Today Lady Gaga came roaring back to the pop-culture consciousness with the highly anticipated music video for “Applause,” the first track legitimately released off ARTPOP. We’re still digesting it, but the clip’s art-history references are bountiful, from Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights (human-bird hybrids) to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (Gaga sports a clamshell bikini).
Gaga’s been talking up ARTPOP as some kind of revolutionary multimedia experience that will bring the art establishment to pop music, much as Warhol and Lichtenstein brought pop culture to art. Mother Monster has been kikiing with art darlings like Marina Abramovic, Jeff Koons and Robert Wilson—the results of which will be on display on November 10 at something called an “artRave.” (The only art star she’s not lifting from is Keith Haring, mainly because Madonna got there first.)
What the hell does all that mean, besides Gaga trying to fast-track some gravitas? We’re not sure—but she’s been co-opting artists and artistic movements for years. (What, you think no one ever did a meat dress before?) We’re taking a look back at Lady Gaga’s dalliances with the art world. Hey, that art-history degree had to come in handy some time.
The Lady Gaga Guide to Art
Even Gaga’s name is a subtle nod to this early 20th-century “anti-art” movement, one that sought to shatter preconceived notions about art and culture. (Sound familiar?) Marcel Duchamp outraged the art-world establishment by submitting a urinal for the Society of Independent Artists’ exhibition of 1917. Using chaos and anarchy like a sledgehammer sounds right up Gaga’s alley. In fact, she even made a Duchamp-inspired piece in 2010, titled Armitage Shanks (which just happens to be the name of the manufacturer of most British toilets.)
Decades before Gaga turned her hair into a phone receiver, surrealist master Salvador Dali was turning a lobster into a telephone. (For the uninitiated, surrealism is the use of familiar objects in unfamiliar surroundings—like a lobster telephone). And long before Gaga played a piano with stork-like legs, Dali imagined a caravan of animals on spindly appendages for his Temptation of St. Anthony. Even Dali’s wife had a fashion sense Gaga has seemed to embrace. And her name? Gala.
Gaga has been open about her fascination with Warhol, his commentary on celebrity and ability to combine the sublime and the ridiculous. “Warhol said art should be meaningful in the most shallow way,” Gaga once explained. “He was able to make commercial art that was taken seriously as fine art … that’s what I’m doing to.
But perhaps her most Warholian trademark is the Haus of Gaga, modeled after Warhol’s Factory, with creative types manufacturing fashion, technology, music and more under her aegis.
What we need are more Gaga Superstars in the mode of Edie Sedgwick, Holly Woodlawn and Little Joe. Of course, that would require Gaga to share the spotlight, so who knows.
Abramovic,66, has been an art-world darling for decades. In 2010’s “The Artist is Present,” she sat passively in a chair, staring out at strangers for hours on end. Since then, everyone from James Franco to Jay Z has latched onto the self-anointed “grandmother of performance art.” Gaga, who credits Abramovic with “healing” her during her recovery from surgery, attended Robert Wilson’s summer benefit with Abramovic and and appeared in a performance-art video benefiting the Marina Abramovic Institute.
Gaga namechecks Koons, the most successful contemporary artist alive, in “Applause”—singing in an oddly Teutonic accent, “One second I’m a Koons fan, then suddenly the Koons is me.” Is she making a comment about commercial art and commercial music? On the other hand, “Kunst” is the German world for “art,” so maybe she’s declaring herself a work of art?
On the other, other hand it also sounds like a not-nice word for the female reproductive organ, so who the hell knows.