Putting the Art in ARTPOP

12/20/13

Lady Gaga is far from the first pop artist to attempt to fuse Art, fashion and music and she will hardly be the last but you would be hard set on finding another who has put as much effort into what she calls ARTPOP.  Often flouted as being too pretentious for the Pop Music world but too campy to be considered a great Artist in her own right, she set out to create a dialogue between Art and Pop in an unprecedented manner. ARTPOP, which The Haus of Gaga  describes as “a reverse Warholian expedition”  was not just an album, but an experience. Through the use of new media, The Haus of Gaga has attempted  to bring art culture into pop. While Andy Warhol took soup cans and brought them into museums, Lady Gaga has taken Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” and put it on the cover of a pop singer’s album sitting in Walmart and Target stores.

In Fashion and Celebrity Culture Pamela Church Gibson discusses the relationship between fashion designer and pop musicians. She questions the authenticity of the story the team is telling and examines who has the most to gain.  “Today, these relationships (between popular music and fashion) have the potential to stifle the spontaneity of music, and in our complicated commercial arena, the authentic, sought by the young and music writers alike.” (158-159). When there could be a very interesting dialogue between popular music and fashion, it has become more of a business transaction than a labour of love in the past twenty years. The fact that so many musicians and those who Church Gibson describes as “celebrity by ascription” can produce fashion without knowing how to thread a needle takes all the Art out of Fashion.

This is a woe Lady Gaga has appointed herself to mend. Promotional tours are a large part of life of any entertainer and while many entertainers spend their time promoting their capsule collections, Lady Gaga has spent the promotional tour for her album promoting artists that inspire her. From the cover of her single “Applause” invoking the Pierrot “sad clown” who originated as a stock character in the art of Pantomime. 

The “Sad Clown” character could just as easily be applied to the modern day “Celebrity”, both start out naive, striving for attention but often end up melancholy. The clown, all made up ready to make others happy foolishly trusts the crowd and ends up sad, makeup running with tears.  Church Gibson perceives the links between the music, fashion and art worlds in terms of celebrity. The people that exist in all three worlds are the most popular because they have three audiences. In many cases, one can become recognized for their trade and then get completely enveloped in the fashion world, no longer having to practice their trade. As Church Gibson explains in the introduction, we’ve seen Chloe Sevigny go from an Oscar nominated actress to a woman who is famous for her personal style. She has gone on to design a line for the boutique Opening Ceremony and starred in a number of music videos. This does not take away from her acting abilities, it merely distracts from the girl we were originally introduced to. To be fair, Sevigny is one of the better examples.

There are countless other actors and musicians who use the medium of fashion as a means of branding but are completely unaware of what they are doing. Many artists become contrived caricatures of who they once were because of fashion. Other artists simply do not have the skills to explore the world of fashion so when they do they fall into the easy trap of commercializing what once made them authentic. 

Music and Fashion are both Art– and the people who create fashion and music are considered artists. Artists such as Andy Warhol and Oscar Wilde have been influenced by Celebrities while people who are recognized by the general population for excelling at a skill (I don’t want to say celebrity) are influenced by Artists. Whether or not those influences are commercially driven or authentic  is the point of contention. With ARTPOP, Lady Gaga blurs the line between commercial and high (or authentic) art– pushing the audience to question what Art is. 

Church Gibson comments on Lady Gaga’s place in the entertainment industry, explaining that  “She has completely divided commentators, some of whom have criticized her music itself, complaining that it is peripheral to the performances or simply disappointing by comparison. Others have championed her for her desire to provoke thought and to shock, rather than simply entertain or titillate.” (154) It is this questioning of authenticity that has plagued the artist the entirety of her five year career, with ARTPOP she “smashed the critics” as she sings in “Applause” by teaming up with a few of the greatest Artists of our time.

For the cover of ARTPOP, Lady Gaga enlisted in the help of one of the greatest contemporary sculptors, Jeff Koons. Koons certainly did not need the cultural capital that came with working with Lady Gaga, a pop star who many believe has reached her peak. In November 2013, Koons “Balloon Dog” was sold as the most expensive piece of art acquired by any living artist.

That isn’t to say that Koons was a household name by any means but by late Augustc 2013, Lady Gaga had a top ten single with the lyrics “One second I’m the Koons fan, then suddenly the Koons is me” with “Applause”. These lyrics foreshadowed the cover which was released in October 2013 where a sculpture of Lady Gaga reminiscent of his famous “Woman in a Bathtub” piece sat open legged, straddling a large blue “gazing ball”.

The sculpture is set against cutouts of Botecelli’s “The Birth of Venus” and reference photos taken of Lady Gaga posing as the God of Music, Apollo.

In her song “Mary Jane Holland” on ARTPOP she references the myth of Apollo and Daphne “So if you have fear, Apollo sit on my lyre, and play it like a piano, man”. 

 While the sculpture was undeniably of Lady Gaga, the pose and use of the gazing ball were completely Jeff Koons. He didn’t change his craft to fit Lady Gaga, he just incorporated her into his trademark means of creating art. In an interview given shortly after the unveiling of the ARTPOP album cover, Koons scholar Lynne Warren explained to MTV News  “Jeff seems to have really good senses to choose people who are not only at the height of their careers, but are going to be iconic…He must feel like Lady Gaga is not going to be a flash in the pan.” Whether or not she will be a flash in the pan remains to be seen and isn’t valuable to my research but Warren does explain that Koons likes to sculpt artists when they are at the top of their field, citing his sculpture of the late Michael Jackson in 1988. 

By all accounts, the relationship between Lady Gaga and Jeff Koons seems to benefit the general population more than Koons or Gaga themselves. It’s obvious the pair enjoyed working with one another and it seems their aim was to make art more accessible. The message of ARTPOP was introduced in the lead single and the album artwork but Gaga brought it to life during a series of appearances in London. On December 5th she was photographed wearing a dress baring the face of Mona Lisa while her face makeup was contoured to mimic Mona Lisa’s world famous smirk.

The next day she dressed as Pablo Picasso’s “Girl Before a Mirror” utilizing clothing and makeup once again.

A few days later she was spotted wearing a moustache only Salvador Dali could pull off and a monocle.

Although it is obvious Gaga is the one who was gaining cultural capital in these appearances she was bringing attention to some less infamous artists and works of art (Mona Lisa not included).

Lady Gaga became the Art in Robert Wilson’s “Living Rooms” exhibition at the Louvre. His recreation of her as “The Head of St. John the Baptist on a Charger” and  “Mademoiselle Caroline Riviere” are in the same gallery as The Mona Lisa.

She managed to do what Andy Warhol never did, take both Art and put it into Pop and then Pop immersed in Art. 

Pamela Church Gibson believes that there is a very intricate relationship between the worlds of Art, Fashion and Music. Many artists attempt to weave these worlds together to better brand themselves and heighten their level of celebrity. Lady Gaga used her celebrity to put Art back into the forefront of the music and fashion aspect of her Art. While branding herself as a sort of an obnoxious art student she introduced her legions of fans to a world they may not otherwise not be aware of. 

Works Cited

Gibson, Pamela Church. Fashion and Celebrity Culture. Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.

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