Face to Face with the Duke of NOLA

Communications Assistant Kimberly Drew on her visit to Rashaad Newsome’s solo exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art

  • Rashaad Newsome
    Duke of NOLA, 2011
    Courtesy the artist and Marlborough Gallery, New York

I really wish I had heeded everyone's warnings when I embarked on my vacation to New Orleans. Friends said, "You'll love it there" and "Prepare for the best time of your life!" No one said, "Kim, prepare yourself for depression of massive proportions as your board your plane back to JFK..."

A week before my flight, I drafted my itinerary - I knew I'd have to see Rashaad Newsome's King of Arms at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) and eat a po' boy. I didn't want to get too ambitious heading to a new city without a plan for transportation.  My primary goal was taking it easy in the “Big Easy”.

The first day I woke up in New Orleans, I reached for my phone to check e-mails, text messages, etc. and saw the temperature for the day - a steamy 96 degrees. I had to muster my courage to step outside and head to NOMA. After a ride from the Lower Garden District to Center City, I knew I was ready to stay—I've fantasized about life in New Orleans since I was six, listening to Cash Money Records and rapping along to the Big Tymers and Lil' Wayne.

After ascending the Museum’s main staircase, I went directly to the information desk; I asked the woman at the desk a bit about what was on view. Her eyes lit as she explained that Rashaad Newsome was an artist represented by a gallery all the way from New York and that he'd graduated from Tulane University. She then urged me to grab a copy of their magazine and sent me on my way around the Grand Hall where I would find some of Newsome's collages.

If you've ever seen any of Rashaad Newsome work, your first inclination can be to search for shapes. One of his great strengths is using assemblage to manufacture new images. It's easy to be distracted and enchanted by the grandeur of his collages until you take time to relish in his mastery of visual culture .

It has been claimed that people look at works of art for approximately eight seconds. It takes at least ten to finish ogling the custom frames housing Newsome’s collages. Much like the city of New Orleans, the gaudy  exterior  of his works is backed with complicated, deeply-rooted cultural context. One of my favorite works in the show is Duke of NOLA (2011) which features New Orleans-based rapper Juvenile. If you’re a big fan of the Cash Money Millionaires, you’ll note how much Newsome’s work is in conversation with their album art.

In Duke of NOLA, a miniature Juvenile presides over the canvas. His body language is markedly hyper-masculine even though we only see his torso. Just beyond his shoulders are delicate strings of diamonds which create a bit of tension in the middle of the canvas. The bottom half of the canvas is covered in a series of anonymous limbs. Each of the arms  reaches delicately for the candy-coated frame almost as a metaphor for the rapper’s desire for fame.

Though the Grand Hall of NOMA is impressive, it was a treat to encounter two stray Newsome pieces in the second floor galleries. Newsome’s Herald (2011), a video installation placed alongside the Museum's collection of French royalty portraits was a welcome change in a gallery full of static imagery. In an article in the Huffington Post, Newsome notes that the piece is usually about the dynamic jousting scene portrayed in the video, but asserts, “I'm stepping away from the body and looking at architecture and ornament.” The clever juxtaposition of this work with collection work from another era highlights the ornate nature of the universe Newsome creates in his artistic practice.