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Seven music videos that take a cue from art history

27 January 2021

With museums around the world closed and no opening date in sight for many, one silver lining – for film-makers at least – is their availability for shooting purposes. This week FKA Twigs released a video, co-directed with Emmanuel Adjei, to accompany her new single (a collaboration with the rapper Headie One). Making a notable appearance in the video for ‘Don’t Judge Me’ is Kara Walker’s Fons Americanus, the 13-metre-tall fountain that was installed in the Tate’s Turbine Hall in 2019, and which Walker has described as an ‘allegory of the Black Atlantic’. There are clear thematic links between the sculpture and the song, which tackles racism in contemporary society.

This isn’t the first time that musicians have turned to the plastic arts. Here are six other examples of music videos which feature paintings, sculptures – and even some kinetic art.

Apeshit (2018)
Beyoncé and Jay-Z
For any other artist, filming in the Louvre – and in front of the Mona Lisa herself – would be a major coup, but when ‘Apeshit’ came out in 2018 it was the museum that scored big. The video featuring works from the Great Sphinx of Tanis to David’s Coronation of Napoleon (plus, of course, Leonardo’s masterpiece) was credited with driving up the Louvre’s visitor numbers to a record 10.2m that year.

Blood Sweat & Tears
BTS
For their dedicated fans (known as their A.R.M.Y), each lyric and video released by K-pop megastars BTS is an opportunity to pore over its every detail and speculate on possible symbols and meanings. Set in an imaginary museum, the video for ‘Blood Sweat & Tears’ is full of cameo appearances from mythological paintings by Bruegel and statues by Michelangelo, Cellini and the Greeks. André Malraux would have approved.

Where the Wild Roses Grow (1996)
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds ft. Kylie Minogue
Not a literal appearance but rather an atmospheric recreation. For their murder-ballad duet, Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue were inspired by that Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece, Millais’ Ophelia. With her hair dyed auburn and skin suitably wan, Kylie herself took on the role first played by Lizzie Siddal, floating among the reeds.

Open Your Heart (1986); Vogue (1990)
Madonna
Tamara de Lempicka’s art deco nudes appear in a host of Madonna’s music videos from the 1980s and ’90s – whether adorning the exterior of a club in ‘Open Your Heart’ or propped on easels in ‘Vogue’. And in fact the pop star is such a fan that she has acquired a number of De Lempicka’s paintings for her own art collection.

Californication (2000)
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Leonardo makes his second appearance on this list courtesy of the music video for the song ‘Californication’, which renders the band members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as characters in an imaginary video game. A Leonardo avatar works on the Mona Lisa and John Frusciante takes a ride on his flying machine.

Paul Cézanne (1984)
The Special Guests
Hoping for something a little more recherché – and educational? Look no further than this ode to cubism from The Special Guests.

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