Here’s Klaus Biesenbach’s Tribute to Lady Gaga From the National Art Awards Last Night

Klaus Biesenbach.COURTESY BFA NYC

Klaus Biesenbach.


Last night, at the National Art Awards gala dinner in New York, MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach presented the Young Artist Award to Lady Gaga, following a performance of her songs performed by a group of musicians from
the YoungArts. Biesenbach’s remarks are presented in full below, with italics added to denote emphasis. Enjoy.

I feel very honored that I was asked to present the Young Artist Award tonight to a singer/songwriter—to a true artist—who is the real deal, and a real friend. When the YoungArts alumni just performed a tribute, I was so touched—so was the artist—so touched, that I find it very difficult to say anything after such an incredible performance. Thinking about what to say about somebody who might be one of the most well-known and recognizable artists, if not people, in the world, I looked to a quote from Joseph Beuys. Joseph Beuys is a great artist. He basically said that being public has to serve a goal, and I think that’s a very interesting sentence: being public is not empty, being public is not a goal in itself, and I think that Lady Gaga is really one of the creative people—one of the artists—who really is a role model worldwide. She really empowers young people worldwide, and that’s what the YoungArts performance really was all about. She really has an artistic influence all over the world—it’s not empty, she really has something to say.

Gaga taught me—and that’s an interesting sentence, too, because we don’t think that so much—Gaga taught me that it is a privilege to be an artist, and she also taught me that with privilege comes giving back. And I think that is, for a person who is not even 30, a very mature sentence. I think Gaga is bridging so many worlds. She is bridging the movies, TV, and she’s bridging most importantly to the artists.

I know her through the great artist Terence Koh. I was there when she worked with Francesco Vezzoli at the L.A. MOCA. I saw her perform with Marina Abramovic. And I feel one of the most endearing friendships that I feel grateful I could witness is Jeff Koons and Lady Gaga. It’s really amazing to see this.

Lady Gaga. In the beginning, she performed in the theater, in high school plays, she studied at CAP21. And her translating generations and genre: what I think was for me one of the most important experiences was last year, when she recorded the album and toured with Tony Bennett. I think that was such a respectful, beautiful gesture from one artist to another artist.

Again, she is a role model. I have to catch up with my TV—I haven’t watched American Horror Story. But I watched the Oscars—which I nearly spoiled by talking about it before!—when she sang “The Sounds of Music,” which I think was one of the most groundbreaking performances Lady Gaga has made.

But just to get some numbers straight, she has sold 28 million album, 140 million singles, and she is one of the best-selling musicians of all time. She won six Grammy awards and Time magazine listed her as one of the most influential people this planet has. And yes, all of this, not even 30. She launched the Born This Way Foundation in 2011, a non-for-profit organization to empower youths embracing difference, and to inspire kindness and bravery, to be what you are, to live what you are. And I think she—you, Lady Gaga—she is one of the greatest examples to live who you are. And you are very kind and very brave. So it’s a huge thank you, and a huge giving back to the artist community all over the world, to have this foundation.

Just one anecdote, because I was tempted to do an anecdote, but I shouldn’t—oh, here’s one anecdote. Couple of years ago, your world tour (and I have heard you sing in a stadium, and I have heard you sing in a car). Somehow, you knew I was in Berlin—you were filling a stadium in Berlin—and you said, “You have to come, there’s a concert,” and I said, “I’m hosting a small artists party,” and you said, “Bring the artists,” and I said, “It’s a small artist party—it’s like forty artists.” “Bring all of them,” you said. We ended up at 2:00 a.m. with all the artists on her tour bus visiting exhibitions. We ended at the Wael Shawky exhibition at KW. So this is true generosity, but also true openness. And I think as a virtue of your art-making, you care about every little detail: you listen, you learn, you evaluate, you find form, and you push the envelope. Yes, there’s only one of you, and it’s you, Lady Gaga. And I feel really really honored, and I’m keeping calm now. So, now we watch a video, and then we see her.

[Video plays in which a talking head calls Lady Gaga “arguably the most famous person on the planet right now.”]

[Lady Gaga comes out, and Biesenbach hands her a trophy designed by Jeff Koons.]

On behalf of all these millions of young people you’ve touched and inspired and changed their life and empowered and encouraged, but really on behalf of the Americans for the Art, I’m very pleased to present the Young Artists Award to the incomparable, one and only, Lady Gaga.

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