In the 1981 classic cult film, Escape from New York, Manhattan is a maximum security prison ruled by a self- proclaimed "Duke" (Isaac Hayes) who patrols his lair in a big, blinged out Cadillac festooned with ornate baroque candelabras. Rashaad Newsome's 2013 New Orleans Museum of Art expo harked to the Duke with herald-like works that bridged the gap between gangs, hip-hop and medieval warlords. His new Contemporary Art Center show, Melange, is also baroquely dystopian, but features a Funkadelic futurist aesthetic that shares DNA with Mothership Connection-era George Clinton or Bootsy Collins as well as German expressionists like Hannah Höch and Richard Lindner.
Is this a glimpse into our future? Newsome's visual mash-ups reflect digital technology's relentless spawning of new forms and hybrids that turbocharge disruptive innovation while unsettling many who suffer from that common American malady: ossified resilience syndrome. But our carnival culture was creating bizarre hybrids way before digital, and Newsome's Creole Nola heritage continues to inspire. 1st Place, top left, is as ambitious as its name, a mutant hip-hop earth mother in fishnet stockings who spans art history from Bosch to Wangechi Mutu. Look Back at It (detail view), above right, is more anatomical, with time and gender-bending vogue dancers affirming Newsome's role as a “cultural re-mix artist” who sees collage, dance and video as a single seamless aesthetic. The choreography and special effects of his adjacent vogue dance video, FIVE SFMOMA, bears that out while adding an extra dimension to a collage show that employs techniques pioneered by Europe's surrealists a century ago. Surrealism -- that most carnivalesque of art movements – evolved from the fantastical visions of great Belle Époque French Symbolist painters like Odilon Redon, whose Louisiana parentage came full circle via his long distance influence on Nola's 19th century carnival float, costume and ball designers. Some of Newsome's collages like Grand Prize, top, a pastiche of eyes, legs, lips, incendiary smoke and gaudy bling, suggest dystopian Mardi Gras ball invitations from a post - apocalyptic future. It is darkly beautiful, but we can only hope it is not prophetic as well. Bookhardt / Melange: Films, Works on Paper and Vogue Performance by Rashaad Newsome, Through Feb. 12, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805.
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