Released in 2013, Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP was more than a musical album. The now 5-year-old, “reverse Warholian” LP received mixed reviews, with critics like The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis claiming a lack of any “impact of visual art on the musical content of ARTPOP.” However, detractors of Gaga’s efforts missed a vast, interconnected web of artistic collaborations that formed the multidisciplinary project that ARTPOP was.

As the name betrays, ARTPOP is about “the inferno of Pop Art coming around and turning inside out,” as Gaga explained in an interview with MUSIK. The Pop Art movement had been primarily concerned with the infiltration of elitist, high-art spaces by popular culture and commodity, while ARTPOP involved “the soup can art now being put onto the soup can” -a reference to one of Pop Art icon Andy Warhol’s works. Gaga denounced ownership of the idea, describing it as an observation she had made of contemporary culture which she sought to express in her project. “With ARTPOP, we aim to bring art culture into the sphere of pop but not in the sense of art appropriation,” but rather in the form of “true collaboration.”

What follows is a list of such underappreciated collaborations through which Gaga strove to bring various incarnations of modern art into the popular cultural sphere, at which’s center she reigns.

Jeff Koons, ARTPOP -Lady Gaga, 2013, Digital collage.

Jeff Koons:

Botticelli (L/T) and Bernini (R/B)

The cover of ARTPOP might be the most obvious instance of its reverse-Warholian dynamic. For one, it collages fragments of sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne with shards of Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, bringing two of the most canonical works of Western art history onto the frontiers of the pop industry. At its centre, occupying the position of the goddess of love, is a sculpture of Gaga created by contemporary American artist Jeff Koons, who designed the cover; Koons had played an impactful role in the Pop Art movement decades prior, bringing perennial, popular objects into gallery spaces. This makes his cooperation with Gaga all the more apt, as he doubles back upon his past work and inverts it, bringing fine art into the popular realm. A blue gazing ball placed between the statue’s legs acts a motif harking back to the rest of his oeuvre and as vehicle which’s reflectivity brings the viewer into the artwork, acknowledging the importance of their perceptions and interpretations thereof. As Gaga sings in the first single, Applause: “One second, I’m a Koons, then suddenly the Koons is me. Pop culture was in art -now, art in pop culture in me.”

Koons created four other sculptures of Gaga for ARTPOP, all of which were exhibited at the artRave, a sort of modern, Dionysian launch party for the album.  

Robert Wilson:

The artRave was appropriately a multisensory experience: prior to Gaga’s emergence on stage, gargantuan screens displayed a series of video portraits the experimental, multitalented artist and director Robert Wilson created of her. Having been a guest curator at the Louvre during ARTPOP’s development, Wilson chose to reframe three macabre paintings from the museum’s collection with Gaga as their protagonist. For hours on end, she poses in video reproductions of The Head of Saint John the Baptist on a Charger (1507) by Andrea Solario, Death of Marat (1793) by Jacques-Louis David, and Portrait of Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière (1805) by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. In the fourth one, Flying, Gaga engages in the art of Japanese shibari rigging, a form of bondage, and is suspended from the air.

(L/T) Jacques-Louis David, La Mort de Marat, 1793, (R/B) Robert Wilson and Lady Gaga appropriate David, 2013
(L/T) Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Mademoiselle Caroline Rivière, 1806, (R/B) Robert Wilson and Lady Gaga appropriate Ingres, 2013
(L/T) Andrea Solario, The Head of Saint John the Baptist on a Charger, 1507, (R/B) Robert Wilson and Lady Gaga appropriate Solario, 2013

While the album cover involves a straightforward incorporation of fine art into popular media through intra-medium collage, Gaga’s work with Wilson is more complex. By re-enacting the paintings of old with the added dimension of time, the past’s art culture is not forcefully integrated into the present, but rather digitally mediated and transformed, evolving as technologically and hence psychically compatible with the 21st Century mind.

Marina Abramović:

A pioneer of performance art since the 1970’s, Marina Abramović is allegedly one of Gaga’s greatest inspirations, and the ARTPOP era realised their meeting. Under the 71-year-old artist’s mentorship, Gaga practiced the arduous Abramović Method: a series of challenges to her physical endurance and calm. Conquering the trials with a tenacity that impressed her idol, Gaga was filmed by the Abramović Institute and the video helped popularize their work and raise funds they needed. The fact that this collaboration had little to do with the actual album is proof of Gaga’s assertion that ARTPOP is a wider cultural phenomenon as opposed to an individual’s work.

Nathan Sawaya:

Nathan Sawaya’s success story seems surreally inspirational: at 31, he left his life as a lawyer to pursue a career as a LEGO artist. Since then, he’s been creating dream-like LEGO works such as Yellow, a sculpture of a figure tearing its chest open to release a spillage of the golden, rectangular blocks. The sculpture is featured in Gaga’s G.U.Y. music video, her head replacing that of the mannequin. Described as a marriage between “pop art and surrealism,” Sawaya’s work is a fitting addition to ARTPOP’s reverse-Warholian aesthetic.

Andy Cohen and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills:

Still from the G.U.Y. music video

The G.U.Y. short film also called upon several cast members of RHOBH as well as the show’s producer, Andy Cohen, to play the roles of the Greek Muses and Zeus, respectively. Indeed, the whole ARTPOP enterprise is riddled with allusions to the Greco-Roman mythos, often reincarnating old gods as modern celebrities in a way that obfuscates the boundaries between classically informed fine art, like Botticelli’s work, and the icons of 21st Century popular culture.

SkyeDoesMinecraft

An ex-Minecraft gamer and YouTuber who now goes by the name Adam, SkyeDoesMinecraft appeared briefly in the G.U.Y. music video, in which he uses the then-popular sandbox video game to resurrect cultural icons like Michael Jackson, Gandhi, and Jesus.

The Muppets

Another ARTPOP collaboration was with none other than the Muppets, with whom Gaga recorded a Christmas Holiday Spectacular. The skits and live performances with the merry marionettes -including an intimate duet with Kermit– acted as Gaga’s entry point into a cosier, more traditional portion of American popular culture, Muppets‘ holiday specials having been a televised tradition for decades.

Still from the Christmas Holiday Spectacular

With Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s APES**T, which was shot in the Louvre, breaking the internet last June, it seems Gaga might have been onto something with ARTPOP. Although this is not an exhaustive list of the many collaborations that brought ARTPOP into fruition, it gives an idea of the insightful, new vocabulary Gaga attempted to provide beyond the hit-singles and high-budget music videos. Perhaps future art historians will be able to use her jargon as a way to make some sense of the brilliantly confusing miasma characterizing today’s cultural production.

All images courtesy indicated in captions.