CULTURE & ARTS
07/11/2013 10:09 am ET

Jerry Saltz's Rap Battle With Jay-Z

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The invitation to the super-secret Jay-Z event came out of nowhere, three days before it was scheduled to happen. The event's unofficial producer, the beloved-in-the-art-world gallerist Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, e-mailed, asking whether I'd be free Wednesday at noon. The rap artist, impresario, cultural force, and art collector would be performing his new track “Picasso Baby” at the Pace Gallery in Chelsea. For. Six. Hours. Over and over and over. Heck yes. But even though I'm a fan — The Black Album blew my mind — I had a queasy feeling about this too. Though hip-hop is not exactly my bailiwick, performance art I know a little about, and this Jay-Z thing sounded depressingly familiar. It had a loud echo of Marina Abramovic, the performance diva known for her marathon performances-spectacles-drudgeries. It also reminded me of the Icelandic wizard Ragnar Kjartansson’s renditions of the same song performed live non-stop for hours. Last season at MoMA — which is addicted to the genre — Tilda Swinton slept in a glass box for an all-day performance. Milla Jovovich spent a day this summer living in a glass box on the roof of a palazzo on the Grand Canal as an ancillary event at the opening of the Venice Biennale. Does every celebrity have to turn into a performance-art marathoner?

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