“The piece is okay, but what is it past a cut-up youtube video?” My friend asked at the Greater New York press preview Thursday of the Rashaad Newsome video above, “I mean, is it saying anything?” Newsome’s video The Conductor (fortuna imperatix mundi) & The Conductor (primo vere, omnia sol temperat) strings together clips from rap music videos, using on the hands of these stars as a means of conducting Carl Orff’s 1937 work, Carmina Burana. I might have counted with, “Youtube mash-ups aren’t art?” or “Is conceptual merit so important that it always levels craft?” but I didn’t bother. The art world’s typical “yes” response to the latter, usually answers the former in a negative, (inspiring a lot of light weight think-y art that doesn’t look any good in the process).
I like The Conductor for its virtuosity, and felt more at ease Newsome’s easy choice of a universally moving soundtrack, after hearing it described as a “knowing use of the cheap ass sublime”. After all, the same soundtrack has been used to advertise Carlton Draft Beer, an unfortunately effective Republican scare campaign about how closing Guantanamo would place terrorists in your neighborhood, and the movie, 300.
The race commentary drawn from a correlation between the glitz of rap videos, and the cheap yet scary draw of fortuna isn’t all that complex but I don’t have the sense it’s intended to be. And, of course, like any aspect of a work that prompts doubt, once you decide its form is on purpose it’s much more interesting.