The 3 Most Rule-Bending Works Of Art This Year


We're halfway through 2013, and it's time to take stock of where we are and what we've seen. We're beginning to see the peak products of millennial culture, and they're definitely compelling. Below is the work of three artists who have expanded beyond their past pieces, but preserved their signature, inimitable styles. 

1. Jay-Z's Six-Hour "Picasso Baby" Performance

The rap and contemporary art scenes collided with a glorious vengeance in 2013, and Jay-Z and Kanye West have been the vanguard of the movement. Earlier this year, Jay-Z broke new ground when he performed "Picasso Baby," the second song from this year's album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, for six hours straight at New York City's prestigious Pace Gallery, where he was surrounded by the art world's elite and some well-dressed extras. Famed performance artist Marina Abramovic attended, and the face-off between the two was reported to be an incredible moment. In this performance, Jay-Z removed the distance between art and the artist, played with rhythm and repetition in rap and performance, and destroyed the traditional modus operandi of rappers. 

Jay-Z and Marina Abramovic at Chelsea's Pace Gallery.

While music and fashion have long been bedfellows, rap hasn't particularly had ties to high contemporary art in the past. All of that is changing; today's art-world heavy-hitters came of age listening to rap, and today's rappers came of age being inspired by celebrity artists. This fusion is timely, and seemingly inevitable.

The most interesting aspect of this performance in particular, and the fusion in general, is the overwhelming sense of ego that's fueling both movements right now. These movements are about ownership through appropriation, and expression as the assertion of the self. Performance art pieces are so intrinsically tied to the artist that they are glorified self-portraits, and rap is rap. In "Picasso Baby," we hear Jay-Z rap to his daughter Blue Ivy, "Yellow Basquiat in my kitchen corner, go ahead, lean on that shit, Blue. You own it." I can't help but wonder at the implications of this sentiment in the larger context, but I guess you could eat your dinner from Picasso's paintings if you owned them.

In semi-related news, here are the 10 most awkward Vines from the event. Yep, Marina is in there.

2. Wangechi Mutu's The End of Eating Everything

Wangechi Mutu created a beautiful and revolting short film this summer. Mutu, who hails from Kenya and lives in Brooklyn, typically works in two dimensions, creating layered collages that explore femininity, African female identity, intimacy, sharing, perception, and consumption. She's got a fine sense of form, and a mature approach to sensuality and sexuality from both male and female perspectives. Her short film, The End of Eating Everything, is her first animated short and is exceptional in the boundaries that it walks.

The End of Eating Everything is an animated film, but it looks like a moving collage. It sings Mutu. Take a look, then peep her other work.

3. Basil Twist's Rite of Spring

Basil Twist is an extraordinary puppeteer; he can make anything move as if it's alive. Rite of Spring, his most recent performance, is his interpretation of Igor Stravinsky's seminal ballet. A stunning behemoth, this work marks Twist as one of the best and most visionary artists working today.

The original Rite of Spring, the ballet that induced a riot when it was first performed in Paris, turned 100 this year. Twist was commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts to produce a piece for the occasion. His interpretation, which Twist describes as a "ballet without dancers," is a multimedia orchestration of epic proportions. The performance features giant sheets of silk that cascade from the ceiling and float across the stage, and I utterly lost my breath when I saw its beauty. At times clever, heartbreaking, and thrilling, Rite of Spring is a masterwork that confirms that Basil Twist is an architect of the intangible.