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Kanye West Would Trade His Grammys to Be in An Art Context: The Rapper Discusses His New Steve McQueen-Directed Video at LACMA

Steve McQueen, Kanye West, Michael Govan.COURTESY LACMA

Steve McQueen, Kanye West, Michael Govan.

COURTESY LACMA

On Friday night, Kanye West and his wife, Kim Kardashian West, walked into a blocked-off wing at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, both wearing white. West was greeted by the artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen, and the greeting was a long bro-hug. McQueen had directed a nine-minute work featuring West rapping along to his current single “All Day”—which LACMA had agreed to place on view for four days, hosting its U.S. premiere—before going into a previously unheard song, “I Feel Like That,” which features an enormous melody sandwiched between incomprehensible spoken-word verses and set to throbbing end-of-days synthesizers. After the unclenching of the bro-hug, a handler pinched a small orb of white lint off the top of Kanye West’s head. Kanye West didn’t seem to notice.

The work, called All Day / I Feel Like That, was being screened in an auditorium, and bore something of an eerie similarity to McQueen’s work on view at the Venice Biennale, Ashes: a close-cropped shot of a man piloting a boat, the camera never wavering. In the work at LACMA, West, too, is showed through an intense zoom, but he’s in a warehouse by the London docks instead of at sea, bounding through the warped structure as the camera follows his every leap.

After the screening was the main event, a talk between West, McQueen and LACMA director Michael Govan, presented by Neuehouse and UTA Fine Arts, that intriguing new sector of the talent agency meant to represent artists as if they were movie stars. Due to a ban on phone—all were confiscated at the door—West’s entrance lacked the usual ceremony of outstretched arms trying to snag photos. The only person allowed to have a phone, it appeared, was Kardashian, who snapped a few selfies from the front row.

The talk began innocently enough, with McQueen explaining that they had had a few hours-long phone conversations a few years back, and then became close. (The artist attended West’s wedding last year.) The video project came together rather quickly.

“One day we bumped into each other in Dover Street in London, and he said, ‘I want you to do this video,’” McQueen said. “It was in five days.”

“You’ve collaborated with a lot of different artists,” Govan chimed in. “When did you decide to collaborate with Steve?”

“When I elevated my palette,” West said. “I feel like I’ve been abducted by aliens sitting here with Steve in an art context. I would trade all my Grammys—or, maybe, two Grammys—to be able to be in an art context.”

Govan compared All Day / I Feel Like That to Bruce Nauman’s Get Out of my Mind, Get Out of this Room, which led to West recalling his recent visit to the Venice Biennale.

“I went with Vanessa Beecroft and I went to Palazzo Fortuny,” West said. “I saw all the different floors, the different ateliers, all the art and the tailoring and I thought, I feel like Fortuny!”

Kim Kardashian West, Kanye West, Steve McQueen, Michael Govan.COURTESY LACMA

Kim Kardashian West, Kanye West, Steve McQueen, Michael Govan.

COURTESY LACMA

The conversation had already started to go off the rails in an invigorating way—as conversations dominated by West’s fascinating pretzel-logic arguments often do—and so McQueen steered back to the work at hand, explaining that West was his subject just as sunflowers were a subject for van Gogh.

“I wanted to focus on this gentleman,” McQueen said. “It’s about the gaze, about being in the gaze. There’s all this bravado of ‘All Day’ and then with ‘I Feel Like That,’ all this intimacy at the end.”

He then went into a story about the first time he heard “Only One,” West’s song about his daughter, North.

“My daughter came to me and put it on for me and her mother, and then we started crying,” McQueen said. “I feel like it pierced through my armor, and I felt it, and I was like, Yes, there’s something beautiful in this world.”

The thread of conversation regarding the work on view sort of unraveled after that point, with West engaging the audience on points such as his inability to break into the fashion world, and the general lack of conviction among the younger generation, saying at one point, “That’s why I embrace racism, because I’m like, at least you have a fucking opinion!”

(He also admitted to having a few drinks prior to the talk, and blamed Grey Goose for the occasional hiccup in his sentences.)

He also played advocate for Los Angeles, his adopted city, where he lives with his family. European fashion designers Hedi Slimane and Raf Simons have taken a shine to the place, he explained. He discussed his hidden desire to hop onto one of the celebrity tour buses that crawl through Hollywood, explaining that “It would be the ultimate fucking version of what they’re looking for!” He talked about writing “Four Five Seconds” with Paul McCartney in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel (“It was like a lightning bolt went into that bungalow”) and recording McCartney’s vocals for “All Day” in between trips to his psychiatrist. He talked about bringing a friend at Marvel Studios to see The Cremaster Cycle (1994–2001) at UCLA, explaining to him that “Matthew Barney is the real stuff” and hoping it could influence future Marvel films.

At a few points, he asked his wife permission to “spit that rap I showed you earlier off my iPhone.”

Kim Kardashian shrugged.

“I will spit this rap now—wait, is there any press here?” Kanye said.

“All the press, leave!” Govan said.

The press stayed and no rap was spat.

Eventually, he returned to the topic at hand, in his own way.

“In this motherfucking town, people only see one color,” he said. “What color is it.”

“Green!” several crowd members shouted back.

“Motherfucking green,” West said. “When I saw ‘Twelve Years a Slave,’ I saw a million colors. Because Steve is a true artist, and truth is the closest thing to beauty. I went to fucking art school and I will die for the truth and that is what’s closest to beauty.”

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