Elliott Smith Is Stabbing Himself in His Grave: Madonna’s “Performance Art” Gagosian Spectacle

September 27, 2013 | Marina Galperina

Art’s not dead, but it has left Gagosian.

We tried but we can’t keep ignoring the “performance art” piece that Madonna bestowed on the upper crust of celebrity this week. The Gagosian Gallery — misreported as the MoMA — hosted the racial/social/artistic fiasco for the premiere of Madonna’s film project that I refuse to hashtag.

Madonna, singing Elliott Smith’s “Behind the Bars” with a faux-British accent and faux-emotion as some sort of statement about the prison system to Lindsay Lohan and Perez Hilton is — at very best — very, very dumb.

“Between the Bars” is not about prison. Elliott Smith — who battled with depression and alcoholism and died from two allegedly self-inflicted stab wounds to the chest — was not singing about prison.

There is literally NOTHING in the “Between The Bars” lyrics suggesting that it is anything but a metaphor.

Drink up baby, stay up all night
With the things you could do
You won’t but you might
The potential you’ll be that you’ll never see
The promises you’ll only make
Drink up with me now
And forget all about the pressure of days
Do what I say and I’ll make you okay
And drive them away
The images stuck in your head

The people you you’ve been before
That you don’t want around around anymore
That push and shove and won’t bend to your will
I’ll keep them still

Drink up baby, look at the stars
I’ll kiss you again between the bars
Where I’m seeing you there with your hands in the air
Waiting to finally be caught
Drink up one more time and I’ll make you mine
Keep you apart, deep in my heart
Separate from the rest, where I like you the best
And keep the things you forgot…

Now, let’s get to the racism. That’s really cute how Madonna got dragged onto the stage by “cops” and that non-sensical ballet of a dude in a balaclava. Whatever. If you couldn’t bring yourself to watch this to the end, you missed Madonna’s mostly black, shirtless back-up dancers half-wearing prison uniforms starting to dance to happy dance music. Even her own pretend-audience cameraman stops filming at that point and the official clip cuts off (embedded above)…

Apparently, this was followed by “disturbing historical images” being projected while a violinist played Nina Simone’s Strange Fruit and other “pertinent musical choices.” I’m glad that the suffering of people serves as a prop for your Super Privilege: The Stage Show. Where is everyone that had a problem with Miley’s twerking? Not watching this video to the end (I don’t blame you)? Or not invited?

And now, for the “art” part. Performing something does not mean it’s “performance art” and I blame English linguistics for this confusion. But here’s a prison-related performance art piece from 1978-79.

Tehching Hsieh‘s One Year Performance (Cage Piece)

In this performance, which lasted from September 29, 1978 through September 30, 1979, the artist locked himself in a 11′6″ × 9′ × 8′ wooden cage, furnished only with a wash basin, lights, a pail, and a single bed. During the year, he was not allowed to talk, to read, to write, or to listen to radio and TV. A lawyer, Robert Projansky, notarized the entire process and made sure the artist never left the cage during that one year. A friend came daily to deliver food, remove the artist’s waste, and take a single photograph to document the project. In addition, this performance was open to be viewed once or twice a month from 11am to 5pm.

If that’s a tad avant-garde, there’s a current project curated by Laurie Jo Reynolds and others, currently exhibiting at Photoville in New York: Photo Requests From Solitary.

Men in solitary confinement at Tamms supermax prison in Illinois were asked to request a photograph of anything in the world, real or imagined, and Tamms Year Ten found photographers to make the images.

Not only is Photos Requests From Solitary revelatory of actual people in actual prison, the project is tied to an activist effort of a nonprofit organization that had resulted in a shut-down of a major prison complex for its inhumane solitary confinement practices.

Between their upcoming 34-men 1-woman “group show” and this… Gago, you fell off. Please don’t get involved with social commentary outside your own socio-economic circle and go back to what you’re good at: Selling big dots to rich people.