Sometimes people forget that art can be more than one thing at the same time. Across all mediums, a single piece of art can be both pretentious and poignant, silly and special, fake-deep and complex. The best art contains a multitude of layers, and challenges us to think abstractly to reconcile those differences on our terms.
Shia LaBeouf seems to understand this better than most young artists working today, and his oft-derided performance art is proof. Over the last decade and a half, we’ve watched Shia evolve from precocious Disney kid (Even Stevens), to a bonafide blockbuster leading man (the Transformers franchise, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) to art house purveyor (Nymphomaniac Vol. 1 & 2). He’s a star for a reason. He possesses a magnetizing presence—go see American Honey in case you forgot—and an emotional intelligence that only heightens the authenticity of his performances. His talent justified his celebrity.
But, as we all know, celebrity can be a malignant tumor on the physical and psychological well-being of certain personalities. Late-career Shia (a weird phrase, since Shia is still only 30) suddenly seemed to be the topic of conversation less for his on-screen efforts and more for his off-screen public antics. But instead of building Potemkin villages around himself —as many of us do as an act of self-delusion to tell ourselves things are fine when they clearly aren’t—he channeled that raw energy and existential burden into experimental avenues—performance art, if you will. These strange performances were mostly met with slander and mockery, mostly from armchair critics and pseudo-philosophers who’ve never had the balls to create anything so they choose ironic detachment rather than engaging with art honestly.
But Shia tapped into a something real about the human condition with his various performance pieces, pondering depression, loneliness, love, community and self-actualization, while inviting us to join along and do the same. To honor Shia’s joyous marriage to longtime girlfriend Mia Goth, which was officiated by an Elvis impersonator at a Vegas chapel and live-streamed for the world yesterday, let us rank the actor’s most ambitious performance art with creative partners Nastja Sade Rönkkö, and Luke Turner.