Is the Guggenheim the Right Place to Advertise a Beyoncé Album?

A photo of a Beyoncé ad projection on the façade of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City began circulating online yesterday evening, March 20, ahead of the artist’s release of her country-influenced eighth studio album Cowboy Carter (also known as Act II) next week. Ads for Cowboy Carter were also reportedly projected on the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Arts and Design, among other locations; however, Beyoncé specifically shared a map showing the location of the Guggenheim on her Instagram story last night.

A spokesperson for the Guggenheim confirmed with Hyperallergic that the museum “was not informed about and did not authorize this activation,” but it looks like the institution really leaned into it this morning with an Instagram post of Franz Marc’s “Three Horses Drinking” (1910) captioned with the starting line from the first single “Texas Hold ‘Em,” complete with a topical 🤠.

It’s worth noting that the Guggenheim’s recognizable exterior has been the site of many projections and demonstrations in its history. Artists and activists turned the lights up on the façade in 2014 after reports of migrant labor exploitation and abuse on Saadiyat Island in United Arab Emirates, the site of the forthcoming Guggenheim Abu Dhabi location. The façade was activated again in 2016 after the Guggenheim Foundation withdrew from negotiating with the Gulf Labor Coalition ahead of the museum’s construction, and once more in 2020 in an act of solidarity between the museum’s unionized workers in New York and the laborers in Abu Dhabi. Visual AIDS also staged a projection in December 2015 with the artist-collective the Illuminator as an acknowledgement of World AIDS Day/A Day Without Art.

With that, it does leave a bit of a strange taste to turn the spiral into unauthorized ad space despite the BeyHive’s buzz about the album release, especially considering the Beyoncé brand’s track record of alleged labor rights violations, per the accounts of Sri Lankan garment workers constructing the artist’s collaborative Ivy Park athletic wear for mere dollars a day in unsafe conditions. (Ivy Park denied the allegations, standing by it “rigorous ethical trading program.”) That, and the fact that the Guggenheim is happy to stoke the flames while artists and activists who project pro-Palestinian messaging on museum façades across New York get threatened by police or arrested.

I’m obviously not expecting all Beyoncé fans to recognize the ~glitzy Guggenheim~ and other museums as sites for resistance while they’re excited for their problematic fave’s new album (not a jab — we all have a problematic fave …). But we’re in an era of both celebrity and institutional disillusionment as broader injustices are just a bit louder than the highest volume setting on Spotify, and lots of us are waking up to how dangerous it is to tune them out in favor of a good time provided by these forces of power that are inextricably connected.

It’s also not the first time either of the Carters have taken over an NYC institution to promote forthcoming projects in the last year. Lyrics from several of Jay-Z’s songs were papered to the front of the Brooklyn Public Library’s main location last July to ring in his The Book of HOV exhibition. Though Jay-Z unexpectedly shuttered the library for a day for a special event, leaving members of the public frustrated and confused, his exhibition did encourage over 4,000 people to sign up for limited edition library cards within the first week of its debut and the library reported a surge of visitors and check-outs throughout the show’s duration.

On the other hand, the Guggenheim spokesperson told Hyperallergic that both “Beyoncé and her devoted fans” are invited to visit the museum and see Jenny Holzer’s projections on the façade during the third weekend of May to celebrate her solo exhibition — so there’s that. (Unlike a ticket to enter the museum, viewing projections on its facade is free, so stay outside and save $30.)

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