What happens when 30 Madonna fans sing the iconic artist's entire "Immaculate Collection" album a capella?
I recently went to the SCAD Museum of Art to find out. Video artist Candice Breitz serves up a thick slice of nostalgia-infused karaoke in "Queen (A Portrait of Madonna)," a delirious, jubilant tribute to pop culture.
This project originally began in 2005, when Breitz assembled a group of music fans in Milan, Italy, to sing Madonna's legendary 1990 greatest hits album from start to finish. Wearing tiny earphones, each fan sang, danced and primped in solitude, occupying one of 30 video screens arranged in a 6-by-5 grid.
"The shoots are unrehearsed and extremely intimate," Breitz said of the experience in Milan. "The fans are incredibly generous in their performances, and it's important for them to be able to trust us."
This high-energy video installation kicks off with "Like a Prayer" as fans of all ages, races and sexual persuasions (including one drag queen) express themselves through performance. "Queen" boasts an impressive 30-channel set-up, with more than 73 minutes of music and performance.
Although The New York Times has criticized Breitz's work as being "shallow but entertaining," I think there's an undeniable charm to how the artist boldly appropriates pop culture.
The magic of "Queen" lies in the way the individual voices of 30 strangers combine to create an otherworldly choir in songs like "Vogue" and "Cherish," suggesting that we are all truly greater than the sum of our parts.
Each amateur performer reveals a heartfelt, emotional connection to Madonna's lyrics, rhythms, melodies and harmonies. Through song, the fans in each isolated video screen merge into a symbiotic whole, implying that the boundaries which divide us are ultimately porous and illusory.
Influenced by Andy Warhol's experimental "Screen Tests" shot in the 1960s, Breitz has also created similar tributes to Michael Jackson, Bob Marley and John Lennon. Each of these video "portraits" invites the audience to think about cultural icons as a composite of the people whose lives they have influenced.
"I'm less interested in the portrait as an externalization of some kind of interior essence than I am in the portrait as a reflective surface," Breitz has explained.
"I'm interested in the biographical dimension of pop, the way that it can become the soundtrack to a life."
IF YOU GO
What: Candice Breitz: "Queen (A Portrait of Madonna)"
Where: SCAD Museum of Art, 601 Turner Blvd.
When: Through July 14
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Friday;
10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; noon to 5 p.m. Saturday
Admission: $10; $8 senior/military; $20 family admission; $5 SCAD alumni; free for SCAD students, faculty and staff and children younger than 14
Info: 525-7191 or
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Candice Breitz is now based in Berlin, where she is a professor of fine art at the Braunschweig University of Art. Breitz's work is included in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, as well as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
She has had exhibits shown at the White Cube in London and Palais de Tokyo in Paris.