ComplexCon returns to Long Beach Nov. 6 - 7 with hosts J. Balvin and Kristen Noel Crawley, performances by A$AP Rocky and Turnstile, and more shopping and drops.
Secure your spot while tickets last!
I cried a lot that one semester I took an art history class in college. It was mostly because my professor gave me an F on my final exam for talking too much about my feelings, and yes, I realize now that I may have, in a way, deserved it. But what my cold, heartless professor failed to realize is that so much of art is about the feelings it can evoke outside of the strictly academic context.
If Drake had been in my art history class, he, too, would have surely failed. The sensitive rapper recently collaborated with auction house Sotheby's in New York, pairing visual art pieces by contemporary black artists with music of his choice. Of the 56 pieces on view at the Sotheby's S|2 Gallery (in New York until June 12), Drake assigned songs for 21 of them, including one of his own ("Wu-Tang Forever" paired with Glenn Ligon's Figure #29—below).
Drake's justification for why a particular piece of art gets a particular song mostly comes from his feelings. You can tell just from the title of the exhibition: "I Like It Like This." In fact, in an interview with Vulture, Drake admits that most of the time he didn't even look at the artist's name when choosing a song for the piece. If there are any deep contextual ties between the two artists—visual and musical—at hand, it's probably just a coincidence. "I just went where my mind took me," he explains.
Is it that Drake lacks the ability to articulate his preferences in visual art, something he has no problem doing with music? He Likes It Like This. Like what? Like This. Don’t bother trying to get any more than that out of him.
Some pairings are more obvious, or literal, than others. A Jacob Lawrence painting, The Lovers, of two lovers on a couch, is coupled with the sensual mood-setter, "Lucille" by Anthony Hamilton. A blue and neon pink Trenton Doyle Hancock painting gets a RiFF RaFF soundtrack—perhaps the color combination reminded him of the Neon iCon himself. A "Soundsuit" by Nick Cave (nope, not that Nick Cave) shows a mannequin-like sculpture covered in flowers. "Fuck Your Ethnicity" by Kendrick Lamar may be a purposefully droll choice, considering the head-to-toe floral figure is indeed ethnically ambiguous.
Drake’s song selection, naturally, is mostly hip-hop. I, on the other hand, don't know shit about hip-hop. But perhaps that only makes me the perfect candidate to go ogle a Drake-curated Sotheby's exhibition. If this is the gallery's effort to bring in a new, younger generation of art buyers, while trying to maintain a level of seriousness, then Drake may be the perfect crossover choice. He's got an easy appeal to the casual music listener while keeping approachable ties to the art world.
However, Drake's contribution doesn't necessarily help or really hurt the exhibition. The exhibition is good, because the Basquiats are good, and the Kehinde Wiley is good. The art is good. The pieces are loud enough to stand out on their own, but the music stations, complete with Beats by Dre headphones, are like a bonus perk—something better and more abstract than a museum audio guide. While the quality of the art isn’t augmented by Drake’s curatorial choices, for the most part, the attention it’s been getting—thanks to Drake—is surely significant. Without the Drizzy factor, would most young people have heard about or trekked all the way up to the Upper East Side for this? Unlikely.
I often wondered if I was reading too much into his choices. How much thought did he actually put into this, and how seriously did he take it? There were a couple times when the visual-aural marriage felt monumental. The most compelling part of the show, for me, was the coupling of Basquiat's Untitled (Devil's Head) with iLoveMakonnen's acoustic version of "Rumor." A two-faced creature offset by a hollowing, acoustic rendition of Makonnen singing, “Don’t let ‘em start the rumor” adds an eerie quality to the already unnerving Basquiat.
And then there's the Drake-soundtracked Ligon—the first piece in the exhibition, or the last, depending on which direction you walk into it. Did he see something of himself in the way it was painted black and white (but mostly black)? Though it was actually Sotheby’s curators who hand-picked the 21 pieces, I'm curious about which works Drake would have chosen if he had creative reign. Or, at least, I would love to see what he would have done with any of the other Ligons, especially the Untitled one that reads, “I remember the very day that I became colored,” and the near-pitch black one that reveals itself as an essay upon close inspection. It starts: “I was black and was expected to write from that perspective. Yet I had to realize then black perspective was dictated by the white imagination […]” What powerful statements, especially for a black artist to relate to, and what a misstep for not including those pieces in the Drake musical collaboration.
Including either one of them would have taken the exhibition to a new level, forcing Drake to contextualize the art in a more thoughtful way. But maybe it’s better that art is left more abstract in such a case. In this matrimony of high culture and pop culture, count on Drake to add an extra layer of feels.