Schrager’s celebrity-as-art-practice project is called ONA, and ran from 2015-2020. She started the project with the question: Is it possible to create a celebrity as an intentional art practice? What would that even look like? She is striving to make a real world celebrity so she can (among other goals) successfully appropriate her own image into her art while also investigating how, in the digital age, everyone is conducting their own “celebrity project.”
Pre-2015 Schrager was using her own image as a model in her artwork and found that being both the model and artist created a unique and fruitful relationship. In looking at appropriation artists such as Richard Prince there were two primary subjects: model and celebrity. Thus her goal was to create a celebrity so she could use those images and be the celebrity, model, and artist in her work.
By attempting to achieve actual celebrity despite her DIY, fully self-made and self-funded status, she’s sharing what she’s learning about female performance and celebrity and what is and isn’t allowed in the mainstream (and art), all the while sharing her music, pro-sex feminist message, and celebrations of life, art, and sexuality. But was Ona sucessful? Yes and no.
Some art using Ona as the base image:
“If you’re not familiar with ONA’s music, buckle up…The song cooks and its uptempo, driving indie rock showcases promise that goes beyond her traditional modeling.” – Pure Volume
“There are few singers and artists who are so unique, so individual, so highly talented that they’re known by just one name. Beyonce. Picasso. Madonna. Prince. Perhaps it’s time you add another name to that list: Ona. She’s both a singer and an artist. And as you’ll see on her Instagram or hear from her songs on Spotify, she’s a singular talent. So, let’s start your weekend off right: do yourself a solid and enjoy the undeniable sexiness of her one woman self-made photoshoot.” – Playboy
“Beautifully orchestrated, featuring melodic piano lines, ferocious crashing high-hat drums, and most notably Ona’s gorgeous, breathy alto vocals…one of the better tracks I’ve heard in a while…this record will undoubtedly be making our year end list.” – Audiofemme
“Lullaby sweet vocals with a cyber soundtrack … an ‘extreme selfie model’” – Wonderland
“Best title song ever.” – Jerry Saltz
“ONA — an objectively stunning woman who has worked her angles into hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of followers, and a viable independent career. While the paparazzi may not be camped outside her Brooklyn, New York apartment like a traditional celebrity, ONA is certainly famous by 2018 standards…. Of course, this life does not come without sacrifice. Living publicly as a SW has seen everyone from family members to former classmates weigh in on her lifestyle… While it seems like movement to reclaim female sexuality is progressing in leaps and bounds, there’s still a long way to go, ONA asserts, but she is more happy to be in the trenches. PAPER caught up with the model to talk sex, more sex and rock ‘n’ roll.” – Paper
Some "numbers" based art:
Interview excerpt from Dazed in 2016ish.
Q: Tell me about the Celebrity Project. How did the premise come about? What are you trying to say by becoming Ona?
The Celebrity Project started in 2015 and involves the creation of a musician/artist/model named Ona and the attempt to make her a celebrity by achieving the following by 2020: 1) a photo of her ass on the cover of Rolling Stone, 2) 1 million song downloads, and 3) 10 million Instagram followers. It’s also an evolving question – what does it mean to make a celebrity as an art practice? – so far it includes being fully in charge of manufacturing all elements of her artistry, marketing and imagery, and documenting my experience as a kind of social, aesthetic and emotional adventure.
The idea came to me in the last semester of my MFA program when professors (and some students) kept saying that the images of myself that I was placing in my art were too sexy to be art. But when I looked around, I saw a few things. First, there was plenty of “sexy” in the art world – it was just women presented by what I call “man hands” (images by male photographers or works that appropriate the images of models or celebrities). Second, I saw hypocrisy because so many art world people seem to love mainstream (industry-sanctioned) celebrities and they incessantly listened to their music and watched their movies. Finally, I felt there was a kind of puritanical art world prejudice against women using their bodies in a sexy way in their art. I first experienced this when I was kicked out of the West Chelsea Artists Open Studio in 2012 because the director said my work was an “ad” and not “art.” So I decided to eschew appropriation, fight the hypocrisy, and subvert puritanism by creating a DIY sexy celebrity as an art practice, or what I recently called in Rhizome “a self-made supermodel.”
Social media, particularly Instagram, has been central to this project. I’m really fascinated with online interaction and the dynamics of fandom. Inevitably, I think anyone trying to grow a social media account is engaged in their own celebrity project, so I view what I’m doing to be a kind of metaphor for the general trend toward a universal adoption of the practice of micro-celebrity creation.
What has the reaction been by online users? Do they know that you are an artist?
I have had great reactions from male fans and have been surprisingly welcomed into the Instagram modelling world. Many of my fans tell me I’m an awesome artist just based on the photos I put on my IG, which now has over 400,000 followers. I also share my music and videos and sometimes my visual art there as well. Some of my followers know I’m also an “artist” and some don’t – it depends on their interest. All they have to do is look a little deeper, but some don’t care to. It doesn’t matter to me.
But in the end my IG aesthetic actually isn’t mainstream-celebrity or Instagram-standard. I’m quite influenced by Cindy Sherman, and my photos come from 100s of different locations and my goal is to explore different looks (as opposed to pushing a single image brand). While this isn’t the norm for someone seeking to become a celebrity, it is true to my artistic nature and is one way I’m trying to be an artist and celebrity at once.
Her Year 1 show was held at Superchief Gallery in NYC. Highlighted work included “50 Favorite IG Comments From Fans” and screenshots of photos from her Instagram with her favorite comment highlighted (with 10% of sales going to the commenter). She also released her EP, “Sex Rock.”
Her Mid Year 2 investor presentation was performed at the Johannes Vogt Gallery. As the press release said, “In East Hampton Schrager will present a humorous yet authentic take on the “Investors Presentation Template for a Tech Start-Up,” in form of a slide show that describes her current long-form art practice, ONA: The Celebrity Project. Schrager is attempting to create a Female Elvis, or what she has called “the Naked Rockstar,” who has 10 million Instagram followers, 1 million album downloads, and a photo of her ass on the cover of Rolling Stone by January 2020.”
Her Year 2 show was held at the old Vanity Fair Offices in Times Square as part of SPRING/BREAK Art Show 2017.
It had become clear that her growth and fame on Instagram was due to a male audience and male enthusiasm, and that this male audience precluded her from being touched by mainstream media and music labels.
In 2017 she self-released her first album, “Onamania,” as well as song-specific artworks.
After announcing that she was going to go more explicit on her snapchat in 2018, a fan approached her with a proprosal to create a female friendly persona. The morphed into An American Dream and put Ona on hold.
When this fan ran out of money in 2020 and COVID hit, Ona had completely given up on the mainstream art/music/celebrity world. She took the dive and launched “The Artist Is F*cked” an Onlyfans project. As the completion to the project she sold her Instagram, which remains now as a commercial endeavor.