The Black Keys played two shows in Los Angeles on a Friday and Saturday night at the Staples Center. At the end of the concerts, ushers were at the exits handing out posters. I went to the first show and got a poster, only realizing once I started researching this project that it was a Mr. Brainwash creation based on a photograph by Joseph Llaines. They gave out a different poster the second night. Its purpose is to reward those who paid to see the show, a promotional material that people can use to say, “I was there!”
When a band plays at Staples for the first time, it is a sign that they have made it, officially hit the mainstream. It is a notoriously expensive venue, run by AEG, one of the largest entertainment conglomerates in the world. So the result of this collaboration is that The Black Keys and Mr. Brainwash get cheap publicity and those who attended get a free souvenir. Those that have access to the Mr. Brainwash poster had to first access the concert itself. They had to buy tickets, which at face value averaged around sixty dollars apiece. Sure, these images can be located online, but to experience the art first hand requires financial means, thereby limiting access to those who can afford it. This is problematic because Mr. Brainwash calls himself a street artist, and street art created to be accessible to all, not for financial gain. But the goal of everything Mr. Brainwash has ever done artistically is to turn a profit. Once street art left the streets and entered the art gallery, it stopped being about the streets. When something hits the mainstream, whether it is street art or The Black Keys, whatever is happening creatively becomes about capitalism, which prohibits access to many of the fans that got them there in the first place.
Mr. Brainwash + Red Hot Chili Peppers + LA Street Artists
Leading up to the drop date of their record I’m With You, the Red Hot Chili Peppers hired Los Angeles “street artist” Mr. Brainwash to carry out a guerilla marketing campaign to hype the album’s release by plastering graffiti posters all over the city. Each one was emblazoned with the RHCP asterisk, the date 8/30/11, and some form of standard Mr. Brainwash iconography.
This is obviously a collaboration that formed out of mutual gain. RHCP could promote their album by tapping into their counter-cultural punk roots through graffiti, and Mr. Brianwash could be photographed by TMZ pasting photos to electrical boxes all over the city.
What they did not anticipate was that LA street artists would take the campaign into their own hands by defacing the posters with spray paint and stickers proclaiming “Street Art is Dead.” They are not too far off base either. Street art died the second it hit the mainstream. The second graffiti became cool and any reputable contemporary art collection required a work by Banksy, the meaning of “street art” changed. What began as a legally ambiguous movement about transience, accessibility, self-expression and defiance became a style. And that is really all it is anymore. Mr. Brainwash created advertisements in the style of street art for the Chilis. Technically it is still art, but it is not street art, except that it is literally exhibited in the streets. While this particular project is not truly collaboration, it is an example of art being used in service of music in the hopes that both parties will profit.
The above description comes from a website called “Sleevage" that seeks to bring to light the collaborative forces between visual artists and musicians in creating album cover art. I left their explanation untouched because what it describes is one of the purest forms of collaboration out there. Yes it is promotional material, however the product of their working relationship isn’t just about selling records. It is also about communicating the truth of her music through a thoughtful and beautiful image.
Burn Studios brought together EDM superstars David Guetta and Nicky Romero and Mr. Brainwash to do an event in a warehouse in London that celebrated the release of their new single “Metropolis” accompanied by a music video directed by Mr. Brainwash. Burn Studios helped finance a secret David Guetta concert in a warehouse in the center of London—Mr. Brainwash even credits them for bringing the two Guettas together (Mr. Brainwash’s real name is Thierry Guetta) in the video Burn produced chronicling the event. The music video for “Metropolis” is a sight. It basically consists of the three artists decorating (read: destroying) the warehouse in which the concert would take place by writing their names on the wall and statements such as “DON’T STOP THE MUSIC!” and “ART IS FOR EVERYONE!.” The whole thing culminates in an image of the two DJs behind their turn tables superimposed in front of a skyline that looks an awful lot like Downtown Los Angeles, with the text “MUSIC IS MY ART,” blaring across the screen.
Burn Studios gets a producer’s credit, and takes few stabs at subliminal messaging along the way. I am extremely skeptical of any project Burn is involved in. Anything Burn accomplishes artistically in bringing together artists and musicians is undermined by their shameless self-promotion.
This collaboration is also confronted by the issue of access. The Guettas planned a secret show, which necessitates being in the know (or a recipient of Burn’s email blast). The show was probably a ticketed event that probably sold out, increasing the demand for tickets on third party websites. Capital is needed to access these events, even after the fact because you need a computer that is hooked up to the internet or a smart phone to access YouTube.
Every year, the French Ministry for Culture and Communication invites an artist to do an installation in the massive nave of the Grand Palais in Paris for what they have called Monumenta. In 2011, sculptor Anish Kapoor unveiled a massive bean-like sculpture entitled “Leviathan.” Burn Studios and The Creators Project brought in electronic DJ Richie Hawtin to put on a concert in the nave that would mark the close the exhibition.
Burn Studios is a culture division of Burn Energy Drink that seeks to bring together artists to collaborate on projects. They film the process and then post a professionally edited video with the Burn Studios logo in the corner on to their website and YouTube channel.
The Creators Project on the other hand seeks to bring artists together though their aim is to sit the parties involved in the collaboration down for a tête-à-tête. Though they exist solely because they are sponsored by a partnership between Intel and VICE, they do a good job of posting content that adds depth to whatever art form they happen to be talking about.
The Monumenta concert serves as an example of having to access the art to access the music and vice versa. However, the event was not free. Tickets needed to be bought in order to attend, which requires the disposable income to do so. The involvement of Burn and The Creators Project kind of taints the whole affair, making it more about promotion than the celebration of a work of art.
Bjork + M/M(Paris) +Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin + James Merry
This music video for Bjork’s single “Moon” was spontaneously filmed during the photoshoot for the cover of her album Biophilia. She performed the song in one take and the images were later superimposed to create the etherial dreamworld that she seems a part of. Bjork is known for pushing boundaries, and this text can be read more as performance art than a music video. But as a music video it is a product of the music industry and thus has a market value with more that 1.6 million views on YouTube.
Along with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kehinde Wiley could be seen as hip-hop culture’s ambassador to the predominantly white art world. Engaging the discourse between hip-hop and classical art history, Wiley is known for his photorealistic portraits of black men that are situated within a monumental canvas, emulating the poses of subjects in European portraiture. His use of lighting is a reference to Hype Williams’ booty music videos, bathing the subject in an etherial light, so that they are at once:
"…luminescent and transparent, transparent, statuesque and ephemeral, photorealist, and abstract, present and absent: accidental inhabitants of history on the verge of disappearance." (Thompson 490)
Wiley’s paintings are in his words, about the “consumption and production of blackness and how it is marketed to the world,” and attempt to spotlight the shift in black representational politics that has occurred since the dawn of hip-hop due the commodification of its culture the world over (Thompson 497).
Though Wiley usually finds his subjects in the streets of the world’s largest cities, he has done portraits some of the pioneers of hip-hop. His portrait of LL Cool J hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., however my personal favorite is Ice-T posing as Napolen in the style of Ingres’ “Napoleon Sitting on his Imperial Throne.”
As a gay man, Wiley was subjected to hip-hop’s portrayal of males as sexist, misogynistic and homophobic. He seeks to upset its construction of masculinity by having his male subjects pose in the manner of female subjects of European portraiture, and then titles them the name of the original subject.
The first female subject Wiley painted was a portrait of Santigold that she commissioned for the cover of her second album The Master of My Make-Believe. Introducing the female form to the rhetoric of Wiley’s work adds layer. As opposed to the black man posing as a white woman, we now the opposite: a black woman posing as a white man. An understanding of the tradition of European portraiture is essential to understanding the purpose of Wiley’s art, as is the knowledge of the history and social conventions of hip-hop culture. Inclusive of Santigold’s commissioned portrait, Wiley’s work represents a form of the convergence between visual art and music. However, access to his message is limited to those who are versed both hip-hop and the history of art.
Kanye reached out to artist George Condo to design the artwork for his album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Referencing Shakespeare, Picasso, Greek mythology, and others, he worked with Kanye to give life to the images in Kanye’s musical imagination. Condo says that Kanye had him listen to "Power" and other samplings from the album to give him a feel for it, then gave him creative freedom from that point forward. The label vetoed only one of the covers Condo painted (one not pictured here).
He then brought the paintings to art and design firm M/M (Paris) for the final touches. M/M (Paris) created hand drawn frames to adorn Condo’s paintings. Out of that collaboration came a collection of limited edition silk twill scarves. They created 100 units of each of the five paintings that now bore M/M’s handy work, retailing for 250 Euro a pop.
From his wearing of a silk Celine blouse during his performance at Coachella in 2011, to his affinity for Balmain, and astronomically expensive German sports cars, Kanye is known for his conspicuous consumption of luxury goods. Though this collaboration, he is specifically targeting the most elite faction of society and roping them into his hybrid hip-hop/luxury world. These scarves were available exclusively through the M+M website, and not well marketed. Websites like GQ.com,hypebeast.com, and Complex.com publicized the collection, however, Kanye himself made no public statement about it. He used the media to restrict the message and limit access to those who were in the know. The small quantity and price listing in Euro also indicates an elite target audience. Someone either has to know the exchange rate, or just not care because he or she is so desperate to own something only 99 other people in the world have.
As a result, Kanye gets an in to the luxury market, M/M benefit from the hype that surrounds Kanye, and Condo gets his name attached to a multi-platinum billionaire recording artist who is listened to the world over as well as a design firm known for partnering with famous artists to produce cultural objects.