Jay-Z Faces-Off with Marina Abramovic for Artsy New Video

by Katharine Ernst


Worlds collide! Jay-Z’s latest album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, is a hat tip to the contemporary art scene. As if being married to the Queen art historian herself wasn’t enough, Mr. Carter is releasing six pieces of his own art to accompany his record. The video for his new song “Picasso Baby” seems to be the first.

For the vid, Jay stared into the eyes of famed performance artist Marina Abramovic in Chelsea’s Pace Gallery while dancing and rapping about his artful life. He also locked eyes with Alan Cumming, art world celebs Alanna Heiss and Roselee Goldberg, and others, all in Abramovic’s signature staring style.



The song makes references to the art world through Jay’s lyrical declarations of his desires: “I just want a Picasso, in my casa/No my castle…Jeff Koons balloons, I just wanna blow up/Condos in my condo, I wanna row of/Christie’s with my missy, live at the MoMA/Bacons and turkey bacons, smell the aroma.” I’m not quite sure if I get all the lines, especially the bacon part (wouldn’t grease and smoke damage the art at the MoMA?), and to me it seems a little name drop-y just for the sake of it. And Jay-Z’s assertion that he’s “the modern day Pablo/Picasso baby” might be a stretch.

Even so, I think he’s doing something really cool. Marina’s 2010 retrospective at MoMA, The Artist is Present, inspired the video. In Maria’s piece, she sits in a chair for hours opposite an empty chair and waits for people to sit across from her. When a person sits down, she just looks at them. No words, no expressions. The viewer leaves once they’re either satisfied or uncomfortable.

Beyonce Art History makes this experience very clear:


Crazy In Love/The Artist is Present.


Or get your own creepy feels by watching Marina in action:



It’s really interesting to see this staring idea work in two different manifestations. Jay-Z’s approach is inherently different because he’s having fun and performing a song while testing how comfortable people are with connecting and exchanging energy through eye contact, whereas Marina approaches it silently. At one point during the shoot, the rapper even got down and interacted with the audience in the same “face-off” way that Marina did with her viewers. While Marina’s execution would mostly make people uncomfortable until they walked away, Jay’s performance got people riled up, dancing and excited.



Folks who see this may now ask, “who’s Jay-Z staring at?” sparking opportunities to talk and learn about modern art. With this video, Jay-Z and Marina are bridging the gap between pop culture and art culture, reminding us that art and music really do belong together. We can’t wait to see the final cut.


Sources: dogwoof, The Guardian and The Daily Beast.

Photos via The Daily Beast, Stereogum, and Brooklyn Vegan.

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