Last May, Kim Kardashian set the internet ablaze again when the multi-hyphen stepped out at the Met Gala in a nude illusion dress once sewn onto Marilyn Monroe’s body ahead of her infamous 1962 performance of “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” in Madison Square Garden. The dress had spent the last 50 years in pristine archival conditions, only to be exposed within seconds to all the contaminants conservationists had warned such a historic garment should avoid.
Much of the public saw this moment, and the Golden Age theme of the gala – an event that took place as news broke that the Supreme Court would overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision – as evidence. that late-stage capitalism had officially jumped the shark.
Yet the move was also a Kardashian classic. The celebrity has spent his life looking for ways to accumulate increasingly exclusive cultural capital.
Kardashian, however, is far from the only star today flaunting exclusive access to priceless items as a way to boost her own image. More and more, celebrities are turning to museums and artistic masterpieces to separate themselves from the rest of us.
As usual for the past few decades, Kardashian and ex-husband Kanye West led the way with the debut of a Hermes Birkin bag in 2013 the rapper had personalized with a painting by George Condo – the same artist who created the cover for his seminal 2010 album My beautiful, dark and twisted fantasy. For other albums, West collaborated with Japanese mega-artist Takashi Murakami and artist Wes Lang. His 2019 IMAX movie jesus is king has been filmed inside James Turrell’s land-art installation Roden Crater.
In the years that followed, many hip-hop artists emulated West’s playbook. In 2015, West’s nemesis Drake used counterfeit James Turrell setups in the music video for the mega hit “Hotline Bling.” Last year, he collaborated with Damien Hirst, one of the world’s richest artists, on his emoji-laden album cover for Certified Lover Boy.
In 2018, Beyoncé and Jay-Z released the music video for their song “Apeshit” (from their surprise collaboration album all is love) which featured the images or recreations of more than a dozen major works of art from the Louvre, where the video was filmed. And five years earlier, Jay-Z starred legendary performance artist Marina Abramovic in an adaptation of his work The artist is present for the music video for “Picasso Baby”.
These collaborations with the art world aren’t just about decorating sets or harnessing the power of a celebrity’s rolodex. They’re talking about a deeper shift in the way celebrities present themselves to the public – and it started in fashion first.