Society Portrait George Condo in New York


On Tuesday night, New York’s admirers of satirical-style oil painting and drawing convened at the New Museum for “George Condo: Mental States, a survey spanning 30 years. The celebrity fan club included Marc Jacobs, lenders Lee Sobieski and Adam Kimmel, collectors Alberto Mugrabi and Jane Rosenblum, Mary-Kate Olsen and Richard Prince. The combination of classical painting and pop was also a sub-theme of the show: Condo’s work makes dizzying reference to Pablo Picasso, Diego Velázquez, Looney Tunes, Walt Disney and Arshile Gorky.

Skewered subjects include Queen Elizabeth, depicted in The Insane Queen (2006) as having a crazy, bulbous right eye, and everyone’s favorite reformed prostitute, Mary Magdalene (2009), whose long red hair and pointed ears identify her as part Titian creation, part fairy and part cartoon rodent.

“They’re beautiful pictures, and they’re very tough as well. It’s high and low put together, and it’s a very volatile combination,” said curator Laura Hoptman, who recently traded from the New Museum to MoMA.

The exhibition launches on the fourth floor with 50 paintings by Condo, hung salon-style on a single wall, the major change to the show from its original London incarnation. “Holy shit, that’s a lot of paintings!” one opening night reveler exclaimed as the elevator slid open Kanye West (plus entourage) mingled with George Condo and his wife, Anna, and daughters.

Sporting gold, diamond encrusted grille and heavy chains, Kanye West was improbably muted in his presence. “There’s nothing that needs to be said,” he said, regarding his selection of Condo to cover his most recent album. At the dinner later at Balthazar, he took his rightful place to the left of the painter. Julian Schnabel, himself in mute dress, was more effusive.  “George is a history painter,” he said. “He looks like he’s having fun while he’s doing it. I think that people should be laughing while they’re painting.”

On the third floor, Condo’s  “society paintings” hung smartly, grouped according to themes such as “Melancholia” and “Manic Society.”  “The curatorial theme was just about imaginary portraits, mental states reflected in the painting,” Condo said.  “They’re also about ambition,” referring to his furious priests and vacuous stock brokers—not to mention the grand traditions of figurative oil painting. “Something to do with the Wall Street boom and bust thing, manic society, despair and loneliness.”

The show’s final gallery contains a series of large-scale, partially abstract works that reference Pollock’s drip paintings, Willem de Kooning’s grotesque depictions of the female form in his “Women” series, and Cy Twombly’s scribbles all at once.

So how was Condo handling the attention surrounding his first New York museum showing? “It’s cool,” he said. “But I just want to keep on painting.”