Right now, Jay-Z is filming a “docu-music video” for Magna Carta Holy Grail track “Picasso Baby.” The video will capture a performance partly inspired by artist Marina Abramovic’s 2010 MoMA exhibition Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present. In her performance, Abramović invited anyone willing to wait in line to sit across from her in MoMA’s atrium, where she sat during business days for almost two months, or about 736 hours total. For his version, presumably one of the “6 pieces of art” he teased in a Twitter Q&A earlier this week, Jay is interacting with guests for just six hours, rapping “Picasso Baby” at them repeatedly. An email invitation to the shoot, forwarded to FADER by a tipster, said the audience would represent a “cross section of the New York art and cultural world” and that Jay’s “surprise” performance would be “experimental and collaborative,” playing with rap’s “history with endurance.” Jay likely became an Abramović fan via Ricardo Tisci, the Givenchy creative director who designed Watch The Throne’s album art and tour costumes. Tisci has been friends with Abramović for years—he was one of the last people to sit across from her during The Artist Is Present.
The “Picasso Baby” shoot was put on by Salon 94 (a New York gallery that represents both Jayson Musson, the guy whose post-fight rap lyrics gave Baauer’s “Harlem Shake” its name, and Laurie Simmons, Lena Dunham’s mom) and the video’s likely director Mark Romanek, who did Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” video as well as Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” and Fiona Apple’s “Criminal.” Like that last video, it seems “Picasso Baby” will have a grainy, surveillance camera feel. “Attendance at this performance constitutes your consent to be filmed. Everyone in attendance will be required to sign a release granting the right to use their likeness from the performance for any and all prupose,” warned the invitation. I walked over to PACE Gallery in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood (not Salon 94′s space, but where the filming took place) to check things out this morning, having tried unsuccessfully to RSVP. Outside, a gallery staffer hung a sign with the same warning on the gallery’s door, and a production crew mounted a small camera in the street to film the people milling around outside the gallery.
Invitees were encouraged to RSVP for “hourly” time slots from noon to 6PM. When I arrived things were running a bit behind schedule—at 12:45 a woman emerged from the gallery, declaring that 1PM audience members would have to wait to enter, due to overcrowding—but the scene was calm. PACE staff and security flanked the door with iPads, a couple production assistants took calls and talked into walkies, and parking lot attendants next door gossiped about the “promotional video.” PACE expected “hundreds” of guests to come in and out over the course of the day, said one of the iPad-holders, adding that she assumed the ones who’d planned to come on their lunch break, in-and-out-in-an-hour, might leave after realizing the scheduled time slots wouldn’t necessarily hold. She called Jay-Z a client of Salon 94. The small crowd awaiting entry, wearing resort whites and expensive wedge sneakers, also looked like art buyers, in their 30s and onward. Abramović herself stopped by (watch her dance with Jay), as did painter George Condo, conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner and director Judd Apatow, but there were some young people too—I saw a chain of 20-somethings walked into a gallery space across the street from PACE, and talked to a recent high school grad. He’d been invited by his mom, who’d heard about the performance through her art buyer, and brought along three friends. He’d said he liked “Picasso Baby,” but hadn’t listened to all of Magna Carta.
Peeking inside the PACE lobby, I spotted Half Gallery owner and Bravo art reality show judge Bill Powers. Later, critic Jerry Saltz, also a Bravo judge, waltzed out in linen and sneakers, his notebook full and face happy. He marveled at the gallery’s success at guarding the event from the intrusion of social media gawkers, and had a PACE staffer snap his photo next to a “Picasso Baby” banner advertising the project that hung from a nearby street light. But photos and videos taken by performance attendees began to surface soon after. Samsung didn’t drop $25 million for Jay-Z to create “surprise” “art” that people couldn’t share on phones.