This week, the musician Grimes will debut her first fine art show in simultaneous online exhibitions on Gallery Platform Los Angeles (May 28 through June 3) and Maccarone Los Angeles (May 28 through Aug. 31).
The singer, whose real name is Claire Boucher and who goes by “C” in conversation, is selling drawings, prints, photographs, and conceptual pieces she’s made over the last decade in a show titled Selling Out. “I made art 10, 12 years before I ever touched a keyboard,” she says on a recent Zoom video call, wearing a Rodarte sweatshirt and a headband with bunny ears she got during a Korean spa treatment. “I see myself as a visual artist first and foremost, and I’ve always felt strange that people know me for music.”
The prints, drawings, photographs, and other work, she says, are a continuation of, rather than a departure from, her music. In some of the artworks the connection is straightforward: Grimes’s aesthetic preference, which she describes as “edgy-looking, anime-horror,” can be seen in music videos as early as 2012’s Genesis. It is clearly evident in such prints as Seldon Crisis from 2016 ($500), a collage-like series of portraits and animals that draws heavily on manga for stylistic reference.
Other pieces are more subtle and include reflections on her life as a public figure. One such work, also titled Selling Out, is a legal document whereby the purchaser acquires a percentage of Grimes’s soul.
When she began to conceive of Selling Out, the artwork, “I didn’t want anyone to buy it, so I said we should just make it $10 million and then it probably won’t sell.” After enlisting her lawyer to draft a contract for the sale, “the deeper we got with it, the more philosophically interesting it became,” she says. “Also, I really wanted to collaborate with my lawyer on art. The idea of fantastical art in the form of legal documents just seems very intriguing to me.”
As Covid-19 coronavirus shutdowns pushed the global economy into a recession, valuing her soul at millions of dollars became a more loaded choice than she’d originally intended. “With the current state of the world, do you want to put something up for $10 million?” she asks rhetorically. Ultimately, she settled on a price of “best offer,” leaving it up to the public to decide her worth.
Until now, Grimes hasn’t been known as a fine artist. She designed her album covers and tour merchandise, and has collaborated with her brother Mac Boucher on her music videos. But even as she’s risen to fame, she says she has consistently made art for her own enjoyment.
Similarly, she says she’s deeply involved in the world of digital art. “I feel annoyed when people approach digital art or video games with disdain,” she says. “Some of the most arresting, emotional, jarring artistic experiences I’ve had in the last few years have been in video games.”
Even though she recently had a child with billionaire Elon Musk (the child’s name is X-A-12, but she says she calls him “Little X”) Grimes says “gallery art has always been prohibitively expensive.”
She regularly purchases original prints and drawings at Patreon, a membership-based platform for people in creative fields. She says her purchases amount to “10 or 15 bucks a month.” Asked if the people she’s supporting know their art is being acquired by a superstar singer, she says: “Probably not, my email [address] is really strange.”
Selling the Art
To date, Grimes hasn’t sold her visual art through traditional channels. The one exception is when, 15 years ago, she was paid $600 to paint a mural on the side of a Montessori school in Vancouver. “At the time,” she says, “I thought I hit the jackpot.”
As a result, her art is priced with comparative modestly.
“The price is really related to production costs,” says Michele Maccarone, the Los Angeles dealer who’s increasingly becoming known for doing collaborations beyond the traditional art world. (A recent exhibition was sponsored by Pornhub.) “I didn’t want it to be outrageously expensive,” Maccarone explains. “I priced it logically, in terms of an emergent artist who doesn’t have a track record” of sales.
The exhibition is split into tiers. Prints are in editions of 30 and cost $500. Next comes Grimes’ ink-on-paper drawings, which range from $2,000 to $3,000. Finally, there are archival pigment prints of digital works that feature “WarNymph,” a digital avatar scanned from Grimes’s body; she created it with her brother Mac and debuted it in late January. The avatar has its own Instagram and Twitter feeds, and Grimes plans to age it, kill it off, and regenerate it over time. Prints of the avatar range from $5,000 to $15,000, depending on size. All the art is unsigned but comes with a certificate of authenticity.
A video work, titled AI Meditations Led by WarNymph, runs roughly seven minutes. It is narrated by and features the WarNymph avatar, which leads the viewer through a series of meditations. The price for that work has not yet been set.
Initially, the WarNymph avatar came about, Grimes says, as a proposed alternative to photo shoots. The shoots are “very emotionally jarring,” she explains. “Can you fit into this size zero? Can this random makeup artist make you look good? Oh no, you look f—-ing terrible. And then there’s flashing lights and 20 people seeing you naked-it’s actually like psychological torture in many ways.”
The entire process, she continues, “doesn’t seem valuable, but it is valuable, because people engage with the pop star thing.” Still, she adds, “you see pop stars being driven to madness all the time.”
In creating a digital version of herself, she reasoned, the digital version could bear at least some of the brunt of fame. “Especially being pregnant,” she says. “We had to drop this album [Miss Anthropocene]. We committed to it, but it was becoming more and more physically arduous.”
Both the WarNymph series and the title piece, Selling Out, represent an attempt by Grimes to address the burden of fame head-on while simultaneously moving her entire artistic practice forward, toward fine arts.
“We would definitely enjoy being able to spend more time doing this,” she says. “Mac and I just obsessively consume technology, and the possibilities for [digital art] are just becoming exponentially more crazy. So if it’s reasonable to jump into this world in a more serious way, we’d love to do it.”