Magazine article The New Yorker


Magazine article The New Yorker


Article excerpt

On the floor of George Condo's studio on East Seventy-eighth Street, portraits of Queen Elizabeth II were laid out in rows of three: nine portraits, oil on canvas, each one sixteen inches wide by twenty inches high. The Surrealist distortions and grotesqueries familiar to viewers of Condo's "imaginary portraits" over the past twenty years were dominant in several of them--double or triple rows of teeth, clown noses, chins colliding with mouths, heads pierced by large carrots; others were likenesses of the monarch at different ages and in various moods. Condo was trying to decide which image, or images, to send over to London for his upcoming show at The Wrong Gallery, an itinerant, minuscule, nonprofit exhibition space that opened in New York four years ago, behind a glass door on West Twentieth Street, and which has now migrated to the third floor of the Tate Modern. On hand to help him choose were two of The Wrong Gallery's three founders, the artist Maurizio Cattelan and the curator Massimiliano Gioni. (The third, a freelance curator named Ali Subotnick, was in California.) The decision process progressed erratically.

"Can you imagine them as stamps?" Cattelan said.

"Yes, yes," Gioni said. "So they can lick their queen." Both Cattelan and Gioni are Italian. Condo was born in 1957 in New Hampshire; he shows at the Luhring Augustine Gallery in Manhattan. He had been asked to do a single portrait, but over the course of three weeks, in a fit of inspiration, he had made at least fifteen. Everyone liked the nine-portrait grid, even though it was too big to fit at the Tate. "The tentative title is 'Dreams and Nightmares of the Queen,' " Condo said.

"When I asked George to do the show, he had this fantastic idea of painting her naked," Cattelan said.

"That was my first thought," Condo confirmed. "With a beautiful young body, so there would be lines around the block. But then we heard that you're not allowed to show members of the Royal Family nude in a public institution."

"Have you seen this new movie about the Queen?" Gioni said. (He was referring to the Stephen Frears film, starring Helen Mirren.) "In the first scene, she's sitting for her portrait."

"Now this one," Condo said, holding up a portrait of a very long-necked Elizabeth with a jewelled tiara, an ermine cape, and a sublimely goofy expression, "is a Velazquez. …

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