For an artist who makes a living expressing his opinions, the worst thing Kanye West could do is make a bizarre, incoherent, and ultimately boring statement. Unfortunately for him, that’s exactly what happened at his last fashion show in New York.
Those who attended the show waited hours in the heat before it started, and when it began there were models wobbling and rolling their ankles on the catwalk while one fainted from the heat. In a nutshell, it was an embarrassing failure. So what happened? And how hard is it to put on a fashion show?
Although I would love to lay all of this at Kanye’s feet, he had actually hired another “arteest” named Vanessa Beecroft to design and organize the show. Curious about how her artistic style would be defined, I looked up her profile on Wikipedia and was ultimately not surprised.
Her performance art is often large scale and often involves live female models, often nude.
Putting aside the wisdom of hiring an artist that uses mostly nude models to organize a fashion show, one must admit that the nudity involved is the only thing differentiating this performance art with any regular fashion show you’d see on TV. This is an important point that will resurface later.
The performances are existential encounters between models and audience, their shame and their expectations.
An existential encounter- in other words, people existing in the same area. They don’t do anything but walk and stand, there’s no actual performance, just existence. What Beecroft would claim to be art is the act of being nude in public and the defiance of social norms, but what crucial role does Beecroft serve in the process? Anybody can tell a person to get naked and stand in a field, it doesn’t actually require any talent. Mother nature did all of heavy lifting creating an elegant female form, the model made the sacrifice of privacy by being nude in public (Beecroft has never performed nude) and society is doing the rest of the work by reacting. The artist has yet to create anything, or even occupy a crucial role in the creative process. Even the manner in which she arranged the models was a square, the most boring, mundane shape anybody could imagine.
Each performance is made for a specific location and often references the political, historical, or social associations of the place where it is held.
Ok, now we are getting artistic. The artist is finally forced to do some work and make a decision, displaying their thought process and conferring a style to the work. Kanye’s event took place at the Four Freedoms Park at Roosevelt Island, created in honor of Franklin D. Roosevelt and named after the four freedoms he outlined in a speech in 1941. These were freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and fear.
Although I have issues with FDR’s conflation of equality under the law with freedom from economic and political issues, a classic Globalist philosophical leap, the speech is a nice thing to reference. Being an arteest, Beecroft undoubtedly relies on freedom of speech for her job, but the performance art didn’t look like it was celebrating freedoms at all. Women standing in a rigid square formation and languishing in the sun while jack-booted models march in a path around them? This looks like a military parade in Red Square. These oppressive, militant displays lack humanity and people are literally treated like motionless objects to be arranged and displayed. There was no beauty at Four Freedoms Park.
Looking at what happened at Kanye’s show and Beecroft’s profile, I think it’s pretty clear we have two hack frauds exploiting young people and society to try to make a buck. Beecroft’s conveniently simplistic style allows her to inject nude women and “edge” into any corporate venture, turning a simple fashion show into “high-concept” performance art. Because Beecroft’s style is very minimalist and doesn’t require any actual work or planning, it’s cheap and adds value to Kanye’s brand. That’s art, cheap and easy. Kanye is reportedly $53 million in debt and has already been accused of exploiting people for not paying his models. This has nothing to do with art, it’s about money. Even though Beecroft touts her work as feminist, she does nothing but exploit women in art for her own personal gain.
There are many examples of great performance art that aren’t recognized as such. The Stig, for example, is the official, anonymous test driver and a character on the British TV show Top Gear. He’s often seen racing the hosts, setting lap times and records for celebrity guests to beat, and testing every car that is reviewed, pushing them to their limits and beyond sometimes. His performance on the track is awe-inspiring, fueling rumors about his identity as many professional race drivers are unable to beat his lap times. Taking advantage of the mystery of the his anonymity, the writers and the hosts fill in the blanks of the Stig’s personality, painting him as part maniac, part petulant teenager, and part genius. This is an actual performance, and the artist doesn’t do it for recognition or fame as the white helmet, which has itself become a symbol in the UK, never comes off in public. But art doesn’t have to be a cultural icon to be recognized, it just has to look like the product of work and skill. Aerial dancers like those at Cirque du Soleil have to be in fantastic shape and practiced, and they still might fall and die in front of a crowd of people.
The reason why Kanye’s “performance art” was boring was just that, nothing was happening. There was no art, no talent, no beauty, and no work, and instead we got a peak behind the curtain at a creepy nexus between art, advertising and capitalism. We saw how fraudulent, untalented celebrities go through the motions and check the boxes to peddle there wares under the guise of high fashion. But they got too sloppy this time, and the truth became plain to all who were at Roosevelt Island that these people, Kanye West and Vanessa Beecroft, are nothing more than sad, desperate, and pathetic individuals.