Rashaad Newsome: Herald
545 W. 25th Street
New York City, NY 10001
October 20 – December 3, 2011
Rashaad Newsome’s first solo exhibition at Marlborough Chelsea provided a kaleidoscopic summation of contemporary African American popular culture communicated through the language of emblazoned crests and stately regalia. In keeping with the show’s title: Herald, he fabricates a series of fictional heraldic badges and performs a ceremonial practice that vaguely resemble the traditions of nobility in the dominant western world. His collaged blazons captivate and inundate the viewer with material finery, sometimes walking the fine line between sumptuousness and garishness.
The lavish frames steal the show, sometimes overshadowing the collages, or serving as three-dimensional extensions of them. In so doing, Newsome very cleverly exploits the heraldic nature of decorative framing itself, which often validate the art objects that they contain through their ornate splendor. By tailoring antique frames with added status symbols such as wheel rims, microphones, and gold chains, Newsome cleverly mimics the customization of classic cars, a practice that has traditionally imbued mainstream luxury with expressions of individuality and power. In drawing equivalencies between precious stones and customized wheel rims, he questions the intrinsic value of the respective materials.
Newsome’s show points to a new direction (one of many) that African American artists have taken when engaging in identity politics. Whereas Kehinde Wiley exalts his African American subjects using aesthetic cues from art history, Newsome takes this concept and amplifies it exponentially, telescoping from Baroque references to the Rococo, to the history of black music. Thus, he fittingly verges on the vulgar and ostentatious, employing the sinuous lines of his collages’ assembled bling to mimic rocaille ornamentation.
His works such as Let Them Eat Cakes (2011) are nearly hypnotic in their repetition, thus making a subtle commentary on the media that so pervasively diffuse this type of imagery. Women’s thighs and rear ends are objectified to the point of becoming one with the ornamentation itself. Interestingly, Newsome utilizes a similar motif of female body parts in his tribute to Nicki Minaj, Black Barbie (2011), thus intertwining the work’s symbolic references to queenliness and regality with female sexuality.
Newsome’s video component in the downstairs main gallery, Herald (2011) once again exploits the lavishness of the gilded frame, but also incorporates his work as a musician and multimedia artist in the music video format. He uses the medium to weave a narrative about his coronation as a fictional herald, both deriving from and contributing to the hop-hop lore popularized by the music videos and album covers of Jay-Z, Lil’ John, Snoop Dogg, and Biggie Smalls. Newsome counterbalances Herald in the upstairs gallery with his video Swag (2011), which combines his own audio mixes with complex video editing, and introductions in gothic script. Herald and Swag serve as strong bookends to the exhibition by at last providing the viewer with a visible whole, rather than fragmented subject and finally allowing personhood to permeate.
Despite its exaggerated allusions to African American stereotypes, Newsome so successfully weaves his tongue-in-cheek humor throughout the exhibition that the viewer could forgive him most any infraction (whether intended or not). However, the artist doesn’t fully unpack his overarching concept until the exhibition’s conclusion. Newsome truly shines in his multimedia work, combining his abilities in audio mixing, animation, and collage to bring his ideas to life.
Stephanie Peterson is a New York-based writer. Her research interests include figurative painting in Europe, intersections between traditional and contemporary media, and the revival of historical techniques and themes as a means to cope with trauma. She is currently enrolled in the art history PhD program at the CUNY Graduate Center.
view all articles from this author