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Review: Rashaad Newsome's Melange at the CAC

The New Orleans native's collage and video work runs through Feb. 12

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In the 1981 cult classic film, Escape from New York, Manhattan is a maximum security prison ruled by a self-proclaimed "Duke" (Isaac Hayes) who drives a gaudy Cadillac festooned with huge baroque candelabra. Rashaad Newsome's 2013 New Orleans Museum of Art expo harked to the Duke with heraldlike works that bridged the gap between gangs, rap and medieval warlords. His new Melange show at the Contemporary Arts Center also is baroquely dystopian but features a Funkadelic futurist aesthetic that shares DNA with vintage Mothership Connection-era George Clinton or Bootsy Collins as well as German expressionists such as Hannah Hoch and Richard Lindner.   Is this a glimpse into our future? Newsome's visual mashups reflect digital technology's relentless spawning of new forms and hybrids that turbocharge disruptive innovation while unsettling many who suffer from that common American malady: ossified resilience syndrome. But our Carnival culture was creating bizarre hybrids way before the digital age, and Newsome's Creole New Orleans heritage continues to inspire. His 1stPlace collage (pictured) is as ambitious as its name, a mutant hip-hop Earth mother in fishnet stockings who spans art history from Hieronymus Bosch to Wangechi Mutu. Look Back at It is more anatomical, with time and gender-bending vogue dancers affirming Newsome's role as a cultural remix artist who sees collage, dance and video as part of a seamless, unified aesthetic. The choreography and special effects of his adjacent vogue dance video, FIVE, bears that out while adding an extra dimension to a collage show that employs techniques pioneered by Europe's surrealists a century ago. Surrealism — that most carnivalesque of art movements — evolved from the fantastical aesthetic of French Symbolist painters like Odilon Redon, who also influenced New Orleans' 19th-century Carnival float, costume and ball designers. Some of Newsome's collages, such as Grand Prize, a pastiche of eyes, legs, lips, incendiary smoke and gaudy bling, suggest dystopian Mardi Gras ball invitations from a post-apocalyptic future. It is darkly beautiful, but we only can hope it is not prophetic as well.

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