The first decade of the new millennium has been rich in works of art that are cross disciplinary, forward-thinking yet steeped in the past, and capable of inspiring people to think differently. Here are ten artists whose work exemplifies the spirit of 2000 – 2010.
1. MF Doom
Doom is one of the best emcees of the last decade not only because of his artistic achievements, but also because of his ability to work across genres without diluting his approach. With few exceptions, Rap music has Balkanized over the past 20 years, to the point that it’s rare to encounter artists who operate outside of their designated niches.
Like most recording artists, Doom’s work contains signature elements: protean, incisive lyrics; arcane soul, jazz, and R&B loops; and a collection of aliases outnumbered only by Ultramag alum Kool Keith. But while it’s possible to categorize Doom, he stands out amid the array of names that might be recommended if you search for him on iTunes. His recordings and formidable set of collaborations with artists such as the Gorillaz, Trunks, MF Wooly, Madlib, Daedalus, Dangermouse, and Ghostface Killah speak for themselves. Doom even freestyled over Lil Wayne’s A Milli.
In 2005, a Brilliant Red A3 disappeared from Audi’s Park Avenue showroom, a startling event that drew considerable public response, brought two million visitors to AudiUSA.com, and contributed to the sale of 1,025 Audis in the 90 days that followed. Even more remarkable was the fact that an actual crime never occurred.
A multi-medium orchestration of New York City marketing firm Campfire, The Art of the Heist “embraced the target audience's need of control over their environment and invited them into an immersive 24-hour-a-day alternate reality. [The campaign] blurred fact and fiction [and] involved consumers in the recovery of an A3 stolen from Audi’s Park Avenue headquarters.” Throughout the campaign, Campfire’s deep world of characters, subplots, fabricated documents, and carefully placed artifacts made the unreal seem real.
Using YouTube’s search engine, recording software, and an unremarkable Hewlett Packard desktop computer, Kutiman collected videos and cut, arranged, sequenced, and edited them together, creating a set of compositions that possess both aural and visual dimension.
Thru-You is an undeniable feat of recontexualization. Ovo blog’s reaction to the recordings said it well: “We're all making music, all the time, and a musician is someone who chrono-spacially re-arranges us into songs to reveal it.”
4. Guillermo Del Toro
Classic albums are rare. For many, if an album contains a sufficient number of exciting moments, it need not be perfect. Increasingly, many people are coming to see films that way: if they contain some interesting elements, they need not be that strong works of art.
Consider a few well-known commercial directors of the past ten years: one became famous for making movies with twists; another is infamous for creating a string of video game adaptations; and yet another makes blockbusters known for action and special effects, and has received the occasional raised eyebrow for his depiction of minorities in bit roles. Whether appreciation of specialized films of this sort represents a new strain of equanimity, or is tantamount to reading novels for their adjectives, is a matter of opinion.
In this new paradigm, perhaps everyone is a specialist. But if one would give Del Toro that label, then it must be said that he specializes in developing an authoritative understanding of his subject, creating remarkable images, and invoking classic works of art and mythology. 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth, a period piece which drew inspiration from horror, fairytale, and symbolist painting, yields more after each viewing.
5. Tony Gilroy
In the third segment of a 1958 television interview with Aldous Huxley, Mike Wallace turned a question the English writer had raised in his then-newly published Enemies of Freedom (1958) back to him: in an age of accelerating over-population, of accelerating over-organization, and ever more efficient means of mass communication, how can we preserve the integrity and reassert the value of the human individual?
Wallace later asked if freedom was a necessity, seeing as the Soviet Union appeared to be thriving economically and artistically. Huxley said that while the Soviet Union was not free, he found it interesting that an oligarchy of scientists and other skilled individuals received considerable prestige, freedom, and money for their efforts, provided they didn’t meddle in politics, while the unskilled received far less.
Gilroy’s Michael Clayton (2007) had its share of admirers and critics when it debuted. Two years later, as the United States struggles to weather bleak economic conditions, his film, which explores the occupational hazards that people face while fulfilling obligations in a tainted corporate world, feels uncomfortably familiar.
6. Gnarls Barkely
To quote Rolling Stone’s Ron Sheffield, Gnarls Barkley possesses an “unpredictable sonic brilliance” that draws from a spectrum of influences (R&B, Gospel, Trip Hop, and rock, to start), and is at once beguiling and unsettling. Their Grammy Award-winning album St. Elsewhere (2006) and 2008’s The Odd Couple are emblematic of this decade, and if they release more material in the next few years, it may well be emblematic of the next one.
7. Fumito Ueda
It’s easy to lose sight of how powerful video game consoles are. Sony’s Playstation 2 is ‘weak’ in comparison to the XBOX 360 and the Playstation 3, but what some gamers may not know is that in the late 90s, the United States International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) prohibited the export of the PS2 to non-G7 countries because its 128-bit chips could be used to operate missile guidance systems. Game developers’ understanding of what the chips could do gave rise to a generation of releases in which pixel count was equated with quality.
With this in mind, when Lead developer Fumito Ueda came up with a stripped down concept for a “boy meets girl” game in which the characters would hold hands during their adventure to establish a bond but would not communicate, it cut against popular notions of what a good game was. According to 1UP magazine, “Ico's design aesthetics were guided by three … notions: to make a game that would be different from others in the genre, feature an aesthetic style that would be consistently artistic, and play out in an imaginary yet realistic setting.” This was achieved “through the use of “subtracting design”; they removed elements from the game which interfered with the game's reality.”
Released in 2001, the haunting final product, minimalist and visually inspired by Greek-Italian metaphysical painter Giorgio de Chirico’s The Nostalgia of the Infinite, has become a cult classic.
8. Priscilla Hamby
One half of the creative team behind the Grand Prize winning submission for Tokyopop’s first Rising Stars of Manga competition, Priscilla Hamby penciled and inked Devil’s Candy, a high school fantasy story that featured a colorful set of characters, including a young demon protagonist, gym teacher skeleton ninja sensei, a smitten but overlooked cyclops, and a mute, undead nurse / homework assignment held together by stitches and a gigantic safety pin.
Manga made in the States regularly faces the stigma of lacking the originality and feel of its Japanese counterparts, as well as being poorly drawn. Hamby’s work lives up to the standards set overseas, but her approach is her own.
9. Lupe Fiasco
Wasalu Jaco, bka Lupe Fiasco, has explained that by design his delivery has much in common with jazz, in that it appears straightforward on the surface but is more complex than it looks. Lupe’s not exactly obscure at this point: it’s common knowledge that he’s way past good. But to gain a fuller sense of his skill level, transcribe one of his songs. Doing so brings many of the devices he uses – patterns, internal / odd numbered rhyme schemes, and triple entendres, to start – into plain view, and it’s possible to look at the economy and cohesiveness that he manages to sustain while executing them. Lupe’s ability to make music that addresses a range of subjects, in a way that doesn’t sound like anyone else, makes him one of the strongest Hip Hop artists of the past decade.
10. Kenzo Digital
New Media artist Kenzo Digital took apart and reconstructed films and music videos in order to make City of God’s Son (2009), a Hip Hop-laced crime film that contains elements of Greek tragedy. The project, which stars Nas, Jay-Z Ghostface, Biggie, Samuel L. Jackson, Delroy Lindo, and Lawrence Fishburn, recontextualizes the music and images of Digital’s childhood heroes, and challenges the viewer to examine how they determine which associations they do or don’t make with particular memories, and what leads them to settle on those associations.