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The Artist Is Ever Present


Like Brooklyn don Jay-Z, who commanded the mike for a six-hour music-video recording at Pace, and the spacey sprocket Tilda Swinton, who climbed into a vitrine at the Museum of Modern Art to catch some z’s, Madonna, the queen of self-reinvention, has been trying her hand at performance art. Late last month, at the Gagosian Gallery, she was bound, handcuffed, and dragged onstage by performers in police uniforms as she sang Elliott Smith’s “Between the Bars,” a song having nothing to do with prison. Yet while her peers only just cottoned to Marina Abramovic, Madonna has arguably been edging around the corners of contemporary art her entire career, or at least she’s changed her identity more times than Cindy Sherman. Here’s a look at her various eras—and a few of the artists she channeled.

In her prison wardrobe for the Gagosian performance.

Madonna was at her most Cindy Sherman–esque during her Evita era, movie-still-ready at any moment.

“Vogue” is as poised and perfect as a Robert Mapplethorpe still life, while the video for “Justify My Love” featured comparable levels of bondage.

Senator Jesse Helms made Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ famous in 1989—the same year Madonna released “Like a Prayer.”

“Sex” and “Truth or Dare” mass-marketed provocative sexual mores seven years before Tracey Emin exhibited “My Bed” (that is, her bed).

Keith Haring’s dancing figures and “Holiday” are both American pop distilled, with a queer edge. Who knew it could be so nice?

Jeff Koons made conspicuous consumption a concern of fine art, but Madonna immortalized it with “Material Girl.”

Like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Madonna’s early look was an LES creation.

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