Lady Gaga’s Fleshy Outfit Echoes Artistic Lobsters, Maggots

Vegetarians and vegans are outraged, I read, over Lady Gaga’s meat dress.

Journalists scent a good story, though not the odor of decaying beef (reports claim it smelled good). We in the art world, meanwhile, have a different problem to ponder: Was this an example of pastiche, conscious revival or accidental imitation?

The most obvious point of reference, art historically, is “Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic” (1987) by the Czech-Canadian artist Jana Sterbak, consisting of 50 pounds of well tailored and salted steak. In photographs, it resembled a loudly patterned pink chintz frock.

This caused a scandal similar to the current Gaga brouhaha when displayed at the National Gallery, Ottawa, in 1991. In a highly original form of protest, people who disapproved of the work sent food scraps to the museum. There is, however, a wider and more intriguing lesson here: Rock and pop music have a lot to do with performance art.

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