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April 19 2014

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Wu-Tang, Aging Artfully

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Wu-Tang

In 2013, we’ve witnessed an unprecedented convergence of hip-hop and art. First there was Jay Z’s “Picasso Baby” music-video shoot this summer; then came Kanye West’s experimental Yeezus tour de force; and last night the two communities came together yet again, at NeueHouse in Manhattan, for a panel talk in celebration of the Wu-Tang’s twentieth anniversary, with Clan architect Oliver “Power” Grant and sculptor Tom Sachs. The latter is a longtime Wu disciple, who recalled listening to their records as a kid after Hebrew school in the nineties. Although the two couldn’t possibly be more different—Power was raised in the projects of Staten Island, a.k.a. “Shaolin,” while Sachs grew up in wealthy Westport, Connecticut—they found surprising common ground in “bringing the ruckus.” For example, they were both mischievous as kids. Sachs keyed his father’s BMW to make one of his first statements about consumerism, while Power ultimately decided to assemble and launch Wu-Tang because group leader RZA was locked up in jail and needed bail money, and he was on probation himself. According to Power (it’s worth noting that he never rapped with the group, focusing on business instead), “it was a form of desperation and inspiration” that caused them to “get past the corner” and start creating. Sachs agreed, saying that fear is the only thing that stops people from “creating your own reality and writing your own rules.”

Later in the evening, the conversation turned to consumerism, which remains a particular source of fascination for Sachs and informs many of his most famous works, such as Chanel Guillotine and Prada Deathcamp. Power quickly related: “I think that consumerism dictates what rap is and what it’s going to be, because that’s what it’s been doing.” He continued to discuss the origins of the Wu-Tang phoenix logo (“RZA was like, ‘Yo, I want my shit like Batman.’”) and the brand expansions that he has helped bring about, including Wu Wear clothing, the Wu-Tang video game, and even Wu Nails on Victory Boulevard, in Staten Island, which closed a few years ago. “Wu-Tang is forever going to be culturally relevant,” he said. “Even if we don’t have a record out, our brand is for real. This shit is like Coca-Cola now.”

In addition to their forthcoming album and reunion tour, the Clan’s major news is their Wu-Tang Hybrid Arts initiative, a.k.a. Wu Ha, which features works inspired by the Wu-Tang’s history (during the talk, several artists were live-painting portraits of different members such as Raekwon, ODB, and RZA), including Sachs’ combination ode to Wu-Tang Ladurée macarons. It will be displayed in a larger exhibition that opens at the Japanese American National Museum, in September 2014.

Photo: Benjamin Rosser