If Kanye Is Doing “Performance Art” Then What’s the Point?
Kanye West has mercifully disappeared again, probably to Wyoming, at least for a bit. In his stead, the conversation around his dispiriting reemergence in the public eye has turned to a now viral Twitter thread laying out evidence that the rapper’s embrace of America’s right wing may just be a pre-planned piece of performance art. If you didn’t see the thread itself, perhaps you read about it on Slate or Mashable, or at Pigeons and Planes, where its author, a man named Spencer Wolff (@Snowcone965 on Twitter) further elaborated on his theory, much of which originated on the popular Kanye/rap message board Kanye To The. (That is also where the members of Brockhampton first met. Choose your heroes wisely.)
Wolff’s thread is long and labyrinth. It centers around the idea that West has made allusions on social media to performance artists David Hammons, Joseph Beuys, and Andy Kaufman, as supported by a “creative” named Tremaine Emory. In particular, Wolff focuses on two things: Hammons’ repeated use of spades in his work in an effort to, as Wolff quotes from an uncited texted, “turn racist clichés on their head,” and West and Emory’s tweeting of spade emoji; and a Beuys performance from 1974 in which he locked himself in a room with a coyote for three days. Beuys, who was German, titled his performance “I Like America and America Likes Me,” with the generally understood reading being that Beuys was making a statement about confronting and taming America’s ills.
In Wolff’s analysis, Kanye’s wearing of the Make America Great Again hat is his version of the spade, while the Trump-era conservative movement would be the “coyote” with which he is locking himself in a room in order to confront. Wolff sums it all up thusly in tweet No. 21:
Wolff, with help from Kanye To The, did an admirable job of contextualizing allusions and references in Kanye’s tweets and those of people currently in his inner circle. But even after all that—a 30-tweet thread that references decades of art history and critical writing about that art—Wolff can’t actually come up with what the damn point would even be. This isn’t Wolff’s fault, exactly; I can’t thinking of one either, because there isn’t one.
What statement could Kanye possibly be making? If it’s “holding up a mirror to the world” in order to make us “talk about some things” then he has failed. No “things” have been talked about because much of Kanye’s audience seems to understand that nothing productive can come of conversations with people like Candace Owens and Charlie Kirk, whose driving motivation is cynicism. Wolff cited Kanye saying that “we have to get next to everyone” after hugging and apologizing to TMZ’s Van Lathan as further evidence of Kanye living out his own coyote fantasy, but I’m not sure that Kanye betraying his fanbase and then being told that he’s a reckless and harmful idiot exactly counts as… art. Wolff also quotes Kanye saying we should “try love” instead of hate, but the people in Kanye’s life saying that their worldviews have been changed from hate to love sound, quite frankly, like fucking cornballs. (This has a great punchline, though.) If Kanye is attempting to subvert the meaning of the MAGA hat (perhaps like he also intended to in briefly adopting the Confederate flag), then the ideology is deeply muddled; he has not destabilized the symbol but instead reinforced its power. The joke would only be on his audience, in particular his black fans. If that’s the case, he deserves to be abandoned.
If there is a mirror to be held up to anyone, it is people like Kirk and Owens who have staked their politics on opposing celebrities and their impositions of liberalism, but who snuggled up next to Kanye with their mouths open like baby birds the minute he acknowledged their existence. If this is Kanye’s end game, then it’s fair play. But unless he’s the greatest actor in the world—all evidence points to: probably not—then that’s not what is happening either.
The most likely scenario is that Kanye is disconnected from society and highly impressionable, or that he’s a dumbass, or in a manic state where his thoughts and emotions are getting away from him. Regardless, there is no performance art, and any more time spent on that theory only serves to impose the scourge of Eric Garlandism—indulging stupid conspiracy theories with no basis in reality—on music. I think we can all agree that shit is the last thing anyone needs.