We all know Andy Warhol managed the Velvet Underground and designed the banana album cover. We’ve all heard about Jeff Koons’ role in Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP. And we definitely don’t need to rehash all of Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s art-world escapades, from The Carters’ hyper-documented Louvre takeover to Lemonade’s homage to/ripoff of Pipilotti Rist. Been there, read that.
Although lately, there’s been an explosion of collab culture (fashion x art, street wear x everything), cross-discipline creative projects are in no way a new phenomenon. Musicians and artists have been dipping their toes in each other’s hot tubs for centuries; Leonardo da Vinci designed musical instruments, although to be fair, he was quite the… wait for it… Renaissance man. The point being, music and art go together like gin and tonic, skater boys and tiny hats, fur coats and tiny poodles, Instagram models and matcha lattes. Walk through a museum listening to a killer playlist and you’ll see why.
On that note (pun definitely intended), after sifting through the Internet’s treasure troves of obscure music x art moments, we’re happy to bring you ten of our favorite crossovers and collabs.
In 1917, the Ballets Russes, the Paris-based ballet company that performed intermittently between 1909 and 1929, premiered an avant-garde clusterfuck of genius called Parade. The ballet was the brainchild of Picasso, who designed Cubist costumes for the dancers; pianist and composer Erik Satie; Jean Coucteau, who wrote the scenario; and choreographer Léonide Massine, who also danced.
And when these brains collided, the result was as explosive as you would expect. When the ballet premiered in Paris, much of the audience booed Picasso’s costumes, which, despite their geometric glory, were made out of cardboard that made it just a wee bit difficult for the dancers to, you know, dance. In other news, Erik Satie did a brief stint in jail for calling a music critic an ass (apparently at the time, you could be jailed for screaming “ass” repeatedly in a court of law) after he destroyed Parade in a review.
For all its controversy, the ballet was a major milestone for culture. For the first time, the snobby and chic Ballets Russes incorporated elements of popular entertainment—tunes from the music halls of Paris, bits taken from American silent movies, and even ragtime music. Much to Satie’s horror, Jean Cocteau managed to push work some unconventional instruments into the score: a typewriter, milk bottles, a pistol and a foghorn.
If you’re an 80s disco queen and need some fire styling for your next smash hit, where do you turn? To Maripol, of course, multi-media artist and Studio 54 icon. If any single person can take credit for being the tastemaker of the 80s, it’s Maripol. Back in the day, the French-born designer was the art director of Fiorucci before founding her own popular accessories label, Maripolitan Popular Objects.
Maripol styled Madonna for her self-titled debut album cover, as well as many others (Like A Virgin, maybe you’ve heard of it?). She also worked with Debbie Harry and Grace Jones. And it’s not just 80s pop stars who go crazy for her designs—in 2014, FKA Twigs played Pitchfork dressed in a dress from Maripol’s Each x Other’s capsule collection. Through it all, was busy snapping Polaroids that she later published in a collection along with her poetry, Maripola X. Oh, and just to throw in a couple more collabs, she also worked with Marc Jacobs and produced a film starring Basquiat, Downtown 81, no biggie.
Speaking of Basquiat, the notorious graffiti artist-turned-art world wunderkind also had his hand in a fair share of musical projects. In 1983, he drew the album cover for “Beat Bop,” a landmark hip-hop single by American rap artists Rammellzee and K-Rob. Two years earlier, he had also dabbled in disco, appearing in Blondie’s music video, “Rapture.”
You probably know Sonic Youth as an avant-garde noise rock band of the 90s—and the band that launched Chloë Sevigny’s It Girl career with the “Sugar Kane” video. Its chaotic sound comes out of its very arty beginnings, inspired by the short-lived “no wave” art movement, but as it turns out, Sonic Youth’s artiness goes beyond the boundaries of the music sphere.
Throughout their decades-long run, the band worked with several notable artists, including photographer and director Richard Kern, who directed the video “Death Valley ’69.” Gerhard Richter’s Candles series supplied the artwork for the Daydream Nation album cover, and Kim Gordon’s longtime friend and fellow musician Mike Kelley created the cover art for Dirty. Video and installation artist Tony Oursler produced the music video Tunic (Song for Karen), a copy of which the MoMA has in its collection.
Installation view, Kim Gordon, Design Office: Noise Name Paintings and Sculptures of Rock Bands That Are Broken Up. Benaki Museum, Athens, June 13 – August 30, 2015.
On top of it all, Kim Gordon is also a visual artist—her first solo show in 1981 at White Columns gallery in New York featured nine days of experimental music. Since the breakup of Sonic Youth (and her marriage to fellow band-member Thurston Moore, she’s re-launched her art career with collaborations with German artist Jutta Koether, as well as a revival of her 80s DIY project, Design Office.
Over her long and illustrious career, to use a moderate understatement, Björk hasn’t just occasionally collaborated across media—she’s worked with artists from pretty much every medium in the book. When she’s taking a break from being an award-winning musician, she also dabbles in acting. But unlike mere morals’ hobbies, like your watercolors that look like Rorschach test ink blots at best and coffee grounds floating in dishwater at worst, Björk’s hobby won her the Best Actress Award at Cannes (in 2000, for Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark).
As you would expect from an art-pop icon, she’s worked with her fair share of visual artists over the years. The late, great, Oscar-winning costume designer Eiko Ishioka directed Björk’s video Cocoon, and she has also collaborated with American artist Matthew Barney, who works in sculpture, photography, drawing and film. The former couple created the 2005 art film Drawing Restraint 9 together; Björk wrote the score and also stars in the project alongside Barney. However weird you imagine the result to be, I promise it’s much, much weirder.
For Biophilia, her 2011 album that spans multiple platforms (and multiple dimensions), Björk tapped media artist and app designer Scott Snibbe to develop the iOS suite that turned each song into an interactive experience. Because it’s Björk, work sessions took place in an Icelandic lighthouse that you could only enter and exit when the tide is low.
In 2015, MoMA held a full-scale retrospective devoted entirely to Björk, which is about as full-on art world crossover as you can get. And in her downtime, she’s been spotted playing a paint-piano (you’ll have to find out what that means for yourself) with Frenchie director Michel Gondry—and splattering her entire apartment with paint in the process.
The world’s best-known Japanese contemporary artist has teamed up with many a rapper to create some very cool results. After previously working with designers like Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton, in 2007, Murakami kicked off his music career with a banger: he directed the animated music video for Kanye West’s “Good Morning.” He also designed the cover art for West’s Graduation album, on which the song appears, as well as the cover of Kid Cudi and Kanye’s 2018 album Kids See Ghosts.
His involvement with these rap projects might seem to make little sense at first, but the collabs meld very well with Murakami’s interest in the overlap between fine art and commercial imagery. The project showed that the exchange between so-called high and low culture goes both ways: after infusing the world of pop culture with art imagery, he worked some of the imagery he made for Graduation and “Good Morning” back into his later artwork.
Takashi Murakami and Pharrell Williams, The Simple Things (2009).
But Murakami’s musical escapades didn’t stop there. In 2009, he worked with Pharrell Williams on a collaborative sculpture, The Simple Things, unveiled at Miami Art Basel. Instead of quitting while he was ahead, Murakami decided to keep his musical ball rolling with a music video for Pharrell’s remix of the Hatsune Miku song “Last Night, Good Night (Re:Dialed)”, featuring a cute anime girl with long blue pigtails dancing through cyber galaxies. Naturally.
Claire Boucher may be best known as a musician (and, lately, one half of the world’s first human-cyborg love story… but who is the human, and who is the cyborg??), but most people don’t realize that “Grimes” is much more than her stage name. It’s actually a total art project that encompasses music, of course, but also visual art and video work (And perhaps performance art, re: Elon Musk? We have to wonder).
Everything the Canadian pixie produces loosely follows the same anime/cyberpunk/maximalist aesthetic and falls under the “Grimes project” umbrella. This includes her merch and album art, which she designs herself, as well as collaborations like her 2013 YSL t-shirt line. But that wasn’t Boucher’s only brush with Hedi Slimane; the legendary punk photographer shot her for the DAZED April 2012 cover, a which featured pounds and pounds of jewelry, some gorgeous Givenchy haute couture, and a falcon.
While touring for her Visions album, Grimes had a visual art show at the Audio Visual Arts gallery in New York, featuring her own paintings and drawings as well as a selection of Canadian artists’ work that she curated. A silent auction on the second day of the show went to benefit a campaign against violence against Aboriginal women in Canada.
You ever stay up late wondering what Drake would put on a playlist he made for Sotheby’s? Wonder no longer—in case you missed it, everyone’s favorite sad boi crooner was asked to help curate a musical selection for I Like It Like This, a 2015 show of influential contemporary black American artists at S|2 New York. Nothing about this production, neither the visual artists shown nor the track list, was particularly boat-rocking, pot-stirring or underground, but Sotheby’s was looking for “a key tastemaker, someone in black American culture who everyone’s got their eyes on,” and they got one. You do have to wonder: did anyone tell that Drake is Canadian?
Visitors could bump Drake’s chosen tracks on, of course, Beats by Dr. Dre headphones. But the musical selection wasn’t a Drake-tatorship but a Drake-mocracy; in addition to tracks chosen by the rapper, iPads stationed by each painting displayed playlists put together through visitor input using hashtags. Although personally, Sotheby’s is the last place I would turn to for information on contemporary black American culture, and although the whole stunt reeks of media-baitey opportunism to the mutual benefit of both parties, Drake did put together a decent selection of beats, which you can still find on Spotify.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2014, MoMA PS1 organized Rockaway!, a free public arts festival featuring a series of art installations in the Rockaday Beach and Fort Tilden area in Queens, New York. The centerpiece of the show was a white canopy bed, a symbol of resilience and hope dreamed up by Patti Smith. The godmother of punk rock (and Rockaway Beach local) also put together a photography exhibit of pictures of items that were cherished by their owners, including her lifelong friend Robert Mapplethorpe’s slippers, Virginia Woolf’s bed and Frida Khalo’s corset. Since Smith started out as a visual artist before she got into poetry and eventually music, it’s fitting that she would take the helm of this project.
These days, anyone looking to chill out a little—or tap into the Absolute—has the choice of endless yoga and meditation retreats at their fingertips. Almost endless, that is, because to our best knowledge, no one can book Marina Abramović’s house for three days of intense physical and spiritual purification.
No one except Lady Gaga, that is, who did exactly that in 2013. Trying to kick a weed habit that she developed to cope with post-surgery pain, Gaga submitted to the Abramović method: screaming until she went hoarse, walking naked through the woods for three hours wearing a mask, snuggling blocks of ice. Apparently, the experience also helped jump-start Gaga’s creative process as she was creating ARTPOP, so we have Abramović to indirectly thank for that gem. Plus, the resulting videos could constitute performance art in themselves.
Images via Cloudfront, High Snobiety, 303 Gallery, Twin Magazine, Tumblr, Artnet