A new exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art blends the traditions of the Middle Ages with a futuristic vision of pop culture.
The work of former New Orleans resident Rashaad Newsome takes a variety of forms. Lining the Great Hall of the New Orleans Museum of Art is a collection of intricate collages. Just how intricate is evident close-up. The updated gilded frames contain patterns that repeat thousands of modern images — like jewels and hubcaps — to appear as multi-layered coats of arms.
That’s just what Newsome had in mind. He studied those patterns at the College of Arms in London.
“Everything that’s in the images is an object that represents social status, economic status, status as a warrior — some type of a symbol of position in society," he says. "And I collage them together to create color and shapes. So every image in the piece is sort of competing for its space within the piece and then collectively as a background — the background is competing with the foreground, which is also competing with the frame. So I look that each piece is sort of like having its own tournament happening within it, but then also each one is competing with each other.”
It’s a lot of competition. The frames are translucent with candy paint that’s usually seen on cars. The metallic hues change color, depending on the lighting. Borders include flowers, chains and cherubs.
NOMA’s modern art curator, Miranda Lash, says she first saw Newsome’s work at the Whitney Museum of American Art 2010 Biennial. It was a video of vogue dancing. Then she learned the artist, now living in New York, is originally from New Orleans and kept track of his work. She said his collection would blend perfectly with the NOMA series.
“The Great Hall Series is designed to debut new art by artists who are specifically responding to Louisiana in some way," she says.
Newsome merged his video work with the Middle Ages in a 2011 piece now on display at NOMA in a room off the second floor of the Great Hall. It’s called “Herald” and it depicts a kind of hip-hop knighting ceremony in church. It’s placed in the sight line of the museum’s 18th-Century portrait of Marie Antoinette.
Newsome says he thinks Antoinette would be very pleased with this view of the future. "I mean, she has quite a history of being very decadent. And I think there’s a very decadent nature to all of this work, to the point of absurdity. So I think she would appreciate that.”
Back in the Great Hall main floor, Newsome describes a collage he calls “Number One Stone of Vigilance.” It’s a tribute to Brian “Birdman” Williams, co-founder of Cash Money Records of New Orleans.
“That group of guys coined the phrase 'Bling', which is often used to describe my work, and also a lot of their early album artwork was a big inspiration for me. And it’s called “Number One Stone of Vigilance” because he’s considered to be the number-one stunner. He’s almost completely tattooed. He has tons of jewelry and all the latest cars and everything — so he would be like Marie Antoinette, actually.”
Newsome features the New Orleans’ Mardi Gras court traditions in a third video recorded at NOMA which will be released this fall. His collage collection is on view through September 15.