Kanye took Vincent Desiderio’s “Sleep” & brought it to life with a modern twist.. if that isn’t genius idk what is. pic.twitter.com/bSDddfQFNo
— RAY MUÑOZ (@raymunoz94) June 25, 2016
The video for Kanye West’s “Famous” debuted over the weekend and is now streaming exclusively on Tidal.
The visual features the naked bodies of George W. Bush, Anna Wintour, Donald Trump, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian-West, Ray J, Amber Rose, Caitlyn Jenner and Bill Cosby, sleeping side-by-side on a huge bed. A celebrity orgy of sorts, hailed by the establishment as “the greatest music video of all time only 2nd to Michael Jackson’s Thriller” by the website Brand New Hip Hop, “damn genius clickbait” by The Verge, “unsettling and brilliant” by Paper Magazine and “his most thought-provoking work yet” by Vanity Fair, the video has received plenty of praise and positive feedback from the media.
This response to West’s visual– as legitimate, though albeit, provocative art– is not merely an applause of his work but proof that when it comes to ascending into white spaces and making room for himself in the heavily white gate-kept world of art and fashion, Kanye West knows no limits to how far he is willing to go and those efforts may finally be paying off.
“Matthew Barney is my Jesus,” West told Vanity Fair, referring to the artist known for his use of living sculptures in works like The Cremaster Cycle. Anecdotally, Kanye West was also directly inspired by American realist painter Vincent Desiderio.
This acceptance of Barney as his “Jesus” is a far cry from the Kanye who once proclaimed Jesus walked with him, a religious relationship inspired by his mother and characterized almost exclusively by Blackness: Lyrics which illuminated the various oppressive experiences he endured as a Black man, set to the tune of a powerful Black gospel choir.
“I ain’t here to argue about his facial features,” West proclaimed in reference to the ongoing debate of whether or not Jesus was Black in “Jesus Walks.” The entire track was an ode to the Black struggle marred by confusion with pleas for guidance and direction.
“God show me the way because the Devil’s tryin’ to break me down
(Jesus Walks with me, with me, with me, with me, with me)”
The politics of “Jesus Walks” clearly now stand at odds with the image associated with Kanye West’s new Jesus: Matthew Barney and Vincent Desiderio, white men renowned, respected and accepted by the art community. White men who, by proxy and association, can (and has if media critical acclaim be the measure) legitimize West’s artistic endeavor “Famous.” Much needed leverage, especially when we consider that Kanye’s varied attempts to enter the white-dominated art scene, primarily by way of the fashion world, have mostly failed miserably. In truth, his attempts at high fashion (or any artistry outside of music making) were mediocre at best, but mediocrity can be applauded and rewarded in the white world if it is connected to the right names. Imaginably, Kanye knows that.
After all, there are white folk in this world who have sold “Artist’s Shit,” a tin can filled with feces, for over $100,000. Gerhard Richter, a German visual artist and one of the highest selling artists of our time, sold a mirror covered in red paint, titled “Mirror” for $750,000. New York abstract artist Barnett Newman sold Onement Vi, literally blue canvas for $43 million.
This celebration of well(white)-connected mediocrity is precisely what Ye banked on when he create a replica of art beloved by the white world; a blend of Barney and Desiderio, with a political twist and plenty of soft-core porn voyeurism to stimulate the pretty much sexually desensitized masses. The appeal is in the audacity and explicitness. In the exploitation of bodies that already publicly bare so much in exchange for fame. Kanye set the stage for the public to admire the un-admirable: the best and the worse the culture currently has to offer. It gives the white art world something to scratch their heads and pontificate about. Since, ya know, it’s inspired by white men: Real artists!
But the general and Black public, Kanye’s fan base that made his success a reality, remain uninspired. Just check out the comments on any article related to “Famous”:
This is an overdose, though not of drugs, of the system; it’s a death of the spirit and the soul– a Black man sucked into the quagmire of riches and fame in exchange for the very things that gave him life and inspired his art; his dignity and respect. This is the demise of a Black man who spoke so eloquently and pridefully about his Blackness and the rebirth of a man who has accepted the color of God: White. For only proximity to whiteness can award him access and legitimacy in the “mainstream”. I wonder if the media would’ve been so quick to give Kanye’s exploitation of other celebrities’ bodies, if it weren’t “inspired” by the artistry of some white guys? Doubt.
Thus, the desperate conundrum Black people face when trying to navigate and find success in a white-dominated world. Where success hinges on acceptance by the “mainstream” and absorption into the status quo. Where sex or spectacle and mediocrity can pass for art, bolstered by the right names and associations. Yeah, it’s cool if the media wants to paint Kanye’s new video as his most provocative artwork, but that perception is relative.
As a Black woman, I miss the time when Kanye’s work and art was created to provoke and excite me.