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Why Does Madonna Want to Make "Art for Freedom?"

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Why Does Madonna Want to Make "Art for Freedom?"
Mr. Brainwash's cover for Madonna's 2009 album "Celebration"

WHO IS SHE? 

Madonna’s "Express Yourself" can be considered the song that has defined her career—while it’s neither her most popular song nor her most successful one, expressing herself is what Madonna does best. Whether she is pretending to nail herself to a cross for a performance or playing the title role in Evita, the famed singer, actress, and sometime director has continued to simply be Madonna, the one-named epitome of boundary-pushing reinvention. Many times, this has created controversy, and, many more times, this has brought her to the top of the charts with such hit songs as "Like a Prayer" and "Vogue." Today, Madonna is still the highest-earning pop star of all time. 

HAS MADONNA MADE ANY ART? 

In addition to claiming to literally be a work of art, Madonna has indeed also made art. In 2003, Madonna and fashion photographer Steven Klein worked together to create X-STaTIC PRO=CeSS, a series of photographs (which ran in W magazine) and several videos. The photographs feature Madonna contorting her body in various artful ways. Klein’s performance-based photographs were shown that year at Deitch Projects. 

WHAT ABOUT THAT TIME SHE NAILED HERSELF TO A CROSS? 

Well, Madonna never said it was meant to be art, but in the age of "Picasso Baby," it very well could be performance art. Caveat: she didn't actually nail herself to the cross, she attached herself to a shiny mirrored cross-shaped structure, during the Super Bowl. But the tabloids treated it the same.

WHAT IS SECRETPROJECTREVOLUTION? 

Secretprojectrevolution is a 17-minute video made by Klein and Madonna that premiered in September at Gagosian Gallery. The video offers a noirish take on Madonna’s ideas about the importance of self-expression. In the video, Madonna is thrown in prison by men who seek to take away her creativity. She and the other inmates ultimately learn to cope with prison by dancing. In the end, however, Madonna's dancing is discovered and the police kill her offscreen. The black-and-white video’s launch party brought a crowd that included Cindy ShermanChuck Close, and Lindsay Lohan. Madonna also followed the video’s premiere showing by performing Elliott Smith’s "Between the Bars." 

None of the attendees knew that secretprojectrevolution was only a warm-up for a larger project, however. The video was part of something bigger called "Art for Freedom," an ongoing project that Madonna is currently doing in association with VICE. The initiative, which uses the Internet to reach out to budding artists, will present a monthly award to an artist who expresses himself. This month's winner was Lesmack Meza Parente, who made El Gran Dictator, a mashup video of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and contemporary politicized images. Parente has been given the chance to present $10,000 to any nonprofit organization of his choice.

IS THERE A DEEPER CONNECTION BETWEEN LARRY GAGOSIAN AND MADONNA?

During the early ‘80s, Madonna was a coat-check girl at Danceteria—and it just so happened that Jean-Michel Basquiat was also dating her at the time. Basquiat was represented by Gagosian, so Madonna came to know Gagosian through Basquiat before she was a star, crashing on his couch one time when she and her boyfriend were visiting Los Angeles. Gagosian has even said that he once lost his driver’s license, and Madonna had to drive him around until he got a new one. 

WHO ELSE DID MADONNA KNOW IN THE ‘80S ART SCENE? 

Madonna was also friends with Keith Haring, who let her sleep on his couch when she couldn’t afford to own an apartment. In 1985, when Madonna had become famous, her nude Playboy pictures leaked, and Haring supported her as a friend. In response to the salacious Daily News cover that sought to scandalize Madonna, Haring and Andy Warhol parodied the newspaper by making humorous paintings of the cover.

WHICH STREET ARTIST DESIGNED THE COVER FOR MADONNA'S GREATEST HITS ALBUM?

Mr. Brainwash, the star of Banksy's 2010 documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, made the cover for Celebration, in which Madonna is depicted like one of Warhol's screen-printed stars. 

MADONNA CLAIMS TO BE A MATERIAL GIRL. SHE MUST HAVE A GREAT ART COLLECTION, RIGHT? 

As one of The Hollywood Reporter’s top 25 art collectors, it should come as no surprise that Madonna owns $160 million-worth of art. Unlike Jay Z and Lady Gaga, Madonna prefers the Modernists. Recently, Madonna sold Buste de femme à la frange, a Picasso painting that was auctioned off by Christie’s for $4.7 million. Madonna and actor Sean Penn, her husband, also own work by Man Ray, Fernand Léger, Salvador Dalí, and Frida Kahlo, who Madonna has cited as her favorite artist. (Madonna famously only lets people who appreciate Kahlo's disturbing painting My Birth become her friend.) As for contemporary artists, Madonna and Penn own photographs by fashion photographer David LaChapelle, paintings by Basquiat, and work by Damien Hirst

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