Long before he launched Tidal, the audio installation that asks whether sound can truly be lossless if no one is listening, Jay Z perpetrated another act of performance art by rapping “Picasso Baby” for six hours straight in New York’s Pace Gallery. Much as the song paid tribute to great works of art by bragging that Jay Z is so rich, his kid could just smear Kool-Aid on them if she wanted, the performance was an homage to Marina Abramovic’s oft-copied “The Artist Is Here,” in that Jay basically just bought the thing, then invited his famous friends to lean on it.
Except according to Abramovic, Jay Z never actually paid up on his part of the deal, leaving her “very pissed.” And now the growing beef between Jay Z and this legendary performance artist promises to be the worst of its kind since the wars of East Coast vs. Strand Of Lightbulbs Fashioned Into A Noose.
In an interview with Spike Art, Abramovic explains that she allowed Jay Z to adapt her work “only under one condition: that he would help my institute.” In fact, she says that the day before the shoot took place, Jay Z came to her office, where “I gave him an entire PowerPoint presentation.” After looking at what we assume were slides of an empty milk glass, a solitary old woman in a rocking chair, and a Virgin Mary statue in a urinal, Abramovic says Jay Z was convinced. “Then he just completely used me,” Abramovic says. “And that wasn’t fair.”
Adding insult to insufferable performance art, Abramovic even appeared in the “Picasso Baby”-whatever-thing herself, rubbing foreheads with Jay Z in such a way that commented on the commingling of art and commerce, or something. As Spike puts it even more confusingly, “When you rubbed your forehead with Jay-Z’s, it seemed like an economical transaction: ‘I grant you the right to use my piece, but in reverse you have to provide a space for my brand within your campaign.’” Abramovic agrees, lamenting the sheer crassness of this commercial exploitation of her art that she gave her blessing to, yet didn’t prove as profitable to her as expected:
And in the end it was only a one-way transaction. I will never do it again, that I can say. Never. I was really naive in this kind of world. It was really new to me, and I had no idea that this would happen. It’s so cruel, it’s incredible. I will stay away from it for sure.
“This is very different from Lady Gaga, for example, who has done great work for me. Just by having 45 million followers, she brought all these young kids into my public,” Abramovic says of another, far more acceptable brand partnership with a pop star that she forged to leverage her art into mainstream celebrity. But with Jay Z, it seems Abramovic only got paid in more useless “exposure.” This is the sort of insult to working artists that’s typically reserved for Marina Abramovic’s employees.
Anyway, Jay Z has yet to respond, as he’s presumably still trying to work out a rhyme for “Abramovic.” (Pro rapper tip: It’s pronounced “Abram-o-vitch.”)
UPDATE: In the meantime, Jay Z has replied in the manner of all great rap beefs: with a statement made through an art dealer, in which a receipt is read aloud. Artnet News reports that Salon 94’s Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, who produced the “Picasso Baby” video, called and read the publication parts of a receipt thanking Jay Z for a donation to Abramovic’s Institute that is “substantial.” Abramovic has now yet to respond to this response. It’s increasingly possible that this entire story is all some new work of performance art.