jay-z abramovic picasso baby performance art
Jay Z and Marina Abramovic in “Picasso Baby”

An unexpected deja vu-like moment came while watching the premiere of Picasso Baby, rapper Jay Z’s foray into performance art, in a short film that debuted Friday on HBO (and that’s now streaming all across the Internet).

In a post entitled “Face to Face” from last year, I wrote about the “grandmother” of performance art, Marina Abramovic, and a 2010 retrospective of her work, The Artist is Present, at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (a related documentary also later appeared on HBO). The highlight was Abramovic sitting silently in a chair as members of the audience took a seat across from her — for as long as they liked — no speaking allowed. Eye contact only. The impact was memorable.

Taking their cue from the Abramovic show, Jay Z and director Mark Romanek modeled Picasso Baby along similar lines, but in decidedly louder fashion (the title’s from a song on the latest album, Magna Carta…Holy Grail, with the opening lyric, “I just want a Picasso, in my casa”). The event, held last month at New York City’s Pace Gallery, was six hours in length, though the film itself is only about ten minutes long.

It features an infectiously engaging Mr. Carter (Z’s real surname, for the few unaware), rapping and dancing one-on-one with an array of participants (and celebrity guests) that included musicians, actors, a ballerina, street dancers…and, lo and behold, Marina Abramovic. picasso baby logo

There’s a hush when Marina ascends the platform for her surprise turn in the proceedings, providing an imprimatur for the project by way of her credentials in the genre. Gracious and effusive about the effort (and seemingly not in the least bit annoyed by the copycatting of her own previous presentation), she’s heard saying, ”So much energy…it’s hot!”

It’s all quite a joyful affair, and Jay Z explains the intent as being one of bridging the worlds of art and the hip-hop culture (“We’re artists, we’re alike, we’re cousins”).

His newfound creative connection with one of the legends of performance art is certainly proof of that.

(Update: a fun mashup of Picasso Baby, set to Taylor Swift’s “22,” has hit the rounds. Now there’s another face-to-face encounter that would be interesting to watch…)