"Put your phones away, please. Put your phones away!" warned the large security guard wandering a crowded Los Angeles museum space, where screenings began Saturday for the weekend premiere of "All Day/I Feel Like That," a short film by Kanye West and Academy Award-winning artist-director Steve McQueen. The L.A. County Museum of Art is exclusively hosting the film as a pop-up exhibition over four days.
"They're two artists at the total top of their game," museum director Michael Govan said of West and McQueen, watching as fans of art and music filed in and out of the gallery. "To have them collaborating seemed like an historic occasion. They're both genre-bending: Steve McQueen moves back and forth between film and art, and Kanye moves back and forth between art and music and fashion."
The nine-minute film is essentially a music video for two songs from West's upcoming seventh album, SWISH. The day before, McQueen and West previewed the film for invited guests and fine-tuned the minimalist presentation, where stacks of booming speakers in each corner echoed up through the building's three floors. Whatever the room's bass-heavy sound lost in crispness and detail it gained in muscle, as the anxious and triumphant "All Day" gave way to raw feeling and vulnerability on "I Feel Like That."
McQueen, whose film 12 Years a Slave took home the 2013 Oscar for Best Picture, already has work in LACMA's collection, and West has been a frequent and enthusiastic visitor to the institution. Three months ago, Govan gave the Grammy-winning musician a tour of a samurai exhibition, as West drew connections and inspiration for his fashion line.
"Kanye called Steve because he really loved his work, and that's how they ended up collaborating," Govan explained. "Kanye has collaborated with many artists and he said, 'Working with Steve, I'm elevating my palette.'"
The new film opens with West looking calmly into the camera, dressed in simple black T-shirt and jeans, catching his breath as the music swells to the first moments of "All Day." Shot this spring in a London dockyard warehouse, the scene is bathed under soft window light as West bobs and weaves to the kinetic beats, his hands waving in front of his face, as the camera chases him around the room. Later, the lens veers away, and West struggles to stay within the frame.
As the song comes to a close, a playful spaghetti western whistle and acoustic guitar from Paul McCartney drifts past, and West crouches on the floor and pounds the air to three hard final beats. For the film's second section, West remains at center stage, but he's spent emotionally and physically, short of breath, sliding to the floor. "I feel like that all the time," he wails. At the end, the camera pulls back, and West's head falls forward, alone.
Screenings concluded with some applause before the film quickly started up again on a screen hanging at the center of the gallery. Fans wandered in and out, some staying for several showings, or stepping out onto the concrete floor to mimic West's dance moves for a few moments.
For Johnny Pashayan, a 20-year-old musician from Hollywood, hearing West's new music in a museum setting was memorable. "It's an experience doing it in person versus watching it on your computer screen," he said. "I'm a big Kanye fan. It was a cool location for the video. That warehouse looked dope."
Christine Burton, 41, arrived in a Run-D.M.C. T-shirt but didn't know about the West/McQueen exhibit until arriving with a friend for a Latin jazz concert at the museum that same afternoon. "He's a pretty brilliant guy, actually. If he's able to articulate what he's thinking and get everyone to buy into it, that's great," Burton said of West, but left wanting "more interaction" on camera.
As a serious fan of both West and McQueen's work, recent UCLA art school grad Donel Williams, 27, suggested the film represented "the progression Kanye's made from Chicago-based producer to his work becoming more informed by artists and performance artists," he said. "It still has his Kanye bravado, but it did seem a lot more tame and a lot more stripped down and minimal. For me he's always been a consistent artist. I know what to expect whenever I get a Kanye album: Something a little different, but still the same Kanye."