The morning started out with a lot of wind, a little rain, and a lot more art handlers unloading covered canvases onto the freight elevators in Chelsea. Among the shows in Chelsea galleries now, the worst show of the day left a dusty foul aftertaste of kitsch and stereotypes combined at the Marlborough Chelsea gallery showing Rashaad Newsome’s multimedia collages in glitzy-glammed frames. Is that the purpose? Who knows.
The show was filled with 40-something perfectly coiffed women in lined jackets and matching boots (likely from Dallas, TX) being led by an overly enthusiastic and animated tour guide with an articulate voice trying to make the displayed barrage of stereotyped images “fine art.” The articulate guide attempted to explain (almost too excitedly, as if to cover up the underlying sense of the-Emperor-has-no-clothes) that these recurring images of luxury (American Express Black cards, watches, purses, baubles) and their accompanying frames were elevating the symbols of wealth and contemporary luxury to our modern consciousness echoing a Neo-Baroque style. These well-to-do women did not appear convinced– but more importantly, they did not appear to relate to this idea of excess wealth, despite the fact that they probably are socially in that class. The lackluster message without an audience is one of the major downfalls of Newsome’s work. Who is supposed to relate to this work? Neither the extreme wealthy (old or new money) nor the poor who aspire to emulate the wealthy will be able relate to these representations, which are garish and trite expressions.
While his works photograph extremely well (I blame you, NY Arts Beat app, for showing me a tiny image of this gallery’s show to lure me in!), the actual objects in person appear like juvenile collages with over-the-top chintzy and cheap refurbished frames that make you feel like you just went into a Chinatown knock-off store and are shuffling through fake Pradas and Gucci purses and scarves. Perhaps that’s the repulsively saccharine and superficial feeling of “opulence” that Newsome is going for, but, as the tour guide mentioned, it’s actually mostly put together by interns anyway. He is “co-opting formal aspects of art like color sense and composition without the traditional use of media like paint” she articulately explained.
But while Ryan Trecartin at MOMA succeeded to combine over-the-top contemporary, self-effacing, cacophonous, and extreme use of contemporary images and teenage tropes, Newsome seems out of step (a few years behind) in terms of images of new wealth and luxury. If Newsome were aware and intentional in the kitschy 6 y/o-type glam, that would be one thing. However, the press release (and the tour guide) try to elevate the exhibit beyond what it can represent– as a “ultrafeminine spin on things” and “traditional symbols updated with new meaning.” The symbols stay untransformed– the same repetitive message of “wealth is money, cars, bling, watches, and women” is neither interesting nor new. One question remains: Did the wealthy women buy the message?