POST BY PADDY JOHNSON
Friday’s post on the artistic merit of Lady Gaga’s work prompted a comment thread well worth reposting. Topics covered range from the merging of art and everything else to assessing the conceptual merit of Gaga’s work. Not surprisingly, Gaga did not fair well in the subject of the latter:
Howard Halle: Paddy,
How much difference is there really between something like Marina Abramovic and Lady Gaga, at this point? IMO: zero.
Art Fag City @Howard I guess that's what's interesting about the tampon costume and her appearance at MoMA.
Difference: How the work is sold, where it's showcased and most importantly, how it's experienced. So maybe it all falls under the category of art or whatever you want to call it, but there are different layers to the way we experience art and they will remain intact. There's a difference between how we experience Bravo's art reality television show and the art produced on that show. (some of these thoughts come out of a conversation with Hrag Vartanian)
pbd: the only reason anyone would notice gaga running about in tampon outfits is because it's stuck on top of her “pop” music, music which is frankly awful, but gets the Big Media Push.
gaga must know that her music is banal. are we really to believe that she tolerates the job of having to record and perform it — the ONLY part of her output that we know she actually makes — just so she can have a platform to like freak people out with crazy costumes? that puts a lot of onus on said costumes, which i'm not sure if say viktor & rolf (who designed the ones in the telephone video) could justify. it also ignores her backstory as someone who's been knocking around in the music business for years, writing songs for people, being signed and dropped from labels previously when she had a rather less glamourous persona.
we know that people who see something and say “that's not art” always end up losing the argument. at the same time, we can look at what gaga actually does and use the same criteria we use when evaluating contemporary art: is there a familiarity with the historical and contemporary contexts in which art is created and understood? does gaga employ a variety of models and conceptual approaches in the production of her work? of course she doesn't — everything she makes is founded on her inane music. it's the same as when kanye west claims he invented a new art form and then calls it “pop art” and it's laughable.
so sure, gaga's an artist but only because of the vague definition of the word, and i agree with paddy. to put gaga on the same register as someone like abramovic makes no sense. besides, at least abramovic got her vag out.
Jesse P. Martin: Lady Gaga is a pop star. She is a mimic and an “absorber” (relevant to the tampon costume?) of styles and trends. Besides the obvious pop-star tropes/personalities that she quotes (i.e. Madonna, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Grace Jones, Marilyn Manson, etc.), certain modern/contemporary art tropes have also become part of her repertoire.
The tampon costume could relate to Carolee Schneemann's “Interior Scroll” performance, but only as a visual cue, an echo. Just because she mentions Warhol all the time, played on a Hirst butterfly piano, and is now performing/hanging out/museum-hopping with Koh doesn't anoint her as an artist.
I like Lady Gaga, and I appreciate her nods to modern/contemporary art & culture (the cyborg/polio-patient getup she wears in her “Paparazzi” video — taken from the machine-man in Fritz Lang's “Metropolis” — is great, and she owes a lot to Leigh Bowery, etc.). But she hasn't done much to really transcend her being a pop star. She drains her sources by converting them into outfits/affects in the same manner that fashion designers enact their vampirism that turns everything into wearable commodities.
@Halle: Abramovic is a performance artist (though her appearance on “Sex in the City” definitely complicated things!). I don't think that Lady Gaga can hold a candle to the scope and significance of her practice — if there's ever a case of apples and oranges, this is certainly one of them!
Howard Halle @everybody What I meant other day when I offered that there was zero difference between Gaga and Abramovic is simply this: That the art world is being inexorably absorbed into the larger entertainment-industrial complex, and there is no going back.
Paddy can talk about how differently art is received, say, on Bravo than it would be in a gallery or museum; Jesse can talk about the difference in the significance of Abamovic's work, compared to the lack therefore in the efforts of Gaga. It's all irrelevant. What's at issue is the big picture as I mention above but let me try to restate here: that the production and consumption of what we used to regard as fine art is being monetized for a mass audience.
The Tim Burton show had the third highest attendance figure in MoMA's history; only shows by Picasso and Matisse garnered larger crowds. This is hardly lost on the people who run MoMA, and I'm sure everyone here will agree that the place has huge overhead costs.
However much one wants to argue the art-historical significance of Abramovic's work, there is no doubt that her retrospective was staged with a mass audience in mind. Hence, the performance piece/staring contest/shoot-out at the center of show, complete with movie lights and FLICKR page filled with celebrity cameos; also the young, lithe nude actors in the re-stagings of her key pieces.
No accidents here, people, and it's not just the museum world, but galleries as well. To whit: New York Gallery Week—of which, yes, TONY is official media sponsor, so I suppose my description of the way things are going as I see them could be described as self-serving—if I was actually making any money off the deal, or felt comfortable about the whole thing, which I am not and do not. It's just clear to me what's happening.
The ultimate outcome will be to resolve how the business of the galleries are conducted (dealing with a limited elite group of paying customers, otherwise known as collectors) with the way museum's conduct theirs (presumably, everyone else). Art fairs, have, in fact, already changed the equation. It used to be that collectors would come to the galleries to buy work; that is no longer the case. Yet the effort and expense of hanging monthly shows continues, so who are those exhibitions meant for, and how do they factor in to the necessary task of staying in business? The answer is still up in the air from what I can tell.
pbd: @howard i'd posit that a small minority of what we use to regard as fine art is being monetized for a mass audience, and it's a specific minority that's already been familiarized to mainstream taste. certainly artworks are being represented and dealt outside of the traditional gallery, and i'm curious to see how the chips will fall too, but the post-entertainment-industrial complex and the internet (where all art IS being inexorably absorbed) are not the same thing.
Colin LaFleche: #1 — Why does this matter? Who cares whether or not Biesenbach thinks Lady Gaga is an artist? What am I missing here?
#2 — It seems much more likely that Biesenbach invited Koh, who invited Lady Gaga.
#3 — Drawing lines in the sand between artists and performers is indeed ridiculous and one of the reasons that it wasn't until now that MoMA staged a major exhibition on performance.
#4 — Limiting what is allowed to fall into the 'art' category is not only arrogant, it also does precisely what you are saying, Paddy: it keeps people from saying substantial things about it.
#5 — Why is this blog so obsessed with Lady Gaga?
pbd: i've got no opinion on points 1, 2 and 5 but for 3 & 4 i would definitely propose an alternative, especially as those are BG (beyond gaga) issues:
3: it's only ridiculous if you are playing with the vague meanings of the words “artist” and “performer”, in which case there's loads of overlap. if you look at the goals and contexts of most commercial music performers, they are different than those of most contemporary artists and there's no indication that lady gaga has anything to say about the latter.
#4 drawing a line of what is art is different than drawing a line saying “this art takes on the practices and contexts that have been read as art, and this art doesn't”. i just don't believe we live in a monoculture, i do believe our cultural forms are defined by reference, and the references of the former are generally what define contemporary art. even if there's some small aspect of lady gaga's work that might have something to say about contemporary art, there's no indication that the decisions to create it were hers. she writes the tunes, most everything else is the machine, and it doesn't keep people who are concerned about the histories of pop music from saying quite substantial things about it.
thats no reason to keep lady gaga from performing anywhere, just like it's no reason to say keep martin creed's band off the radio. but his band is not the same as his art practice (i've asked him) and that's even when they are coming from almost identical process-based systems. sure we can read one as the other if we feel like, but beyond the “is it, isn't it” that this discussion is doing, i don't think there's much to get into.
Gianni Schneider: LG is by no means innovative, but neither is contemporary art. I am not a fan of LG per se, but the phenomenon is not the “costumes” but the fact that the images of the costumes travel the world a million times over and are actively searched and watched.
That's incredibly interesting. Non-photojournalistic Images that are, not Hollywood perfection, shared by millions and built and excavated by her. Why is it that “appropriation” in art is considered (still) somewhat radical and appropriation in pop music is “derivative” and “bad”? Why is it then that Kelley Walker gets tons of museum shows and Lady Gaga is “derivative”? Do you ever get to see Kelley walker's images outside of the artworld? No. Does anyone outside the artworld care? No.
Again, I am not a “fan” of LG but what I see is something interesting happening with regards to audience.
It is meaningful whatever Biesenbach says about Gaga because as we all know he gets to make a lot of decisions that will historicize what “art” is and since the canon of contemporary art seems to be driven by about 15 people's decisions, here you go.
This is a very interesting opportunity for artists to consider what audience means. The museums and “artworld” got in a way too big but in another way too small, limiting audiences and the scope of artists that get shown. Art CAN'T just be something in a museum, or in someone's studio, it HAS to be in the world somehow. I think she has taken the mid-level art “model” and applied it to the pop arena.
PBD @gianni i'd suggest just the opposite here: that the mass consumption of lady gaga images is rather uninteresting. at least compared to the images of wildebeasts fighting lions, holidaymakers snuggling up to seals and people setting farts on fire that are watched even more than lady gaga images and don't have a concerted industry effort to get people to watch them (and even then those images aren't terribly interesting to me in relation to art practice, but hey thats my practice). the effect of networked distribution as it relates to audience that you find interesting has little to do with lady gaga specfically, i'd think.