The Way He Thinks

Condo installation-13_Lee Stalsworth

Installation view of George Condo: The Way I Think. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

German artist George Condo has attracted international attention for decades. A man who befriended Basquiat, worked for Warhol, and collaborated with Kim and Kanye was in DC for the opening of his show The Way I Think here at the Phillips. When speaking with friends about what may be my favorite DC show, mention of the name George Condo usually invites a response along the lines of, “Oh yeah, the Kanye guy.” Condo received a flood of media attention in 2010 when his design for Kanye West’s album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was deemed “explicit” by providers like Wal-Mart and iTunes. “The superimposition of people’s perceptions on a cartoon is shocking,” Condo responded at the time. This would not be the last attack on Condo’s art, as his painting on a handbag for Kim Kardashian in 2013 met similarly skeptical reviews on social media.

Through instances like these, Condo’s work raises the issue of censorship. For Condo in particular, censorship is stifling, and it’s easy to see why in The Way I Think, an array of over 200 works arranged and installed with Condo’s guidance. The exhibit reads like Condo’s own train of thought, complete with piles of diligently kept notebooks and sketchbooks. The sheer volume of work in the exhibition is breathtaking, and the alarming nature of Condo’s figures are captivating. The exhibit is laid out just as it sounds; the way the artist thinks. The exhibition revives the age old question of whether art—any art—should be censored. Can we censor thought? What about thought on paper? Condo’s reliance on his own memory and psychology as sources of artistic inspiration make it difficult to imagine a “parental advisory” sticker plastered across one of his pieces.

It is probable that The Way I Think will elicit a range of emotional responses as wide as Condo’s artistic styles. Without question, George Condo’s intersections with music, celebrity, and popular culture make his art irresistibly interesting to any viewer. I think, however, it is the personal depth and furious imagination of the artist which will make this particular exhibit magnetic and intimate for each and every visitor.

Elizabeth Federici, Marketing & Communications Intern

When Art Becomes Yoga

What happens when we enter into an art room? I am not just talking about a gallery in a museum where there are various works on the walls, but rather a room that in itself becomes the work. A room in which when we enter, time seems to stop, all of our senses are expanded to their edge, and we take a minute to reflect. How do we get this meditative experience from art?

There are a couple of spaces like this in the Phillips: the Rothko Room and the Laib Wax Room. Maybe it is because of my roots in yoga, but these meditative spaces continue to be my favorite to frequent. I still remember the first time I stepped into each of them. Somehow, everything became clear to me, yet nothing made sense. This feeling never goes away, no matter how many times I enter and exit. Part of me feels trapped in this time and space, yet I am perfectly comfortable being there. I feel so comfortable because the art supports me. As I slowly drift into my own thoughts, the art is a crutch that remains a constant focal point for what I am experiencing.

These spaces achieve this in a different way:

Rothko provides a variety of images to rest the eyes on, allowing the viewer the ability to take a closer look inward. In yoga instructor terms, this is called “holding the space,” when a teacher creates a safe space for participants to relax fully.

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The Rothko Room at The Phillips Collection. Photo: Benjamin Resine

Laib does the meditation for you. When one enters his room, the surrounding hue of gold and sweet but subtle smell of wax mutes your senses, and your thoughts soon follow. This creates a buzz of relaxation and meditation that makes the space so pleasing.

laib-wax-room

The Laib Wax Room at The Phillips Collection

This experience looks different to every visitor. Just like every yogi needs and takes something different from the practice, each visitor is in need of something different when they come to these rooms. They allow for viewers to engage with art in a way that is deeply personal and that is just as beautiful as the art itself.

Britta Galanis, Marketing & Communications Intern

Toulouse-Lautrec’s First Print

Each week for the duration of the exhibition, we’ll focus on one work of art from Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque, on view Feb. 4 through April 30, 2017.

Moulin Rouge, La Goulue_side by side

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (left) Moulin Rouge, La Goulue, 1891. Brush and spatter lithograph, printed in black on two sheets of wove paper. Trial proof, 65 3/4 × 46 7⁄16 in. Private collection (right) Moulin Rouge, La Goulue, 1891. Brush and spatter lithograph, printed in four colors. Key stone printed in black, color stones in yellow, red, and blue on three sheets of wove paper, 75 3⁄16 × 46 1⁄6 in. Private collection

The newspapers have been very kind to our offspring. I’m sending you a clipping written in honey ground in incense. My poster has been a success on the walls.—Toulouse-Lautrec to his mother, 1891

Toulouse-Lautrec’s first attempt at printmaking was this poster used to advertise Montmartre’s entertainment hotspot. With it, he innovatively transformed an image drawn from popular culture into an iconic work of art marked by its modernity. It was the first to feature a star attraction, dancer La Goulue (The Glutton) who took erotic provocation to the extreme, delighting audiences with the chahut, a vigorous cancan. She was described in Le Figaro Illustré as “bending her body so much to convince you she was about to break in half, the folds of her dress were on fire.”

For the poster, Toulouse-Lautrec created sketches and a nearly full-size drawing. He transferred the image onto the lithographic stone with brush and crayon, and worked closely with printers to correct proofs produced from four separately inked stones. Due to its size, the work was printed on three sheets of paper. The nuanced tone of dance partner Valentin le Désossé (The Boneless), the figure in the foreground, was achieved through an inventive spatter technique. The silhouetted onlookers include the artist’s cousin Gabriel Tapié de Céleyran, dancer Jane Avril, artist William Warrener, and others. A unique trial proof in black and white (with the essential design) and an extremely rare version of the poster (before final lettering) are presented here. Comparing the images shows Toulouse-Lautrec’s inventive use of color and design to highlight the dizzying atmosphere of the cabaret and to accentuate the hair and dress of La Goulue. The performer’s most alluring traits (her risqué style and notorious legs) are emphasized in a larger-than-life-size work that secured her celebrity and brought Toulouse-Lautrec fame.

This poster stunned the public when it premiered in some 3,000 impressions throughout Paris. Artist Francis Jourdain recalled, “the shock…. This highly original poster, was, I remembered, carried along the Avenue de l’Opera on a kind of small cart, and I was so enchanted that I walked alongside it.” Critic Félix Fénéon declared posters to be “real art, by God! and it cries out, it’s part of life itself, it’s art that doesn’t fool around and real guys can get it.”