Kanye West. There, I just have to say his name and most of you will have some sort of immediate reaction or repulsion. Many love him, and many more hate him—but let's not talk about his music or his public behavior. Instead, let's discuss his uncanny ability to hire some of the best artists to help redefine the identity surrounding his music.
In the last year he has literally defied every law that states what hip-hop, or any genre of music, should look like. For his apocalyptic Power video, he tapped Italian filmmaker Marco Brambilla, who did the incredible film installation Civilization, which is a permanent installation at the Standard Hotel in New York. Just under two minutes, the video is literally a moving painting. And the art direction for his 30-minute short film Runaway was done by Vanessa Beecroft, an Italian artist who has exhibited all around the world, including at the Guggenheim, New York. The film has too many metaphors and is overly pretentious—but it is also utterly gorgeous.
For Kanye's latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, George Condo painted five different album covers, all available upon purchase. Among traditional living artists, Condo is currently one of the most embraced. His work has been included in exhibitions at the Whitney, Museum, New York; the MoMA, New York; the Guggenheim, New York; and a recent show at The New Museum this past year.
The key art, which shows West being straddled by an armless winged female, was rejected by many retailers, including Walmart and Apple's iTunes Music Store. The work is filled with subjects related to the baroque era, ancient mythology, and religious symbolism. It's demented, provocative, and undoubtedly represents the debauchery of aristocracy. And if you've heard the album, nothing could be more appropriate.
These album covers, alone, are essentially just art pieces—but they were created and packaged as mass communication. They are the identity for global merchandise, regardless of the medium or lack of typography. It's graphic design, by association, and I'm completely envious of that.