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Words and Pictures: at Tibor de Nagy and Condo's Subversive Art at The New Museum

01/31/2011 08:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On a random Friday afternoon between snowstorms, visitors to Tibor de Nagy's midtown gallery for the "Painters & Poets" exhibit marveled at the small press editions in vitrines (with work by Joe Brainard, Kenward Elmslie, Charles Henri Ford, and Allen Ginsberg) and whimsical black & white films by Rudy Burkhardt starring his artworld buddies: Larry Rivers, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Alex Katz, etc. Playwright Jon Robin Baitz, poet Honore Moore, actor Bob Dishy, and painter Duncan Hannah milled about. Jane Freilicher came by too. Her painting, "The Painting Table" (1954) is perhaps the centerpiece of the show along with Rivers' and O'Hara's "Portrait and Poem Painting" (1961) the art that graces the handsome catalogue. The exhibit includes work by Fairfield Porter, Joan Mitchell, a religious triptych by Red Grooms and poet Anne Waldman. Not an opening or special viewing, the afternoon had the exhilarating spark of a Happening.

The collaboration of artists and poets is of course not new, but the show celebrates a unique New York moment when publications were small, and the cross fertilization of artistic energy gave rise to The New York School of Poetry, the beat and other literary movements. Commerce, though not ignored, was not at the forefront of art. But that of course was pre-Warhol.

Artist George Condo has some literary cred: he collaborated with Burroughs and Ginsberg, and coming from Lowell, Massachusetts, the working class milieu that spawned Jack Kerouac, he wrote a spirited intro for Kerouac's "Book of Sketches."

George Condo, the artist as Warholian "superstar," is affirmed at the New Museum's survey of his career, "Mental States," where Condo posing with Kanye West and Marc Jacobs at the shows' opening, signifying a synergy of arts and marketplace. Just look at those portraits in the show's main gallery on the 4th floor, hung in important frames, the Guston/ Crumb/ Picasso/ Looney Tune inspired, pod heads juxtaposed with abstract riffs on Old Masters oils. Artist Judy Hudson observed, "Here we are at Disney World again." The whole enterprise is a subversive riff on art history, including the gnarly bronze busts titled "Dionysus," "The Old Sea Hag," "Perseus," "Tristessa," etc.

Down what feels like a secret staircase to the 3rd floor where smaller spaces house works of various themes, LeeLee Sobieski and others crammed into the largest gallery focused on abstract work. You can say, Condo mines the collaborative; his imagination is keyed in with music, and with celebrity.
Especially the notorious. One room themed, "Manic Society" features finely wrought paintings of a toothy screaming priest, of sex on a striped couch; the figures form a two-headed beast both bizarre and frightening. This unforgettable picture is called "The Return of Client No. 9."

Cross posted at Gossip Central.