This weekend, rapper-fashion-designer Kanye West has added one more hyphen to his introduction, taking on the role of visual artist at Los Angeles gallery Blum & Poe.
For two nights only, West's extraordinarily lifelike, untitled sculpture of 12 naked celebrities -- which initially debuted in his controversial music video "Famous" -- lay across an enormous display that almost entirely occupied a gallery room.
All 12 bodies lay across a bed, softly expanding and contracting to a score of heavy, peaceful breathing.
When the sculptures were first revealed in West's music video, an aerial camera panned slowly over each body, from left to right. The mysterious rainbow of fleshtones revealed itself as a procession of major cultural icons: George W. Bush, Anna Wintour, Donald Trump, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Taylor Swift, West, his wife Kim Kardashian West, Ray J (an ex-boyfriend of Kardashian West), Amber Rose (an ex-girlfriend of West), Caitlin Jenner, and Bill Cosby.
Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo // Photo: Sam Kahn
Entangled and haphazardly covered in a set of white sheets, the piece borrows its composition from artist Vincent Desiderio's painting, "Sleep," which similarly depicts a row of nude, but unknown, sleepers.
Even within the context of gallery walls, the scene was eerily convincing.
'Anatomically correct' representations
West had charged his team at DONDA, the "Content, Experience & Product Company" named after the rapper's late mother, to create "anatomically correct" representations of each figure, down to the minutest detail.
In their meticulous research on these bodies, a team of dozens consulted celebrity stylists and assessed thousands of images, including the Instagram accounts of obscure ex-lovers.
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After being modeled with various animation, scanning and 3-D softwares, the silicon animatronic bodies were then hand-sculpted.
Freckles and human hairs were applied one-by-one.
Kim Kardashian West even played a role, carving a certain part of her anatomy to just the right size.
The piece is nothing short of impressive, but the backlash, unsurprisingly, has been swift (pun intended). Many online critics have asked, "Is this art?"
Art and perception
"The work alone is extraordinary and completely succeeds as a sculpture and multi-media installation," says Blum & Poe co-founder Tim Blum, who first met West when the rapper commissioned Takashi Murakami, who is represented by the gallery, for the cover art of his 2007 album "Graduation."
Kanye West's "Graduation" album cover art was created in collaboration with artist Takashi Murakami Credit: kanye west and takashi murakami
"If you didn't know that this was a work by Kanye West, and instead was the work of a known artist in the art world, the perception of the piece would be completely different -- it would be celebrated and universally supported at the highest level."
And for others who discredit West for not sculpting it himself?
"Those are people who don't have a lot of historical background on art," according to Blum. "I can name you the top 20 artists in the world who don't actually touch the sculptures being produced, or even the paintings."
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A source close to DONDA told CNN Style that members of the team, for example, had also worked in the studio of artist Paul McCarthy.
While yet others allege that the piece is a shameless copy of another artist's work, Desiderio himself (who actually based "Sleep" on the 1943 Jackson Pollock painting "Mural") says that he's a fan.
"Kanye turned a mirror onto the wretchedness of self-obsession and solipsistic fame," Desiderio says, explaining that his own intention had been to critique an unconscious privileged class (and that his version features his wife, too). "He's trying to work at the highest level artistically, and I admire that. My first take was, 'How did he get all these people into bed?'"
'Famous' on stage
Last night during the MTV Video Music Awards, where "Famous" had been nominated for Video of the Year, West expounded on the video's controversy.
"It was an expression of our now, our fame right now, us on the inside of the TV," he said. "This is fame, bro... We all came over in the same boat and now we all ended up in the same bed."
Unfortunately for West, he lost the award to Beyoncé.