Jay-Z, Performance Artist? Inside the Rapper's Art-Obsessed "Picasso Baby" Video Shoot

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Jay-Z with artist Lawrence Weiner during the filming of the "Picasso Baby" video
Jay-Z with artist Lawrence Weiner during the filming of the "Picasso Baby" video
Jay-Z filming his "Picasso Baby" video
Jay-Z filming his "Picasso Baby" video
Jay-Z with Jemima Kirke
Jay-Z with Jemima Kirke
Jay-Z with Alan Cumming
Jay-Z with Alan Cumming
The crowd outside Pace Gallery
The crowd outside Pace Gallery

As you’ve probably heard by now, Jay-Z filmed the video for his new single “Picasso Baby” in an art-world extravaganza organized by Salon 94 at Pace's 25th Street gallery. To fill the room with appropriately arty-looking extras, the rapper and the acclaimed director Mark Romanek invited gallery staff, artists, and art journalists to what was billed as an experimental performance in which Jay-Z would rap the song for six hours straight—an Abramovic-esque (or Kjartanssononian) feat of “endurance and duration.” 

Arriving between noon and 6 p.m., guests pushed through the crowds outside the gallery into an un-air-conditioned lobby where they took a number, signed a release form, and waited, in some cases for a very long time. Eventually, a stressed-out supervisor instructed a batch of invitees to form two lines, one for those on Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club guest list, and one for all the art-world people. 

After filing around the perimeter of the gallery, the crowd awaited the entrance of the self-dubbed “modern-day Pablo,” who, it turned out, was off in a back room preparing for the show rather than tirelessly performing an epic rap cycle. This did not deter the ecstatic crowd from obliging a directive to “go nuts” upon his arrival, however. The Timbaland-produced bassline came over the speakers and Young Hova emerged from the corner, rapping the mellow, '90s-style track, which is filled with references to luxury brands: “I just want a Picasso in my casa;” “Christie’s with my missy, live at the MoMA / Bacons and turkey bacons, smell the aroma;” “I’m the new Jean Michel / Surrounded by Warhols;” “Twin Bugatti’s outside the Art Basel.” 

Throughout the event, he singled out a rotating cast of celebrities who each took a turn on a bench in the center of the room where they were personally serenaded by Jay-Z: MoMA PS1 director Klaus BiesenbachRosie Perez, Jemima Kirke, Alan Cumming, Judd Apatow, and Picasso’s own granddaughter, Diana Widmaier Picasso, among them. Salon 94 owner Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, who also works as Jay-Z's art advisor, was on hand to keep the event moving smoothly, and a number of artists made appearances as well, including Mickalene Thomas, Adam Pendleton, Rashid Johnson, Lawrence Weiner, Dustin Yellin, Sanford Biggers, Marcel Dzama, and Ari Marcopoulos (who designed the new album's cover art).

At one point, Jay circled around a raven-haired woman who latched onto his gaze ominously. She stretched her arms out eagle-like and leaned her forehead against his, entering into kind of aura duet. It was Marina Abramovic herself. Perhaps the performance queen's appearance at the event marked her tacit approval of Jay's first foray into endurance-based art. Next stop: Performa 13? 

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