- By Sophie Arni
Harlem-native A$AP Rocky and the Upper East Side Sotheby's HQ proved to be a match made in heaven last week in New York. Sotheby's, of the leading auction houses, hosted the rapper's unveiling of Testing, his third studio album. In a 90-minutes performance art piece entitled Lab Rat, the artist took upon himself to share a poignant commentary on social media fame. And this, to the 100 or so attendees and to the whole world via live Youtube stream. With hundreds of thousands of fans around the world, dozens of high-profile collaborations, millions of Instagram followers, multiple attendances to the Met Gala, the Grammy's, Cannes Film Festival, Art Basel Miami, Paris Fashion Week and all other key worldly cultural events - A$AP Rocky represents the image of art 'cool' today. But he proved that all these appearances are only a small part of his psyche and often times hinder his artistic potential.
With hundreds of thousands of fans around the world, dozens of high-profile collaborations, millions of Instagram followers, multiple attendances to the Met Gala, the Grammy's, Cannes Film Festival, Art Basel Miami, Paris Fashion Week and all other key worldly cultural events - A$AP Rocky represents the image of art 'cool' today. But he proved that all these appearances are only a small part of his psyche and often times hinder his artistic potential.
In Lab Rat, attendees of a Champagne-filled Sotheby's gallery await around a large black box. After 15 minutes, the plexiglass box clears up and unveils a shocking image: Rocky emerging out of an ice-cube bathtub in the middle of a very sterile scientific lab. He gets out, undresses, puts on a construction suit - all in front of the eyes of surprised, but highly curious fans around him. People start getting their phones out to capture this glitch in the PR matrix: although highly calculated, this performance has nothing to do with the usual concert, merch tour, red carpet appearances, or club parties that make up the public image of the rapper. Throughout Lab Rat, A$AP Rocky does not communicate with the audience - rather, his only voice to the 'outside world' is through a man giving him directions through a stereo speaker. In a Matrix fashion, he obeys carefully what this voice - which might as well be the voice inside his head - tells him to do: to make a beat with the different instruments in the laboratory, to eat hot peppers, to drink a gallon of milk, to answer personal questions about love, loss and the making of his album, all while wearing a suit from Raf Simons' latest Calvin Klein collection. The performance finished off by the artist revealing his Testing album cover and announcing the official 'drop' of the tunes on all social media platforms.
A$AP Rocky coming-of-age was in the sweet spot between Harlem and SoHo, between rough concrete and cobblestone pavements, between comforting community and aspirational vitrines.
Captioning the performance with a simple yet effective #testingthewaters, A$AP Rocky took the concept of a typical album release party from audio to visual form. "Testing the waters" describes a physical and visual manifestation of the liquid mix of sounds, lyrics, and beats of Testing. It also showcased the rapper's ability to bridge - once again - different artistic genres, artistic audiences, and artistic spaces to achieve his truest potential. A$AP Rocky coming-of-age was in the sweet spot between Harlem and SoHo, between rough concrete and cobblestone pavements, between the comforting community and aspirational vitrines. Wearing Jeremy Scott sneakers and Raf Simons pants in Harlem was almost unheard of, it helped his 'jiggy' demeanor. He now demonstrates a new level of risky juxtapositions: a mature blend between Berlin and the Upper East Side. He indeed recorded much of his album in the German capital, inspired by the underground music scene and graffiti walls of the city. Releasing the album at Sotheby's New York floors might be one of his best moves to date: the auction house provides the right balance of mass publicity and refined seal of approval. But Sotheby's sponsorship comes as no surprise. Earlier this year, they produced a short video with the rapper and Ai Weiwei that you can watch here. While the auction house gains millions of streams of Youtube, they also reach, via social media, a whole new demographic: fans of A$AP Rocky who might feel intimated by the art world. It was an intelligent step on Sotheby's part to gain cultural cachet amongst the young rapper's fan base.
Images: Sotheby's Youtube channel.