Step One: November 2010. The Moment: Kim Kardashian appears naked on W’s November cover, her figure overlaid with artist Barbara Kruger’s feminist text. Despite being partially covered, she calls the image “full-on porn” while sobbing on Keeping Up With the Kardashians. The Reaction: New York magazine defends the work, asking, “Why should an ‘Art’ issue be limited to greats like Salvador Dalí? The antics of Kardashian can appeal to the same analytical minds that appreciate surrealist art.” #Truth. The Lesson: Becoming a cultural icon is performance art.
Slammed and Dunked by XVALA.
Step Two: March 2012. The Moment: After stealing a deflated basketball out of her trash bin, gonzo artist Xvala creates Slammed and Dunked, a one-night site-specific installation inspired by Kardashian’s failed marriage to NBA player Kris Humphries. “You can always learn something about someone by looking through their garbage,” Xvala explained in the press release for the event, “and Kim produces a lot of garbage.” The Reaction: Shortly after the rooftop art occurrence, Kardashian releases a new fragrance called True Reflection — a nod to her Instagram fame — and Forbes reports her yearly earnings at $18 million. The Lesson: Anything can be art, especially when you’re a Kardashian.
Step Three: June 2013. The Moment: Sculptor Daniel Edward unveils his statue of a pregnant Kim Kardashian at the Lab Art gallery in Hollywood. The Reaction: Inspired by Roman fertility busts, the artist encouraged Kardashian’s fans to rub the piece’s belly for good luck and/or social media glory. Hundreds did, turning the celebrity’s image into a momentary Buddha. The Lesson: Idol worship is real, you guys.
Step Four: March 2013. The Moment: The Cut notes that Kardashian’s style has become “the spitting image of Marina Abramovic’s.” The Reaction: Fashion blogs worldwide begin comparing the two, sparking millennial interest in side braids and austere performance art pieces — neither of which is a bad thing. The Lesson: To paraphrase Picasso, good artists copy, but celebrities steal in the chicest possible way.
Step Five: November 2013. The Moment: Kanye West buys Kardashian a Birkin bag “decorated” with a painting by the contemporary artist George Condo. The Reaction: Outraged Birkin owners, many of whom spent years on a waiting list for their Hermès bounty, take to Twitter. Meanwhile, Kardashian takes to the streets of Los Angeles, posing with her Condo bag for swarms of paparazzi. The Lesson: All great artists have baggage — but only Kim Kardashian’s is handmade in France.
Step Six: December 2013 The Moment: Kardashian Instagrams a photo of Jeff Koons with five-month-old North. The Reaction: Everyone from Artforum to MTV races to Wikipedia — the art set to learn more about Kardashian, the youth to find out about the old guy in her picture. The Lesson: Even North West’s balloon animals will probably end up in a museum someday.
Step Seven: January 2014. The Moment: LACMA director Michael Govan takes Kardashian and Silicon Valley billionaire Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen on a private tour of the James Turrell retrospective. The Reaction: The museum is flooded with phone calls and emails, forcing communications director Miranda Carroll to issue a press release to E! News about the event. She tries to downplay it, saying, “we often get celebrity visitors.” The Lesson: James Turrell’s art makes for great selfie backgrounds.
Keeping up with the Kardashians from E!
Step Eight: June 2014. The Moment: Keeping Up with the Kardashians features an art world subplot: Kourtney believes an old heirloom painting could be a Modigliani! Kris Jenner enlists several experts to analyze the work as Kim and Khloé lend emotional support. Tragedy ensues: it’s so not a Modigliani. The Reaction: Artnet gleefully declares, “We’re not quite sure what happened, but we’ve arrived at the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to combine the words ‘Kardashian’ and ‘Modigliani’ in a single story.” The Lesson: If you can somehow get people to say your name in the same breath as a great artist’s, the transitive property applies.
Jean-Paul Goude for Paper.
Step Nine: December 2014. The Moment: Kardashian West (she married Kanye in March 2014) collaborates with the photographer Jean-Paul Goude on Paper magazine’s “Break The Internet” issue. (Papermag.com does in fact crash from the traffic surge.) The Reaction: At Art Basel Miami, Kardashian West tells a table of dinner guests that she felt the cover image was “truly a work of art.” The Lesson: Forget shutting down museums. Kim Kardashian West can shut down the internet.
Courtesy of Rizzoli.
Step Ten: May 2015. The Moment: Kardashian West debuts Selfish, a 448-page book of (yes) selfies published by the art press Rizzoli. The Reaction: The Atlantic Monthly reluctantly calls it a triumph of postmodern imagery, admitting “Kim is the unlikely embodiment of Duchamp’s urinal: In declaring herself, against all common sense, as art, she mocks and dares and provokes…. She might also, against all odds, move us forward.” The Lesson: The face of contemporary art is literally changing before our eyes.
Step Eleven: April 2016. The Moment: Juergen Teller’s portrait of Kardashian West is unveiled at Art Cologne. The Reaction: Teller’s work quickly becomes the art fair’s biggest tourist attraction — despite the fact that Kölsch has their own booth, stocked floor to ceiling with totally free beer. The Lesson: Kim Kardashian West photos are now more popular than free booze. Let that sink in….
Getty Images for Kanye West
Step Twelve: August 2016. The Moment: Famous debuts at Blum & Poe art gallery in Los Angeles. Featuring nude wax figures of Kimye, Taylor Swift, Rihanna and more, the sculptural work was inspired by painter Vincent Desiderio’s “Sleeping” series. The Reaction: At the opening, Kardashian West reveals to wmag.com that she was involved in every detail. “I shaved my own butt,” she told us. “It was a little too small, and then it was a little too big. I was there with the tools to get it right.” The Lesson: Pop culture and high art have officially merged into one vessel, and her name is Kim Kardashian West.