T | The New York Times Style Magazine
On the eve of his opening at the Studio Museum in Harlem — one among many milestones for him this year — the artist Rashaad Newsome opens the door to his new Bedford-Stuyvesant studio wearing his standard uniform of a Comme des Garçons T-shirt (this one black and long-sleeved), olive-green Adidas hightops and matching sweatpants.
In contrast to his sartorial minimalism, Newsome’s artwork focuses largely on pageantry and heraldry — the latter a subject that fascinates him “because it is made of images that represent rank, position, pedigree and status,” he says. To explore questions around power, gender and race, Newsome, 36, works in a variety of media: dance, performance, video and collage; but also many unseen tools, like motion-tracking and 3D-modeling software, even Xbox. “I’m interested in turning movement into material, and then material into movement and back again,” he says.
Newsome is on a roll that started in December, when he performed at a hot-ticket opening for Larry Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch’s pop-up gallery during Art Basel Miami. And the momentum will stretch through this season and into early 2017, with a New York gallery show next month; an engagement at a music festival in Brazil and a performance to celebrate the reopening of the newly expanded SFMOMA later in April; and then an autumn survey of his work in his hometown at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans.
For the Studio Museum spring exhibits — opening in tandem with solo shows by Rodney McMillan and Ebony G. Patterson — Newsome is contributing video and collage works he created between 2008 to 2014 around “vogue,” the dance form that came out of New York City’s queer ballroom scene of the 1970s. Newsome’s preoccupation is the popular appropriation of the style, the zenith (or nadir, depending on who’s talking) of which was Madonna’s megahit “Vogue.”
“I wanted to retell the story of this culture, but from my perspective, since I’m part of it,” Newsome says. “Just by putting these bodies within an institutional art-world context is already a major statement, because I didn’t see work like or about this ever in a museum or gallery until I started making it.” He makes a point of hiring performers from the vogue community, some of whom have gone on to tour with Rihanna.
Newsome’s next solo show, “Stop Playing in My Face!,” marks his debut with Chelsea’s De Buck Gallery and will feature a new series of collages, which for now are affixed to two long walls of his one-room studio, in various stages of completion. Here, Newsome has created clearly recognizable, mostly feminine figures. “I’m exploring the idea of feminism and the complexities of agency — who has it, who doesn’t and what that means,” Newsome says of his move toward portraiture. “And is agency inexplicably connected to whatever your privilege might be in this world? Is it even possible to talk about agency without talking about privilege?” On view will also be a nine-minute video that animates elements of Newsome’s collage figures with cameos from the feminist author and activist bell hooks, the trans activist Janet Mock and the vogueing legends Samantha James Revlon and Leiomy Maldonado.
Then Newsome flies to Brazil — his first visit — to lecture and D.J. on April 17 as part of São Paolo’s CCBB music festival before making his way to San Francisco, where he will stage a performance of “Five” for SFMOMA’s April 29 Art Bash. (Art Bash is an invitation-only party for the local and international art community to celebrate the expansion of the museum, which reopens to the public May 14 after almost three years of construction.) Newsome’s relationship with SFMOMA dates to a series of performances he did for the museum’s exhibition “Stage Presence: Theatricality in Art and Media” in 2012 — and a video the artist made from that performance is now in SFMOMA’s permanent collection, and will be on view when the museum reopens.
The November show at CAC is a homecoming-slash-victory-lap for Newsome, who is a New Orleans native and earned his bachelor’s in art history from Tulane. The exhibition, as yet untitled, will include works from all the above shows, plus a new series of five sculptures. For the sculptures, he wrote a special program for Xbox Kinect to track five signature moves of a vogue performer: “hand performance, floor performance, spin dips, catwalk and duck-walking,” he explains. His software rendered 3D image that are now being created as large-scale polished rebar sculptures — a new terrain for Newsome. “I think of my work in the totality, even across different media, with all these works referencing and communicating with one another,” he says. “So seeing them all together will be really exciting.”
“This is What I Want to See” is on view through June 26 at the Studio Museum in Harlem, 544 W. 125th St., New York, studiomuseum.org. A performance of “Five” will take place at Art Bash on April 29 at SFMOMA, 151 3rd St., San Francisco,sfmoma.org. A survey of work by Rashaad Newsome will be on view Nov. 10, 2016 through early February 2017 at Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp Street, New Orleans, La.,cacno.org.
Text by Laura van Straaten