Does Superstar Singer Pharrell Williams Have a Future in the Art World?
He buys art, makes it, and now curates, but is it all marketing?
Is there anything Pharrell Williams won’t do? The Grammy Awards winner Neptunes producer, fashion designer, and global superstar of “Happy” fame is fast replacing Jay Z as a poster boy for the money-drenched love affair between art and entertainment. He buys art, sometimes even makes art, and has just turned his hand to curating, inaugurating Emmanuel Perrotin’s new space at the Hôtel du Grand Veneur in Paris with an exhibition “about celebrating all women.” Part of an unabashed marketing strategy, the show is entitled “GIRL,” like the singer’s latest album.
How did this happen? True, Pharrell is a familiar face at his local art fair, Art Basel Miami. He’s also known to collect the likes of Keith Haring and KAWS, whose work fits with his effortlessly joyful, almost childlike, public persona. During an interview at Art Basel in 2009, he namechecked Marc Newson and Jeff Koons as among his favorites. “And Murakami,” he added. “Murakami is the king of kings.”
The Japanese artist is the missing link between Pharrell and the art world. Both collaborated with Louis Vuitton. Williams first walked into Perrotin’s now-defunct Miami gallery looking to buy some of Murakami’s prints. Things seem to have snowballed from there: when his new dealer acquaintance suggested he designed furniture, he jumped on the occasion, producing a first chair, Perspective, in 2008, in collaboration with the design firm Domeau & Pérès. It features two pairs of legs—male and female—suggesting two bodies, fucking. “I wanted to offer a perspective on what love must feel like,” he has said. Like most of the artistic projects to come, the singer kept the conceptual side of things to a minimum. Pharrell might do “happy” but he doesn’t really do “subtle.”
Thrilled by this first foray into visual artistry, Pharrell flew to Tokyo to talk to Murakami—whom he had met at the dinner thrown for his LA MOCA retrospective—about an artwork idea the American was toying with. The plan was to “illustrate the metaphor of value” with a sculpture celebrating the simple pleasures in life. These mundane little joys (Pharrell calls them rather grandly the “glue to [his] personality”) include, in his case, a can of coke, baby lotion, a condom, and a cupcake.
Murakami loved it. So much so, that he started working immediately, coming up with one of his signature monsters holding Pharrell’s favorite things in its open mouth. While the musician says he has no attraction to bling, he obviously likes stuff that shines. The items were rendered using 26,000 precious stones by Jacob Arabo (a/k/a Jacob The Jeweler). “It’s what people need to see in order to be reminded how these things are essential in their life,” Williams commented at the time.
There’s little doubt that the pair had a good laugh. Pharrell has described Murakami and himself as (immensely wealthy) “kids living in grownup bodies.” According to the gallery, their inaugural venture was also serious business: The piece is said to have sold in the first half an hour of Art Basel 2009 for $2 million and was shown in Murakami’s Versailles extravaganza. More design pieces followed—another chair, Tank, the legs replaced by caterpillar tracks, then the Brooklyn Bike, hand upholstered in water buffalo leather—and sold at the Gagosian Shop for a whopping €20,000 ($27, 238).
Pharrell and Murakami feed off each other’s fame, and don’t shy away from hyperboles. If for Pharrell Murakami is the “king of kings,” Murakami describes the producer as “one of the greatest artists around” and “a role model.” He featured an anime version of Pharrell in the remix of the theme tune for his first feature film, The Jellyfish Eyes, and produced a tondo featuring Pharrell and his wife for the Perrotin exhibition.
These days, Pharrell’s heart seems to be more into curating than art-making. His exhibition “GIRL” comes hot on the heels of “This is not a toy,” a show he guest-curated at Toronto’s Design Exchange earlier this year. The exhibition of “conceptual toys” showcased some of his own collection, including pieces by KAWS, and his collaboration with Murakami The Simple Things.
In Paris, Pharrell has gathered works by the likes of Marina Abramovic, Sophie Calle, JR, Alex Katz, Kaws, and—inevitably—Murakami. The exhibition is about “celebrating all women,” claims the press release, although fewer than half of the 38 artists exhibited are female. Ten new pieces have been commissioned, including a life-size statue of Pharrell by Daniel Arsham. “I work and brainstorm with Emmanuel [Perrotin] like I do with all my artist friends,” says Williams. “There is no limit, just confidence, trust, dreams and good. I shared a few ideas with him about art and my inspirations. He makes things happen.”
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