David Byrne: MoMA Curator Told Lady Gaga She Isn’t an Artist

04/06/2010 11:49 AM |

David Byrne, Klaus Biesenbach, Lady Gaga

Buried inside a recent sprawling, free-associative blog essay about how performance art, film and video function differently based on institutional context, David Byrne briefly mentions a conversation with Klaus Biesenbach, a curator at MoMA and P.S.1. Before moving on to more pressing subjects like Kenneth Anger and Fassbinder, Byrne writes that Biesenbach recounted how, at “a recent art world dinner,” he’d met Lady Gaga. In what must have been a very brief conversation, Gaga told Biesenbach “that she felt she was a performance artist—or an artist of some sort.” The very blunt and opinionated curator was quick to respond.

Biesenbach told Gaga,

that she was not, and reportedly she was a bit taken aback and stunned at his reply. Biesenbach didn’t exactly detail as to why in fact she wasn’t an artist, but by way of a sort of explanation he related that Susan Sontag had pronounced to him, “All we have is our opinion.”

From there Byrne goes into a funny, dismissive analysis of the supposed critical democracy that exists on the internet. So, internet democracy, Lady Gaga: artist or not? (ArtInfo)

18 Comment

  • If ever there were a realm for opinion, it is art. She is a polarizing figure, apparently in the art field as well as in culture at large. Certainly, many who are considered artists hold Lady Gaga in high regard as a performance artist. Others have different opinions. Aside from the merits of the work, there is an elitism in certain art circles, and MoMA is a place where the elite meet. Acceptance among the cultural elites is a tough nut to crack, especially if one is performing art for the masses and using pop culture references. I’m not sure Gaga cares what he thinks. In this case, I think that she was probably taken aback by his rudeness, rather than that this elite didn’t consider him up to his standards. In any case, it doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect on her.

  • The girl is a marketing puppet with a box of bleach and everyone else’s New York’s underground “fine art” material. We are talking about an Upper West Side trust fund baby who knows how to play a piano because her parents forced her to as a child. Someone gave her some flashy words (lyrics), and now Sasha Fierce is wondering why the fuck she collaborated with this brat. Have Jay Z drop her off in the Marcy Projects without her outlandish outfits and styling and then see who is fit for Performance Art. Hard life makes million dollar work. She might sell a song to every Wal*Mart shopper in America. However, in NYC where her “roots” are established, we could care less.

    I am a Marketing Art Director that has to pay attention to Pop Culture and the psychology behind it. No sense in her reaping benefits daily when I see Brooklyn kids high on sugar and screaming at each other because Pop Culture has failed to teach them individuality without bells and whistles.

    In the end you can dress anyone up to look outlandish for attention. Curious to know what her level of self confidence is when dressed like everyday Joe. Good for Klaus Biesenbach for putting her live back into perspective. She dismissed the Fine Art community ages ago and will never be able to ever go back.

    Keep at it Gaga.
    Keep the general public distracted while the rest of us manage the big long term jobs.

  • This from the museum that just sold us Tim Burton as a great artiste. Everything that guy has ever done has been a fourth-hand recycling of gothic clich

  • Art is subjective.

    To me, art is something you create and design. Art is an expression of yourself or some emotion you’re feeling. Art is media that is designed to make someone feel a certain way. Just because you like it, doesn’t make it not art.

    I consider any musician an artist. Whether or not she’s a good artist is a matter of opinion.

  • I think the way that Gaga tweaks the meanings of her songs in her music videos and live performances is so much more interesting. Gaga treats every moment of camera time as performance art and that’s what I dig about her the most.

  • I hate when people act like you have to fit a some pretentious criteria to be a real artist. Forget that. Everyone who creates can be an artist. She writes and performs music. How is she not an artist?

    She may be a good artist or a bad artist depending on who’s judging, but an artist anyway.

  • I applaud the man for saying that, even though it was rude. I mean, Pixie stix are “technically” food, but are they food the same way an apple or an egg is? Lady GaGa is pixie stix.

  • David Byrne has since published a clarification in his web journal.

    04.08.10: Mea Culpa
    *Correction for my March 25th blog entry:

    In that entry I quoted a MoMA curator without fact checking or asking permission

  • Lady Gaga IS a marketing puppet. She is a cookie cut out, she is doing the OPPOSITE of ANYTHING provocative or really dangerous–i.e., questioning the status quo; she IS the status quo! Lets see, we need a new star, got the bleach? got the lingerie? got the dead woman chic? got the male rape fantasy? OK check! She’s ready to go!

    BORING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And destructive to women and girls everywhere! Not to mention men who are being force-fed a ridiculous caricature of “woman” in the most vile and dehumanizing guises. This marketing ploy, “woman,” has many faces–but they ALL LOOK AND ACT THE SAME!

    I vomit panoramically when I hear apologists try to say that Lady Gaga is a feminist–feminism is a stance that really does offer something different, an alternative to the sexist hate we see around us all the time. They must be talking about the 3rd wave fun kind of “feminism,” the kind of “feminism” that thinks women are empowering themselves by say, choosing to get breast implants, or learn to pole dance, or show their breasts to a camera man from Girls Gone Wild, or say, choosing to hey, get gang banged or raped, why not! After all, the women are now empowered to choose those things!

    I’ll quote some women (the Lunachicks, from their song, Less Teeth More Tits, which critiques women just like Lady Gaga, who serve up the false commercial version of “woman”), and who were marginalized due to their *actual* provocative views, and say:


  • Oh and PS: The correction only proves Biesenbach’s charlatanism. Yeah–Tim Burton? :p I think the curator of the MoMa is showing his true colours: he’s NOT an artist.

  • I’ve always believed that as soon as you declare yourself something, you’re automatically not that thing, you’re just a poseur who wants to be that thing. i.e many of my undegrad peers who might say “i’m so punk” or “i’m indie” nope, sorry, disqualified. And yes, lady gaga falls into that category, IMHO.

  • Looks like Lady Gaga got the last word on this one. Read Art Forum’s account of her recent performance with contemporary artist Terence Koh in Tokyo:

  • @ somethingelse: Biesenbach didn’t curate Tim Burton at MoMA. He did curate 100 years version 2 at PS1 (which just closed, great show), Tehching Hsieh at MoMA, and the current Marina Abramovich show. So I think you can’t knock his record…

    Also, I think Biesenbach was clearly joking or pulling Gaga’s leg. She just took it the wrong way…

  • BS: I don’t see how Lady Gaga “got the last word” unless you mean the last word in fashionville. Look, you can dress up Lady Gaga in Hermes and have her sing songs at a Tokyo “art show” but lets be real, huh? Its a publicity event which evolved around commercialism: M.A.C cosmetics and fashion. So “the last word”? I don’t think so. More like the next glitter-encrusted pablum biscuit with a logo embossed on it. High-end pablum for high-end idiots. Look, OJ Simpson can murder his wife and not go to jail. There is a reason for that: he is very famous and very rich. These two elements combine into the most important element in our culture: power. So, Lady Gaga and her minions/cronies in the fashion world can *call* themselves artists as much as they like. Its called image building. And its motivation is commercial.

    GJK: If Biesenbach didn’t curate the Burton exhibit then good for him for not stooping to pandering. . . yet. As far as his comment to Lady Gaga whatever it was, I am at the point where A) I care more about whether or not I need to tromp down to the corner store to get more coffee tomorrow morning when I wake up; and B) If he was joking when he said she was not an artist then we are back at square one, i.e., he is either a shameless star fucker or just doesn’t really care about artistic integrity.

    Lady Gaga is no different or worse than any other vapid fabricated pop star selling a destructive image of women’s subjection. I am not saying she’s worse than anyone else. But to say she is an artist is just a joke. She is a pop star. Period. I realize that our standards of judgment have gone way down over the years, and that most people happily and obediently suckle from the media-teat they’ve been bred on since infancy. But I have seen plenty of “emperors” walking around naked, and anyone who thinks Lady Gaga is an artist is among them.

    One last thing. PS1 has had the most lousy–and by lousy I mean utterly uninteresting–“art” exhibitions that I have seen in my life. Yeah, sometimes and usually there are about two interesting things by really provocative artists doing thought-provoking and original stuff. But for the most part I scoff and sigh continuously every time I go there until I leave–the food at the greasy spoon on the corner leaves a better taste in my mouth.

  • Lady Gaga sat with Marina today @ MoMA, apparently…

  • Haha, hmmm. So I guess she’s really an official artist now. I must be an artist now too, if that’s all it takes. OK, I take it all back. I just never knew what she was capable of before: sitting in a chair.

    Lady Gaga, I don’t have anything personal against you. I just feel sorry for you that you feel that you have to play the metaphorical minstrel just to feel valuable. But I do think you’re a philistine, sycophant, charlatan jerk for the destructive example you are setting for young women, and I do not think you are original, or an artist, and certainly not a feminist. Bottom line, you aren’t offering anything different. Wollstonecraft described you very well:

    “Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison . . . The homage women receive is so intoxicating it may be impossible to convince them that the illegitimate power, which they obtain by degrading themselves, is a curse, and that they must turn to equality. For this perhaps we must wait til kings prefer dignity to childish state: and if then women do not resign the arbitrary power of beauty

  • Someone please think about the Children!