Is Kanye West’s Meltdown a Joseph Beuys-Inspired Work of Performance Art? One Theorist Has It All Figured Out

Has Kanye lost it, or is it all a work of art, as one Kansas City deejay maintains?

Singer Kanye West and President-elect Donald Trump speak with the press after their meetings at Trump Tower December 13, 2016 in New York. Photo Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.
Singer Kanye West and President-elect Donald Trump speak with the press after their meetings at Trump Tower December 13, 2016 in New York. Photo Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.

There’s no denying that Kanye West has been acting weird lately. But could his erratic behavior, apparent embrace of right wing ideology, and controversial statements about the legacy of slavery be an elaborate hoax? There are suspicions that West’s head-scratching comments are actually part of a carefully honed performance art piece.

As crazy as that might sound, there’s a case to be made. Twitter user @Snowcone965, Spencer Wolff, co-host of The Church of Lazlo, a Kansas City radio show, has formulated a theory based on posts from message boards and West’s Reddit subforum. The musician’s Twitter account on the social media network has been carefully mined for clues, revealing references to artists David Hammons and Joseph Beuys, as well as comedian Andy Kaufman, that could very well hint at art historical influences buoying a complicated performance artwork.

There are lots of theories swirling around about West’s recent behavior, which includes bizarre remarks about how slavery is a choice, Tweets pledging support for president Donald Trump, and statements aligning himself with conservative figures. He’s even posted images of the notorious MAGA hat. Some suspect the rap superstar has gone off his meds, while others (including the president) are taking West’s newfound affinity for conservative politics at face value.

Wolff has turned an eye instead to West’s friend and collaborator Tremaine Emory, or @DenimTears. The singer has referenced Emory’s Tweets in an interview, and there are photographs of the two together recently. If West is up to something, it’s conceivable that Emory would know.

Kanye West and Donald Trump. Photo courtesy of Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.

Kanye West and Donald Trump. Photo courtesy of Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.

West recently rejoined Twitter, and has posted photographs of artwork by Hammons and Beuys. Emory then retweeted the Hammons artworks with a spade emoji. During Hammons’s 2016 exhibition, “Five Decades,” at New York’s Mnuchin Gallery, Holland Cotter wrote in the New York Times the artist “turned racist clichés on their head” with the piece Spade (Power for the Spade).

Might Emory’s use of the symbol be a coded reference to how West’s recent behavior is actually attempting to subvert the use of hateful speech and ideology? This would not be without precedent, as the singer wore a Confederate flag in 2013.

David Hammons, Spade (Power for the Spade), 1969. Courtesy of David Hammons/the Tilton Family Collection.

David Hammons, Spade (Power for the Spade), 1969. Courtesy of David Hammons/the Tilton Family Collection.

The Beuys photographs included documentation of his famous piece I Like America and America Likes Me, in which the artist spent three days locked in a room with a coyote. By the end, the wild animal, a representation of the country’s untamed spirit, had accepted Beuys.

“I believe Kanye is doing a modern take on Beuys piece with the coyote,” wrote Wolff. “He’s embraced what might be considered the coyote of today. Gotten close to it. Trump, Candace Owens, Alt Right. Maybe he sees this as a better chance to ‘tame’ the coyote than more traditional methods.”

West also posted a photograph of a self-described mood board with work by the two artists and what appears to be a drawing of Andy Kaufman, a comedian who lived much of his life “in character,” often courting controversy. Emory later Tweeted lyrics from REM’s “Man on the Moon,” a song about Kaufman and conspiracy theories, like the belief that NASA faked the moon landing.

Art critic Antwaun Sargent weighed in as well, pointing out that West has worked closely with Italian performance artist Vanessa Beecroft for years. “She loves controversy like Kanye and her practice has often tried to undo expectations around identity,” he wrote on Twitter. “If Beuys, Hammons and Beecroft—never thought I’d say those names in the same sentence—are Kanye’s performance inspirations, he’s likely feeding off the attention and is just getting started.”

Another possible clue lies in two Emory Tweets about “The prestige.” The term often refers to the final act of a magic trick, and was the title of a popular 2006 film directed by Christopher Nolan, based on a Christopher Priest novel. Might the big reveal on West’s conservative magic trick be on its way?

“They’re literally giving us the answers,” said Wolff. “We just have to know how to look for them.”


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