MATRIX 161/ Rashaad Newsome, through May 1, 2011
High society and street culture join forces in New York artist Rashaad Newsome’s art, beginning with fantasy coats of arms created for today’s hip-hop royalty. Borrowing the traditional design elements of medieval heraldry—initially developed to identify knights’ alliances when covered in full-body armor on the battlefield—Newsome updates the ancient lexicon with the contemporary status symbols of black urban youth and its lead tastemakers, like rap music mogul Jay-Z. From Louis Vuitton hats and Rolex watches, to AMEX black cards and Mercedes sports cars, Newsome mines music magazines and auction catalogues for the luxury items, designer brands and oversized “bling” jewelry that are sanctioned by the hip-hop elite. Hundreds of individually-cut and pasted images form each opulent coat-of-arms collage in his “Status Symbols” series. By adopting an upper echelon hallmark and marrying it to low-brow culture, Newsome attempts to level the social and political playing field on a grand scale.
In Venus de Video (2010), a recent collage, Newsome makes reference to two iconic representations of Venus—the Venus de Milo (Greek, late 2nd century BC)1 and Alessandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (c. 1485).2 Newsome’s mythological goddess of love assumes the form of a big-bottomed video girl set against a field of jewel- encrusted flowers surrounded by a variety of glistening gems and gold and platinum chains, with a pink Lamborghini at its base. Carpeted in pearls, the background is surrounded by an ornate frame with four scallop shells that allude to the perch of Botticelli’s Venus. The frame is painted with Ferrari’s customized pearlescent car finishes in powder blue and white. This armorial achievement—an excessive display of luxury—toys with the stereotype of the hip-hop crowd.
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