Fresh from a performance at the Dubai Country Club, Kanye West fit right in at Sunday's gala opening of the Takashi Murakami retrospective at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. The sharp-dressed rapper-artiste, who enlisted the Japanese art star to create videos and album art for his latest release, "Graduation," would have been perfectly comfortable mingling with the designers and socialites packed into the exhibition's Louis Vuitton store. But by performing a super-compressed set that had that crowd setting their Motorola V3 cellphones alight, he claimed his own place within Murakami's neo-Pop movement.
Jean-Michel Basquiat put hip-hop on museum walls decades ago. West takes the next step, his arty-commercial songs breaking the same barriers Murakami seeks to eradicate with his smart cartoons. Ambitiousness unites them too. West demonstrated his Sunday in a turbo-fueled performance, assisted by his all-female mini-orchestra, two backup singers, a DJ and a keyboardist, although he occupied the stage for less than half an hour.
Offering up many of his hits (though no "Jesus Walks") in rapid-fire succession, West paced and shadow-boxed, sweating in his black designer suit and patent-leather sneakers. The VIPs seated on leather ottomans in the front rows mostly just bobbed their heads, despite the feel-good vibe generated by Murakami's other American pal, designer Marc Jacobs, who threw his hands in the air and mouthed the lyrics to most every song.
West wasn't daunted by the suits clapping along politely; he meant to own this crowd, laying down his rhymes with a forcefulness appropriate for the big field at Coachella. His enthusiasm almost seemed ridiculous, but the heat inside the exhibition-adjacent VIP tent and the music's surge of beats, strings and brass made it convincing.
West offered a couple of quick freestyle rhymes, but the ticking clock offered little room for improvisation. Still, he managed to satisfy with a musical sprint that, for most artists, would have been only a warm-up. There were no guest stars -- Jay-Z had been whispered about -- but no one seemed disappointed. Ending with the electro-anthem "Stronger," West thanked Murakami -- who was smiling and bobbing his head stage right -- and exited, like a manga hero, in a cloud of smoke and purple-orange lights.