When 2 Worlds Collide: An Inside Look At 10 of the Biggest Collaborations in Music and Contemporary Art

When 2 Worlds Collide: An Inside Look At 10 of the Biggest Collaborations in Music and Contemporary Art

 One of the exciting aspects of the contemporary art world can often be the collaborations between artists and musicians. Quite simply - music changes as culture changes, and contemporary art is often there to help shape, communicate and document these changes. Here, we take a deep dive into some of the biggest collaborations in contemporary art and music.

Graduation (album): Kanye West - Takashi Murakami

Kanye West is no stranger to controversy, and his 2007 album ‘Graduation’ was no exception (not least due to the rivalry he ignited with fellow rapper 50 cent). With his star rising, Kanye decided to enlist famed Japanese artist Takashi Murakami for the project's cover art. While Murakami had previously created album covers for other artists like Pharrell Williams, this was undoubtedly his most high-profile project at the time.
Credit: Kanye West

 

The cover was inspired by the classic anime film Akira, and it features a cartoon teddy bear wearing graduation robes. The image is radically different from the more somber artwork that adorned West's first two albums, and his decision to work with Murakami was just as unexpected.

 

West first noticed Murakami's work when he saw an exhibit of the artist's flower sculptures at MOCA in Los Angeles in 2001. According to an interview with Murakami in KCRW the two men eventually met through a mutual acquaintance and began discussing their collaboration on Graduation in 2006. Murakami said he was familiar with West's music but hadn't seen any of his previous album covers before working together.

 

Murakami told KCRW: "I remember the first time I listened to Kanye West's music. I felt like, 'Ah, this guy is so cool!' It made me feel like I wanted to hang out with him."

 

"Hanging out" turned out to be making an album cover together, which was a new experience for both artists. And Murakami even recalled that West told him he didn't want anything "too serious”.

 

Jay Z - Marina Abramovic

Next on the list are Jay Z and Marina Abramovic, who collaborated on the video for his single "Picasso Baby." While it may seem like an unlike pairing, this is one example of musicians using performance art methods in their videos and live performances.

 

"Picasso Baby" was shot in July at Pace Gallery in New York City, where the artist performed her work "The Artist Is Present." The rapper performed for six hours straight for an audience that included many fellow artists like Judd Apatow (who later called it "the best day of my life"), Adam Driver, and Taraji P. Henson. Abramovic was there for most of it.

 

Credit: Jay Z

 

This collaboration between two artists, with a strong social media presence, created an immediate buzz and also further questioned to debate surrounded ‘what constitutes art?’.

 

Pharrell Williams - Takashi Murakami 

Another oft-spoken about collaboration is that of Takashi Murakami is with Pharrell Williams.

 

Some of the cover art for Pharrell's second solo studio album, G I R L, was created by Takashi, who also directed the video for one of the songs on the album "It Girl."
Credit: The artist

 

And in 2008, they also collaborated on a sculpture piece entitled "The Simple Things," which sold at an auction in New York City for $2 million, thus breaking the record for a living artist for the most expensive artwork sold at an auction.

 

Artpop (album): Lady Gaga - Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons and Lady Gaga's joint action in 2013 is also a good example of two iconic, strong-willed characters in the worlds of contemporary art and pop music who, arguably, met at a moment when both were experiencing a commercial peak (at the time Koons had been named the world's highest-earning artist by ArtReview magazine, while Lady Gaga was at the top of her game as one of America's most famous pop singers).

 

In 2010 they met at an event for designer Ermenegildo Zegna, with Koons later telling ARTnews "We hit it off right away."

 

Their mutual admiration grew over time, resulting in Koons designing the cover artwork for Gaga's album "ARTPOP." As Gaga explained to Billboard: "When I asked Jeff to be involved with ARTPOP, I was screaming in my head 'Oh my God!' because he is such an important artist to me."

 

Koons' contribution, which featured a blue sculpture of the singer and swan boats, was widely praised. The New York Times called it "the most exciting record-cover image in years," adding that it "suggests a new way for artists to interact with pop music."

 

Credit: The artist

 

"Vamp": Keith Haring - Grace Jones 

"Vamp" was a 1986 film and a collaboration largely between Keith Haring and model / singer / actress Grace Jones. Set against a soundtrack of electronica music, the work tells the story of a vampire who lures a young man back to her apartment for some bloodsucking fun.

 

The protagonist, played by Jones, appears early on and never leaves the frame. Her acting is eccentric but strangely befitting the film's mood and setting. Whilst 94 minutes long, in many ways Vamp feels like a mixture of an experimental film and a music video.

 

The main point here is Haring's lavish on-set designs and animation works. Some shots are packed with his signature style, while others feature more abstract monochrome work. And his influence also extends to Jones herself: she looks like one of his drawings that come to life.

 

Credit: The Keith Haring Foundation

 

Andy Warhol - Velvet Underground

In 1965, and already with great success to his name, Andy Warhol took on the role of being band manager of a group called ‘Velvet Underground’. Quite different from what was popular at the time, led by lead singer Lou Reed the Velvet Underground were dark and edgy; favoring long songs with (often) unsettling lyrics. They were certainly not loved by all, but had a fiercely loyal following from those who did.

 

After signing a management contract with Warhol, they started playing at his art exhibitions which he called "happenings." They would play loud music while people walked around and admired Warhol's art.

 

The band also released a few albums and had several hits over the years, including 'Heroin,' 'I'm Waiting For The Man' and 'Sweet Jane’.
Credit: The Andy Warhol Foundation

 

Without a doubt the Velvet Underground went on to become one of the most influential rock bands in history, changing the way many people thought about rock music.

 

“Rapture”: Lee Quiñones’ - Jean-Michel Basquiat - Blondie

Another popular collaboration of note was that of Lee Quiñones, a well-known graffiti artist and part of the "New York City Subway Graffiti Movement") and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

 

In 1981 they both appeared in Blondie's music video "Rapture," where Quiñones painted a piece for the music video, and Jean-Michel appeared in the video, with Blondie singing. Whist today a collaboration such as this may seem quite common, what made this collaboration so special was that it was one of the first times hip-hop culture was shown on mainstream television.

 

All three artists went on to have successful careers, with Basquiat being considered one of the most influential artists of his generation, Quiñones being considered a pioneer of hip hop culture and Blondie becoming an international pop star sensation.
Credit: Debbie Harry
 

Interscope's 30th Anniversary Celebration 

In 2022, Los Angeles-based record label Interscope Records kicked off their 30th-anniversary celebration in style, with a star-studded party at the Hollywood Palladium. The event brought together Interscope's roster of artists, including Dr Dre, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar and the Black Eyed Peas.

 

The event served as a reunion for many artists who have shaped Interscope's history since its founding in 1990. Artists like Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Diddy joined the new generation of Interscope stars like Billie Eilish and The Weeknd for a night to remember.

 

A limited edition series of vinyl artwork sleeves were produced, with artists including Ed Ruscha, Jordy Kerwick, Damien Hirst, John Currin, Loie Hollowell, Richard Prince and Takashi Murakami.
Credit: LACMA
 

"Destino": Salvador Dali, Walt Disney – Pink Floyd 

Another on the list is the creative trio of Salvador Dali, Walt Disney, and Pink Floyd. As anyone who’s ever seen a Pink Floyd's music video will know, the band's visual material is considered (almost) as important as the music. The group was always experimenting with new ways of presenting their music to the world, so it's no surprise that they teamed up with Salvador Dalí and Walt Disney.

 

Credit: Disney

 

The result was the six-minute animation, "Destino”, a short film featuring images from Dalí's paintings and a song from Pink Floyd's album "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn."

 

Destino was initially made by Dali and Disney back in 1945 but never finished due to financial reasons. It wasn’t until 2003 that the project was finally finished, thanks to Roy E. Disney, who saw the opportunity to complete his uncle's project.

 

The clip premiered at Edinburgh Film Festival in 2003 and was nominated for Best Animated Short Subject at the 76th Academy Awards.

 

"60-Foot Moonman": KAWS x VMA Awards (2013) 

The 2013 MTV Video Music Awards were the most extensive collaboration KAWS had done in his career at that point. Appearing as the centerpiece of the MTV VMA's, KAWS' 60 foot Moonman was placed in front of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (New York) for all to see.

 

The Moonman stood to commemorate the 30th anniversary of MTV and was also used as an homage to Michael Jackson's performance at the inaugural VMA's. The Moonman also served as an interactive piece, allowing fans to engage with it via social media and virtually change its appearance throughout the event.
 
Credit: MTV

 

Interestingly, the original plan was to have a KAWS character at each award ceremony, but after seeing a prototype of what a 60-foot KAWS statue would look like, the Moonman concept was chosen.

 

Conclusion

All of these collaborations are a reflection of the tendencies and cultural characteristics of both music and the contemporary art world. Collaborations between musicians and artists are here to stay, and we can expect to see more and more of these collaborations in the future as music and art become more heavily intertwined. Music festivals in particular we expect to continue to provide a platform for artist-to-artist cross-promotion.

 

Crucially, with the rapid expansion of creative industries propelled by technology, are we reaching a tipping point, a convergence, between previously separated art forms?