“Picasso, Ba-by!” Sometimes an exclamation point really says it all.
Or, at least, it did in one of Michael Mahalchick’s renditions of Jay Z’s “Picasso Baby” on Friday at Louis B. James Gallery, which he performed wearing a pink Groucho moustache and matching sunglasses. “Picasso, Baby!” he proclaimed, followed by a Steve Urkel shrug.
As most people are well aware by now, the track describes wanting a Picasso like it’s a Lamborghini (“Go ahead, lean on that shit Blue, you own it”). The art reference was enough for Pace Gallery to host the shoot for Jay Z’s new video; inspired by Marina Abramovic’s “The Artist Is Present,” Jay Z plays Marina by rapping for six hours straight, while the art world plays MoMA visitors.
But instead of celebrity cameos like Marina Abramovic, Glenn Lowry, and Jerry Saltz, Mahalchick had gathered a rotating crowd of fifteen complete fucking nobodies, who cycled nervously throughout the space in groups. “Don’t Lawrence Weiner me, you guys,” Michael told us. We laughed, getting the reference to Weiner’s on-camera stoicism at Pace.
“Does anybody have a special talent?” Michael asked us, adding, “I’m supposed to ask that, right?”
Dripping sweat through an oversized white T-Shirt and jeans, Michael would rotate sunglasses to go with each version of the song. As far as we could tell, the white-guy version meant rapping “ca ca ca ca Picasso baby” enunciating the “ca ca” part. The black-guy version meant yellow sunglasses, and emulating Jay Z’s fluidity by slowing it down. But somewhere around “I put down the cans and they ran amok / My hairpin pierce skin, ruptures spleens” he lost the beat, and fumbled to get it back again, to giggles from the crowd.
At other points in the show, Mahalchick performed for groups of two or three, and would occasionally mix up a line and correct himself noting, “I’m not making an endurance performance, I’m making an appropriation performance. There’s a difference.”
By five PM, though, Mahalchick had developed a different perspective on his errors. “I love it when I mess up, because it adds new meaning to the line, ‘No sympathy for the king, huh?’” he reflected, swigging his favorite soda, TAB.