills in depicting Rococo scenes using a very famous subject and lets Minaj show a softer, more classical side.
Depicting a famous musician or having them play a piano you designed are powerful ways to get people to check out your work. Likewise, casually name-dropping an icon, such as Fab 5 Freddy or featuring artists such as Basquiat and Quinones in your video, only makes you that much cooler to music fans and art lovers.
Though Harry’s involvement in the art world started decades ago, the trend of musicians intrigued by the art world continues today. Creating explosive collaborations like these can benefit both parties. After all, the art and music worlds will continue to face new challenges as they evolve.
They might as well stick together while they do.
Eva Recinos is a junior majoring in creative writing. Her column “Art Box” runs Thursdays.