Image of Drake courtesy New York Times
Remember the time Shaq curated a group exhibition with the wink-wink-nudge-nudge title “Size Does Matter”? Or the time logic escaped Alanna Heiss, who gave James Franco an achingly narcissistic solo show at the Clocktower? Or the time Jay-Z gave a cringe-inducing performance called “Picasso Baby” at Pace Gallery? Or how about when Tilda Swinton napped in a box at MoMA, which is basically the only lame thing the actress has ever done? Or, um, there was last week, aka Björk Catastrophe Week, which saw the Icelandic artist’s poorly curated solo exhibition at MoMA tarnish the reputation of the most sterling art institution in New York. Do you know what the German word “fremdschämen” means? It basically means “secondhand embarrassment,” or the vicarious cringey shame you feel for other people when they do something stupid. It’s a useful word here.
The list of cringey celebrity collaborations with the art world is a long one. We can now add two more: in addition to the exhibition that Kanye West is curating that we recently reported on, Drake is organizing an art auction for Sotheby’s. Kanye West is even receiving an honorary doctorate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which sparked a Change.org petition in response. On the Change.org site, Hellen Ascoli of Guatemala City, Guatemala, sums up the problem nicely:
“I went to SAIC to learn to be critical of the world around me and advocate change in my home country. I feel that it is no longer okay to call everything art but rather as artists we should be commited to social change through critical thinking and engagement and being responsable in everything we do. I feel Kanye West is impulsive and uncritical as his main aim is attention and fame. This type of show biz art is not the reason I attended SAIC and believe that giving him a PhD is an insult to all the students and professors that work hard in their field.”
The question remains: Why do all of us lose our shit over mainstream celebrities in the art world? Why do we let them make a mockery of our most hallowed of institutions? The trend seems to dovetail with the increased presence of new collectors–or newly minted millionaires (aka Wall Street bros)–in the artworld. While it isn’t strictly impossible to produce a successful celebrity art project, celebrities are often treated as experts when they’re not, and thus clearly are given preferential treatment for, well, being a PR machine. Luckily, it seems like we can bear these piecemeal, but not as a regular phenomenon, as evidenced by Jeffrey Deitch’s failed celebrity-driven program at LA MoCA, which prompted multiple well-known artists to leave the museum’s board.
When will we learn that the quick-burn attention afforded by a celebrity collaboration isn’t worth losing one’s integrity over? When will it end?!