Tuesday, January 31, 2017

From Voguing to Collages

Rashaad Newsome is back home with his latest exhibition Mélange at the Contemporary Art Center. Born in New Orleans, the artist lives in New York City after spending some time in Europe. The month long show includes not only a display of  collages, drawings on paper, videos, but also films, a live performance and a conversation moderated by Amanda Hunt, Associate Curator at The Studio Museum in Harlem. The following review concentrates on the exhibition located in the newly  refurbished first floor of the CAC.

Heavy glass doors now enclose the first and largest gallery filled with eleven collages hung against two walls in a dull arrangement. The museum-like display includes a wall text to introduce the artist and his work. Loud music brings some commotion to the otherwise quiet atmosphere. One by one, the collages dazzle in their austere surroundings and project lavish scenes. Luxurious, opulent, flamboyant, luscious, outlandish, racy, garish, kitschy, ..., there are not enough adjectives to describe the extravagant display of riches from the inhibited decors. Made of high end glossy magazines, the collages assemble pearls, diamonds, luxury watches, gold chains,  mixed with iconic historical buildings and heavily tattooed skins, glowing mouths, open legs, entangled arms, resulting in a visual overload. A mixture of high and low, they are meticulously built and result in dynamic portraits with hints of surrealism and humor. The larger pieces are presented in matching black custom frames covered with leather and automotive paint, adding a perfect finish.
The music comes from the second room where a 9 min. video is projected against a wall. FIVE SFMOMA, 2017, is a clip of the live performance which took place at the opening of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in April last year. Its title refers to the five moves of Vogue Fem, the latest style of voguing. It includes five elements (hands, cat walk, floor performance, spin dips and duck walking) translated in a frenetic "ballet" in five parts executed by five dancers with colored wigs and matching make-ups. Five musicians build up the music parallel to the moves, improvising as they watch the performers. An opera singer is also involved. The result could be chaotic if it was not for the intervention of the multi-disciplinary artist. In a few video shots, Newsome appears behind a computer, like a conductor, synchronizing music and dance while also drawing the dancer's moves, thanks to a 3D modeling software program. The resulting "three color lithographs with 3D and photographic collage elements" are then framed and displayed on the wall in chronological order, complementing the video.
Two black arrows point to a narrow passage giving access to the smaller back gallery where two silent videos are projected simultaneously side by side, recordings of live performances which took place in the artist's studio. Untitled and Untitled (New Way), 2009, are earlier works representing the collaboration between Newsome and selected performers.

A first walk through the exhibition left me unsettled and I realized that the visit should start with the two silent videos, in the back. The earlier works represent the key to the artist's inspiration. Newsome stated: "I view these videos as drawings, with the dancers acting as my pen, creating lines, shapes, landscapes, and an array of narratives." Unfortunately, the sound from FIVE SFMOMA which invades the whole exhibition spoils some of the experience. The next stop is in front of FIVE itself. The performance combining music, dance and drawings is possible due to the artist's diverse practices which include computer programming, collage, video, music, sculpture, performance. His skills brought him to turn "movement into material, and then material into movement" through computer programming. Freezing the movement to produce drawings, he then "fills them with abundant material to create collages".
A reflection on popular culture, connecting all media, glamorous, they should be the last sight.

photographs by the author:

"Brush Stroke", 2015
"When You're Talking to Someone and You Know They Are Lying but You Keep Listening", 2015
"#1st Place", 2016

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