High-Art Piano Showdown: Is Drake’s Custom Murakami More Stylish than Damien Hirst’s Steinway?

Sarah Douglas

BY SARAH DOUGLAS

April 16, 2020 11:57am

HIRST: AGF/SHUTTERSTOCK; MURAKAMI: EARL GIBSON III/SHUTTERSTOCK; ILLUSTRATION: DANIELA HRITCU

Superstar artists Takashi Murakami and Damien Hirst have a lot in common: they both have had extensive studio practices featuring armies of assistants, and their images have become inextricably linked with the rise of their work in the art market. They have something else in common: pianos.

Earlier this month, Architectural Digest published a feature on Drake’s 50,000-square-foot mansion in Toronto and splashed on its cover a photograph of the musician with a piano embellished with a painting by Japanese superstar artist Takashi Murakami. The instrument is a bespoke Bösendorfer concert grand piano designed by Murakami and Ferris Rafauli, a leading Canadian designer, who is responsible for the overall design of Drake Manor. Murakami’s painting, which appears on the underside of the painting’s cover, features the skulls motif familiar from the 2012 paintings he exhibited at Gagosian gallery.

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As for Rafauli, Dolce magazine describes him as “boasting monomaniacal attention to detail and [having] a gilded touch that gleams throughout his classically disciplined, transcendent super homes.” He is also responsible for Drake’s Sher Club inside the Air Canada Centre, which the magazine describes as a “champagne-popping, über-intimate party hideout” that, under Rafauli’s direction, “features sexy-eccentric touches like crushed red velvet, pony-hair hides, piano-black gloss walls, hand-blown sculptural art and a rich black-and-gold scheme that rocks out to a modern-baroque vibe.”

Damian Hirst’s piano is a Steinway grand that he created in 2009, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary gala for the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles. Hirst covered it with pink paint and his signature butterfly pattern, composed of real butterflies.  This wasn’t just any MOCA fundraising gala: when the 2008 recession hit, it found MOCA in dire straits, having spent down its endowment, and the 2009 event was under pressure to raise funds for a struggling institution—the piano would be one of the items auctioned to benefit the museum.

That night, Lady Gaga played her new hit “Speechless” on Hirst’s piano (part of a work of performance art by Francesco Vezzoli) as attendees like Pharrell and, as it happens, Murakami, looked on. As to who was the bigger star at the moment, Gaga or Hirst, Paula Johanson’s 2012 biography of Gaga characterizes it as something of a toss-up: “In just a couple of fast-paced years, Gaga has changed from being a student at New York University writing essays about Damien Hirst to a world-famous performer collaborating with that celebrated artist.” Later that night the piano was sold to benefit MOCA. Who could resist the urge to own a piano not just once played by Lady Gaga but just played by Lady Gaga? The instrument sold for a whopping $450,000 to Larry Gagosian, art dealer to both Hirst and Murakami.

So, whose piano is better? Beyond aesthetic and musical instrument considerations, should either of these pianos come on the market, part of their appeal would be their history and provenance, and therefore it may just come down to whether you prefer Lady Gaga or Drake.

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