26 Questions for Cultural Remix Artist Rashaad Newsome
Coming off a blockbuster show at Marlborough Chelsea in November, rising art star Rashaad Newsome reinvented his performance from the 2010 Whitney Biennial, entitled "FIVE," during Art HK at FEAST Projects in Hong Kong.
Name: Rashaad Newsome?
City/Neighborhood: New York
What project are you working on now?
Currently, I’m working on [my performance for ART HK] "FIVE-Hong Kong."
Your dance performance “FIVE” debuted at the 2010 Whitney Biennial. Your new version for Art HK brings baritone Stefanos Koroneos, rapper SCANZ, and several New York Vogue dancers together with local Hong Kong musicians in a mash-up of traditional Chinese music, Western opera, hip-hop, and queer ball culture. How did the meaning of the performance change in Hong Kong?
It’s more that the music and the dance has changed. By collaborating with local musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments I’ve been able to explore new melodies. Also, in this performance. I’m bringing in elements from other bodies of work like the "Mix Tape."
Had you been to China before this performance? What surprised you most about the art scene there?
No, and I’ve been most surprised at how small it is. Maybe I just need to spend more time here.
“FIVE” introduces the art world to Vogue, a dance-form that rose out of Harlem's gay ballroom scene in the 1960s. Your performance aims to transcend the dance’s marginalization and make a case for it as a legitimate art form. Why is Vogue important to you?
My interest in Vogue is how it functions as a language that’s constantly in a state of flux. It’s a system of movements that communicate something to the dancer's opponents and the judges. One can’t go to a school and learn how to vogue. You go to where it’s happening, learn the language and make it your own. So in a lot of ways whenever you encounter vogue you’re encountering what’s in front of you and everything that came before it. I’m also very interested in the parallels you can draw from ballroom culture and the culture of the courts in the Renaissance era. Vogue was also coopted very early in its creation. Being that I was a part of the ballroom community, I felt a responsibility to give it back to the community and employ the community.
Your collages bring together hip-hop imagery with ancient heraldry — as one writer put it, old and new forms of bling. Is your artwork a celebration or a critique of bling?
Neither. Through composition I try to test the elasticity of the meaning placed on those images, how they function pictorially, as well as explore the relationship these objects have to the body. I’m also thinking about the history that heraldry, ornament, and architecture share.
If you could create a crest for any person, alive or dead, who would it be for and what would it look like?
Well, there are so many people, but I’d have to say Jay Z. However I’m not sure what it would look like, as I would have to start working on it.
What's the last show that you saw?
Clifford Owens at PS1.
What's the last show that surprised you? Why?
Clifford’s show, because I was really impressed at how committed he was to that approach to performance and how he was able to make it new and exciting.
What's your favorite place to see art?
What's the most indispensable item in your studio?
Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?
Everywhere. But architecture, ornament, royal garments, and the streets to name a few.
Do you collect anything?
What's the last artwork you purchased?
A Deville Cohen wall sculpture.
What's the first artwork you ever sold?
A painting to my father.
What's the weirdest thing you ever saw happen in a museum or gallery?
A work being defaced. It was so sad.
What's your art-world pet peeve?
Ignorance, intolerance, and its short memory.
What's your favorite post-gallery watering hole or restaurant?
Do you have a museum/gallery going routine?
Know any good jokes?
What do you call a brown chicken gettin' it on with a brown cow? BROWN-CHICKN-BROWN-COW (Bow chicka bow wow).
What's the last great book you read?
“The Rhythmic Structure of Music” [by Grosvenor Cooper and Leonard B. Meyer].
What work of art do you wish you owned?
Paul Pfeiffer’s “Caryatid.”
What would you do to get it?
Pay for it or trade.
What international art destination do you most want to visit?
I’ve never been to Documenta and I’d really like to see that.
What under-appreciated artist, gallery, or work do you think people should know about?
Harvestworks Digital Media Art Center
Who's your favorite living artist?
I’m really feeling Theaster Gates's work right now.
What are your hobbies?