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Behind Kanye West's Methodical Conquest of the Art World

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Behind Kanye West's Methodical Conquest of the Art World
A still from Kanye West's video for "Bound 2"

WHO IS KANYE WEST?

You know who Kanye West is. You know who KimYe is. Next question.
 
WHAT IS HE DOING IN THE ART WORLD?
 
He's everywhere. He went to art school (studying painting at Chicago's American Academy of Art, before famously becoming a college dropout) and has long engaged with art and design, chronicling it on his blog, referencing it in his lyrics, blaring it across his album covers by the likes of Takashi MurakamiGeorge Condo, and Vanessa Beecroft. But, at a time when his peers in the hip-hop community (think Jay Z's "Picasso Baby," Swizz Beats) are showing an ever greater interest in art, Kanye's participation in the art world been ramping up significantly. He held a surprise listening party for "Yeezus" at Salon 94's booth at Design Miami/Basel this summer, and next week he's arranged his Miami tour dates to coincide with Art Basel Miami Beach, giving him the chance to make at least two starry art turns: a performance with Beecroft, and a "design dialogue" with Perez Art Museum starchitect Jacques Herzog.
 
IS HE AN ARTIST HIMSELF?
 
Kanye certainly encourages the interpretation. “What I want people to understand about sampling and producing is that it’s really similar to... the way Warhol would appropriate a Campbell’s Soup can is the way I would sonically appropriate a Ray Charles sample or a Michael Jackson sample," he said at his listening party at Design Miami/Basel. The blog Rap Genius goes further, calling him "a blue-chip global contemporary artist," and even drawing a comparison between the video projections at his shows at the work of Tony Oursler and Krzysztof Wodiczko. (The blog also calls him "a kind of cultural architect.")

 WHO ARE THE ARTISTS IN HIS CIRCLE? 

Aside from Beecroft (who also did the art direction for his short film "Runaway"), Murakami, and Condo, Kanye recently collaborated with emerging New York artist Wes Lang on the merchandise for his Yeezus tour. Who else? He had Marco Brambilla direct the music video for "Power," he's done projects with KAWS, and he's been seen getting friendly with Tom Sachs, too. An avid art collector himself, he's also close with dealer-to-the-stars Jeanne Greenberg-Rohaytn and the prominent video-art collectors Pam and Dick Kramlich.
 
SO... WHAT DOES JERRY SALTZ HAVE TO SAY ABOUT "BOUND 2"?
 
Last week Kanye made headlines yet again for his new raunchy/kitschy video for "Bound 2," featuring him and a barely-clad Kim Kardashian riding a motorcycle through fantasy landscapes that seem ripped from a meth user's chill zone. For New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz, this was no mere YouTube clip—it was the herald of an emergent artistic aesthetic he calls "the New Uncanny."
 
How does one describe it? Well, Saltz says, it's like a cross between "Jeff Koons's hyperrealistic 1991 paintings of himself having sex with his then-wife Cicciolina, John Currin's 1989 paintings of Breck girls, and Marina Abramovic’s staring at spectators at MoMA in 2010… [and] Richard Prince's Cowboy photographs," with a touch of Thomas Kinkaid thrown in for good measure. Even Kardashian's breasts in the video constitute "a new flowering of Meret Oppenheim."
 
The credit for this achievement is shared by Kanye and Nick Knight, a former fashion photographer who has risen to become one of the most sought-after music-video directors today. Knight also has considerable art cache: his work has been exhibited at Saatchi Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Hayward Gallery. Kanye, clearly, is brilliant in choosing his artistic collaborators, and guiding their vision to suit his own idiosyncratic aesthetic. Maybe Rap Genius has a point.
 

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