Andrea Glimcher, Director at Pace Gallery, was instrumental in planning Jay Z's performance art video for "Picasso Baby." The legendary gallery's 510 West 25th street location was the perfect setting for a piece that brought the art and music worlds together for this special moment in culture. Read what she has to say about introducing Jay to Fred Wilson and catch all three of them, plus artists Marina Abramovic, Marilyn Minter, Sanford Biggers, Mickalene Thomas, George Condo, and more, in the video that premiered tonight on HBO.
Jay’s art advisor called me up—I would say less than two weeks before the event.
Let's start with how this plan developed. Who decided to have the "Picasso Baby" event at Pace Gallery?
It was an incredible experience, which I’m still thinking about now. It was great on so many levels. Jeanne Greenberg, who has been Jay’s art advisor for a while, called me up—I would say less than two weeks before the event. She said, “Listen, this is what’s happening, Jay has this new album coming out,” which I had of course heard about. There was great anticipation with Magna Carta Holy Grail, and it was coming out over July 4th weekend. She said, “He has this track called 'Picasso Baby.' He’s looking for a venue to conduct this six-hour performance in, where he’ll be singing the song again and again and again to a live audience.”
It intrigued me for a lot of reasons. I’m a big fan of his music, but I also like the way in which he approaches things. He’s continues to be a pioneer and pushes the edges in a way that makes people really think about things. I’m working with artists every day, and they’re very much a part of my life. Those are the people I’m surrounded by. So when she and I talked about what it was, I just said, “Absolutely, right away, I will move mountains to make this happen.”
So then I started working with his people at RocNation and with the amazing production team. The director is Mark Romanek, and he was incredible to work with. We worked together over many days, looking at how we could use the space.
We have three galleries on 25th Street, and we also have a gallery on 57th Street, so we’ve got a big presence in New York. The Pace Gallery has been around since 1960, so in terms of the art gallery world we’re really an institution. I think Jay wanted to reach an audience, both his audience that already exists and a new audience through a place that has credibility within its own community, and Pace is certainly that. It was very easy for us to do it, in the sense that we were just closing our spring shows. We were about to open our summer group shows, so the timing was also right in terms of being able to do this in July.
Looking back it now, what do you think is the effect of mixing the worlds of music and fine art, especially into a space where they might not normally see a hip-hop performance?
Historically, the Pace Gallery has done things that are unexpected or unusual. From the roster of artists we work with, we are considered minimalists; we work with the best artists, and now we’re working with the families of those artists and the estates of Abstract Expressionists.
Along the way, we have worked with Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Robert Whitman, and artists who were involved in The Happenings, which were really important and extremely influential in 20th-century art history. The morning of the shoot before everybody came, Jay and I were talking about it a lot. These artists in the late '50s and early '60s came together, and they literally coined these events they staged as “happenings.” There would be a script; sometimes there wasn’t. It would be in a gallery situation, where people would be invited, so in many ways, when Jay came to us and said I want to do this, it really matched our own history.
On top of that, there were other connections which I felt right away, and which is why this was absolutely something I wanted to embrace. The connection between art and music has existed. Agnes Martin, who was a minimalist painter, was deeply involved in following classical music. Even Jay was talking about Basquiat and his associations with music. I think anyone in the creative industry recognizes and respects their colleagues in these other areas of creativity, and I think when you can combine those things, it is a new territory. Having someone like Jay Z brings it to that much bigger of a platform, because he has such a big reach. It just allowed those connections to be amplified.
This was the intersection of art and music, and I was able to introduce an incredible, serious visual artist to this enormously talented musician, and the two of them really hit it off.
Did you have any favorite moments?
I work very closely with Fred Wilson, a very important African-American artist who has a place in art history. In 1992, he did a show called "Mining the Museum." Several years ago, he represented the United States of America at the Venice Biennale. The morning of the shoot, before anybody came, I was able to introduce Jay to Fred. Fred is somebody who likes to take history and recontextualize it. Again, he is coming from the perspective of an African-American, so he’s looking at how people see history differently and have different perspectives. That was a really gratifying part of the day. This is the intersection of art and music, and I was able to introduce an incredible, serious visual artist to this enormously talented musician, and the two of them really hit it off.
So many different people came through. George Condo was one of the first people to come up, Judd Apatow was hysterical, and Dustin Yellin came up to me and said, “I’m kind of perplexed; I don’t know what to do.” He told me that he knew how to breakdance, and to see him do that was very funny.
There was such a big response, and I think one of the things that is so powerful in art, and why I’m so involved in it, is because of this connection between the viewer and a work of art—an object, a painting, whatever it might be. I think that’s what Jay was able to do throughout that day—showing connection, the energy between a performer and an audience—and in that very intimate setting of Pace, he did it in a very personal way.
With Marina, it was absolutely a highlight. The whole event had her blessing, and I think that they were two very powerful energies coming together. When Marina first arrived in that location, she had her hands held out, which was very much about reception and a little bit about seduction, but not in a sexual way; it was a very powerful moment, and I think that it was intimate. They were very open to each other. It very much felt like a dance, not in the traditional sense, but a dance in maybe an emotional sense.
What struck me was how 100% accessible he was and willing to interact with anyone there. I don’t know if it was hard for him to do or if he had prepared so that it would be easier.
He made it seem effortless, but that's the way with any gifted artist. You can see something that looks difficult, but they make it look easy, even though there’s a lot of work behind it. We spent several hours together before the actual performance in the gallery and the filming, and he’s just a very sincere, thoughtful person. The openness he has to ideas, and the openness he has to the world absolutely came through. He was so incredibly focused and really present. The title of Marina’s show at the Modern was “The Artist is Present,” and that is probably one of the biggest things that I took home from the experience from working with him—he is extremely present and in this world. With technology and the frantic pace of things, no pun intended, it is hard to be present, because the mind is focused on all the information that is coming at us.
That openness he has to ideas and the openness he has to the world absolutely came through.
Did any of the development of the ideas come from your side? Or was it a fully formed idea when he and Jeanne approached you?
For something like this, there’s only so much planning you can do. We could plan for certain things, but there was absolutely this element of chance, and I think that’s what makes that day so memorable, is that it was a big chance. You don’t know necessarily what the reception will be in terms of the larger audience, and even though it’s still an intimate setting, there were at any given time, 100-200 people there. Even those smaller encounters, where it was one-on-one, they couldn't be planned for.
As a musician who performs in a concert setting, there is a divide between the stage and where the audience sits. There are parallels in the world of art, where traditionally one can stand in front of a painting in a museum and look at it. With a sculpture, a viewer interacts a little bit more in the sense that they can walk around it and see it from different angles. And then with certain installation art, certainly with artists like James Turrell and Robert Irwin, who I work very closely with, you know that’s something you experience.
How do you see this moment affecting the worlds of commercial music and art, both separately and in terms of how they might intersect? Recently, Lady Gaga announced her own art collaborations with Jeff Koons, Robert WIlson, Marina Abromovic, and Inez and Vinoodh. What is the potential of the "Picasso Baby" performance in terms of how it might spawn similar interactions?
The potential is enormous, but I can’t predict with individuals what may or may not happen. Jay is very influential; he has a big audience, and people really paid attention to what happened. By doing something like that, it just widens the pathway for further investigation in looking back and looking ahead. Historically, when we are organizing an exhibition, either an exhibition of new work at the gallery, or more of a historical exhibition, you always look at the context of history. I’m thinking of an artist like Chuck Close, who is a good friend and who we work with at Pace, he’s making new work now, and it’s always interesting to look at his career and see what he’s done or potentially how it relates to other things.
Broadening the interface between these different disciplines, art and music, just allows for more possibility, and the possibility is really about discovery. Back to what I said before, I can tell that Jay really enjoyed meeting Fred Wilson, and the two of them had so much to talk about. Connections were made for Jay as well, in terms of thinking about different aspects of art. It’s just widening a perspective, and I think that the more open you are to things, the more creative you can be, and the more you can think from a different perspective.
Interview: Pace Gallery's Andrea Glimcher Talks Planning Jay Z's "Picasso Baby" Performance Art Piece