It was an event so exclusive that guests were sworn to secrecy and given special instructions about where to arrive and park. Cellphones were banned from the premises. The few journalists allowed past security had to promise not to divulge details online or on social media until well after the event’s conclusion.
On Friday evening, Kanye West and director Steve McQueen made an unannounced appearance at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to unveil their collaboration, “All Day / I Feel Like That” — a nine-minute video that fuses two of West’s recent singles into one conceptual art project.
Close to 120 people were invited to preview the work, which will go on display Saturday. They also listened as West and McQueen took turns explaining the piece in a conversation dominated by the mega pop star’s rambling but sweet-natured riffs on creativity, genre-bending and artistic purity.
“I go off on these rants that don’t make any sense, but I don’t give a ... ," West apologized. Sitting regally in the front row of the audience was his wife, Kim Kardashian. The cellphone ban didn’t apply to her, but the reality TV star, sheathed in a low-cut, form-fitting number, politely stowed her device prior to the start of the talk.
“All Day / I Feel Like That” features West performing both singles back to back: The first half shows him moving aggressively and propulsively in a face-to-face dance with the camera; the second sees him collapsed on the ground in exhausted stasis. The video, whose official running time is eight minutes, 59 seconds, was shot in a single take in a dockyard interior near London.
The museum has installed the work in a gallery at the Broad Contemporary where it plays on both sides of a floor-to-ceiling screen. Four massive stereos blast the soundtrack from the corners of the room.
In the conversation, which was moderated by LACMA director Michael Govan, McQueen explained that he received a phone call out of the blue from West a few years ago. They carried on a number of lengthy phone conversations “until one day, we bumped into each other in a store in London.”
West asked McQueen if he would direct the video, and five days later, the project was on its way.
For McQueen, the visual artist whose movie career includes the Oscar-winning “12 Years a Slave,” the video is intended to be a microscopic portrait of West, with the camera serving as an in-your-face observer. It’s about the “gaze and the gaze following you,” he said.
The director revealed that he asked West to “beat himself up” before the camera rolled to give himself a distressed, tired-out look.
When asked why he wanted to work with McQueen, West replied, “I elevated my palate. I wanted him to be in charge. ... It wasn’t overly thought-out. ... He came to our wedding, also.”
A dominant theme was the crossover, genre-bending nature of West’s career. The rapper’s empire includes different musical styles, fashion, streaming services and philanthropy. He has partnered with visual artists throughout his career on album covers and other projects.
West said he sees music “as a long training ground to be allowed to collaborate.” He also namechecked art that has recently intrigued him, including Matthew Barney’s “River of Fundament," the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice and McQueen’s “Shame,” the 2011 movie starring Michael Fassbender as a melancholy sex addict.
The Grammy-winning pop star permitted himself to launch into a number of conversational tangents. At one point, he criticized the state of the music industry, saying there are few true artists in the business. “Please quote it,” he told the reporters in the room.
He later described himself as a “bad celebrity, but a pretty good artist.” West ranted a number of times about the effects of money on art. And yet big business was in the house Friday, with a number of UTA top brass in the audience. The agency began representing West earlier this year.
The video is being presented at LACMA by Neuehouse, the New York art space, with UTA Fine Art, the agency’s recently launched division that represents visual artists. Joshua Roth, who heads UTA Fine Art, is the son of Steven Roth, a LACMA trustee.
Journalists were told that West and McQueen were not taking questions on Friday. Still, this reporter approached the filmmaker after the conversation had concluded to ask how many takes he shot for the video. "Three takes. We used the third one,” McQueen replied.
“All Day / I Feel Like That” will be on view at the museum for four days only, through Tuesday.
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