Is rap the new performance art? Mega-rapper Jay-Z recently punctuated New York's summer doldrums with his six hour Pace Gallery Picasso Baby performance featuring art world notables in conjunction with his new single, and accompanying video, of the same name. In a related vein, Nola native and ascendant New York art star Rashaad Newsome has been merging high and street culture in a trajectory that included the 2010 Whitney Biennial, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and now NOMA, where his King of Arms collages appear downstairs. His Herald video, top, appears upstairs amid historic French paintings including Vigee LeBrun's court portrait of Marie Antoinette. Newsome's prolific use of fleur-de-lis flourishes suggests he is either a Francophile or Saints fan or, most likely, both. What distinguishes him from other art star bling freaks like Japan's slyly hucksterish Takashi Murakami, is his focus on Olde Europe's medieval heraldry and baroque ornament, which he mashes up with rap's all-American, all consuming commodity fetish for flashy jewelry and even flashier babes and cars.
Rap's obsession with tacky status symbols sets it apart from local African-American roots culture like second lines, spiritual churches and Zulu, among other social aid and pleasure clubs, but Newsome says his flair for performance was profoundly influenced by his formative years in Nola, where parades just happen like the rain and baroque and medieval flourishes are pervasive. His collage sculpture Jungle Gardenia, left, is as baroquely ornamental as a Faberge egg, with a complex composition of gold filigree, bejeweled flowers and ornamental motifs that up close are revealed as flashy car wheels and grinning lips parted to display gold teeth. Duke of Nola, top left, is similar but features rapper Juvenile enshrined in a cornucopia of bling and tattooed limbs. In these works Newsome has us compare the status symbols of rap with the entrenched elegance of the European courts that once colonized the world in an age when the baddest gangstas of all wore crowns and wielded scepters.
King of Arms: Mixed Media by Rashaad Newsome, Through September 15, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100. Left: Jungle Gardenia (Detail)
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