Rashaad Newsome, en Vogue



Only some of the Whitney Museum’s galleries were hushed during the 2010 Biennial exhibition when I visited. On the third floor a collection of video pieces was exhibited in a maze of dark rooms, each with a soundtrack that mingles with the others. But for artist Rashaad Newsome’s video piece, only laughter from the viewers filled the room. His pieces, Untitled and Untitled (New Way) were silent, focusing on animated portraits of single dancers performing a dance style called vogue.

In the gallery the teenage French tourist were likely giggling because of the dance's gender-bending. In Untitled one svelte male dancer is dressed in tight pants with a billowy, sequined blouse-like top, bleach-blond hair, and dandyish heeled boots, contorting his body in serpentine poses before breaking them down to a beat that isn't there, all while tossing out seemingly flippant feminine hand gestures. His movements are confident and seemingly instinctual, leaving only his baggy shirt to trail behind in question. Through this he stares unsympathetically at the viewer — both seducing and repelling. When one video stops the teens scream for another.

When I met with Newsome at his Chelsea studio, he talked from behind an antique art deco desk stacked with both magazines and several blinking external hard drives. He was framed by a collection of several gigantic baroque gold frames leaning against the wall behind him. He tells me how he has been inspired by casual gestures and how body language is used as communication. Newsome is quite reserved and refreshingly laconic.

He considers his Whitney Biennial pieces to be an archive of sorts of vogue in its purest forms, but Newsome also records the more pedestrian street theater of urban female body language in an ongoing piece called Shade Compositions, which he has performed internationally. For this piece he choreographs women performers who act out body language typical of urban environments.

"My interest lies in cultural signifiers," says Newsome. "I'm fascinated by ghetto body language used by black and Latino women and how it is integrated into popular culture all around the world and how that transcends class levels. When does it become a part of contemporary global culture and when does it lose that lower-class stigma?"

Tags: Art