The 7 Best Pop Music / Contemporary Art Collaborations

Grace Jones in Keith Haring body paint for the movie Vamp. Photo: New World Pictures
Grace Jones in Keith Haring body paint for the movie Vamp. Photo: New World Pictures

Collaborations between the art and music worlds are nothing new. See, for example, the relationship between impressionist painting and impressionist music. Seriously: download some Debussy, then go to the Legion of Honor and stare at a Monet and you’ll have a much better understanding of the relationship. The dialogue between the two worlds has been especially strong in recent years (see my KQED Pop colleague’s recent Miley Abramovic post).

For some pop stars and artists, these collaborations are nothing more than an interesting footnote, but, for others, they go on to become high points in their careers and come to define both artists in that particular moment. These worlds have melded into everything from concept albums, the lost art of cover art and some of the most avant-garde stage shows and music videos of all time. Here are some of our favorite pairings from the worlds of contemporary art and pop through the years, from Mick Jagger and Kenneth Anger’s “devilish” rapport during the ’70s to the present day Miley Cyrus presented by Terry Richardson situation.

Bette Midler: The Divine Miss New Wave

“Disco was dead, and the body count would be high,” Bette Midler said of the early 1980s music industry. Rather then get left behind in the dimming reflection of the glitter ball, the Divine Miss M, always one to embrace spectacle and big performance values, threw herself head first in the New Wave and performance art scenes that were beginning to emerge in Los Angeles at the time. The result was triple fold: a performance art television special (“The Mondo Beyondo Show” in 1982), an album (“No Frills” released in 1983), and a tour/televised concert (“De Tour” a.k.a. “Art or Bust” in 1984). The album featured New Wave-y synthesizer riffs, plenty of nouveau electronica and collaborations with Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger, which led to it becoming Midler’s top selling LP in Europe. And the television special and tour feature the kind of over-the-top Memphis era stage design and conceptual performance art touches that were so of the moment and are great documents of the look and sound of the scene. Is it any wonder Midler’s dive into the New Wave also coincided with her marriage to Martin von Hasleberg, a.k.a. one half of performance art duo “The Kipper Kids?”

Grace Jones: A Living Keith Haring Object

If ever there was a case of a perfectly matched artist and subject duo, Grace Jones and Keith Haring were it. Jones was made for Haring’s art; she could be a grown “Radiant Baby” with her long limbs, chiseled cheek points and architectural body. Haring took advantage of the statuesque canvas by literally painting her in a few famous instances. Jones and Haring collaborated most famously on the music video for “I’m Not Perfect” (which also features an Andy Warhol cameo), where Haring’s body paint was featured as well as a completely cray gown for Jones. For extra credit, see Jones dance in more Haring graffiti’d flesh in the 1986 horror film Vamp.

Madonna Mapplethorpe-Beecroft-Carrington-Etc.

The Madonna of Reinvention (as we call her) has created and recreated herself so many times she was bound to have picked up some high art reference points along the way. The pop star’s 1992 coffee table book/photo essay Sex was the start of a certain kind of highly-sexualized “Mapplethorpe” persona the diva adopted for her album Erotica. She’s since gone on to reference everyone from surrealists Leonora Carrington and Frida Kahlo in her “Bedtime Story” music video, photographer Horst P. Horst in her music video for “Vogue” and high priestess of high art Vanessa Beecroft in her very Beecroftian presentation of “Frozen.”

Terry Richardson Presents Miley Cyrus

Abramovic aspects aside, the 2013 music video for Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” has the fingerprints of director/photographer Terry Richardson all over it. The intercuts of women crying/licking tools, the…shall we just say Nabokovian allusions, the washed-out white on white scheme, and the juxtaposition of female nudity and acts of destruction are touches that reek of the controversial Richardson. As Miley’s persona has grown from her new video aesthetic, Richardson is the invisible hand that guides the star’s self-presentation.

Swizz Beatz Meets Damien Hirst

Photo: Instagram
Photo: Instagram

Producer Swizz Beatz, who has worked with everyone from DMX to Jay Z and T.I., set the Instagramosphere abuzz this past June when he published a photo of himself making a spin painting with artist Damien Hirst. A week later, Beatz announced plans to open a gallery that would feature Hirst, among other friends in the art world, that would be a new kind of exhibition venue and collaboration between the senses. Beatz is still searching for a space for the future gallery, but we look forward to seeing how this producer provides another bridge between the two worlds.

Kenneth Anger Made Mick Jagger Do It!

Among the more interesting revelations to come from the recent Esquire UK interview with Hollywood “historian” and experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger was the story of Mick Jagger’s near collaboration with Anger on a film in the early ’70s, in which the Rolling Stone would have played Lucifer. Although Jagger declined the offer, “Sympathy for the Devil” was inspired by the satanic subject matter of The Master and Margarita, a book Anger gave to the singer while they contemplated the Lucifer film.

Matthew Barney Gets Bjorked!

Do you think there were fireworks when Matthew Barney met his future wife, Bjork? Throat-singing, plasma textured, abstract fireworks? In another example of perfect artist pairings (and this one reproduced!), the 2006 art film Drawing Restraint 9 (starring Barney and Bjork with a soundtrack by the singer) was exactly what we hoped the famous pair’s home life would be like. The above scene with Bjork as a geisha is one of the most famous from the film (the cutting of the legs scene with the pair is the most infamous).

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Tony Bravo

Tony Bravo is a San Francisco freelancer covering fashion, menswear, lifestyle and entertainment stories. He is a regular contributor to The Bold Italic and the San Francisco Chronicle's Style section.

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