I have no idea what to look at. Music pumps through super premium speakers while hot air begins to fill the sprawling expanse of a polished Brooklyn warehouse. White walls bask in the pink and purple glow of overhead lights. Drag queens with half-shaved heads do Beyonce-esque hair-whips, balancing on bloated versions of women’s heels. There’s a white sculpture, a blue sculpture, a gold one, too, shiny like Christmas candy wrappers and adorned with fake flowers. High above, screens alternate between a real-time aggregator of social media content – Tweets about #artRAVE and #ARTPOP, selfies of people smiling in the foreground of their dull, badly lit bedrooms – and bold graphic typeface announcing the people of the hour, GAGA and KOONS.
Everyone here has just spent the last two hours shuttling in from Manhattan. Thirty minutes before the 8:30 check-in, the line was already 1000 deep, a crushing mass of hip kids in blazers, lesbians with topknots, boys built like backup dancers. By the time we boarded the ferry to the super secret, undisclosed location (turned out to be the Brooklyn Navy Yard), it was just after 10 o’clock.
And now we wait.
To assuage the feeling that you have been taken hostage and you’re never going to see your loved ones again, there’s an open bar, food trucks in the backyard, a DJ repeatedly screaming “YOU MUTHAFUCKAS HAVING A GOOD TIME?!”, and a series of rooms whose purpose, other than distraction and/or self-promotion, I can’t quite deduce. Futuristic costumes adorn white mannequins while women in sci-fi flight attendant costumes teeter around holding iPads. Between the people Gaga has employed to be “weird,” and her fans taking on the task themselves, I feel like I’m on the set of The Fifth Element.
“It feels like a New Year’s Eve party,” my friend remarks.
“No, it feels like a New Year’s Eve party in a movie.”
Everything about this event feels surreal, though not in a way that really even references reality at all. Everything here feels #surreal surreal, some loosely touched upon amalgamation of truth. While the man with the glittery Hannibal Lecter mask and the dude dressed like a toucan version of Robin Hood might seem, for lack of a better word, weird, it’s not actually weird, in the same way that people dressing up on Halloween isn’t weird. Which would be totally fine if everyone here didn’t actually take themselves seriously. These people think they’re bizarre and unique, but how can diehard fans of someone so commercially viable and mass market really be bizarre and unique? A lemming is a lemming, whether you’re wearing disco-ball Mickey Mouse ears or not.
That being said, I understand the value here. Lady Gaga, probably more poignantly in her early days, has always appealed to a group of dreamers for whom the confines and rules of ordinary life seems droll. Cover it in glitter and make it sing, baby. The world is better when seen through the obstructed eyes of a pair of crystal-covered glasses, from the height of a pair of Alexander McQueen heels. It’s escapism, surely. But is it art?
I start to itch when I am forced to consider Lady Gaga as an Artist with a capital “A”, as opposed to just merely a performer. Her insistence on the former has intensified with her art world powerhouse callabos for the ARTPOP album, commissioning works from Marina Abramovic, Inez & Vinoodh, Robert Wilson, and the aforementioned Jeff Koons. Over the course of the evening, some of that work plays overhead – a naked Gaga stumbling through the woods, a naked Gaga hanging in kinbaku bondage repose, a screaming Gaga, a dirty Gaga, a crying Gaga – an attempt to communicate, well, I’m not really sure. But famous artists did it! So it must be art!
With Lady Gaga, there is always this serious dedication to “strangeness” that I can’t help but see as commercial pretense. It is a mechanism, just as Britney and J. Lo and all the other multi-platinum pop stars have had mechanisms. And while it’s great that Gaga trades in an appeal other than sex, it’s still pop music. Right now, there’s a screen hovering above me, reminding me that the evening’s hash tag of choice is “#artrave.”
This isn’t art. This is capitalism in a candy bag.