Pret-a-Reporter

Lady Gaga, Jessica Chastain and Leonardo DiCaprio Fete Artist George Condo

George Condo/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY, 2016/Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers

The artist who once created paintings for a Kanye West album debuted his first L.A. show in 20 years, including a work that grapples with his own battle with cancer, at Sprueth Magers.

"They’re happy here," said George Condo on the eve of his April 19 opening at Sprueth Magers, pointing at a triptych made to look like three versions of Goya's "Maria" with paint-marred faces. "I keep threatening to move here, but no. I’m just joking."

Suddenly Lady Gaga swooped by looking divine in a fur coat and a tow-colored wig, and I introduced myself, letting on that I was a journalist. "No, no!" she exclaimed as she clasped my hands. "No press. I’m sorry. I’m just here to look at the art." She disappeared quicker than an illusionist at the Magic Castle.

Everyone came out for Condo, who rose to art stardom at the age of 23 in the East Village scene occupied by Basquiat and Haring. He started his own thing, calling it Artificial Realism — classically framed portraits disrupted by cubist or surrealist (and terrifying) crookedness, often grinning wickedly.

He forayed into pop culture by creating paintings for Kanye West’s 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. And yet, he hasn’t shown in Los Angeles in "nearly 20 years," Condo offered.

Condo refers, in many instances, to his paintings as creatures or "monsters." And in the new show, called Enter the Void, they are no less. What is more, they are now embedded with something far more sinister: Condo’s own battle with cancer.

"Self Portraits Facing Cancer" is one of the most striking works Condo has made. Black-and-white and jarring and eight feet tall, Condo’s face is scribbled out with globs of oil paint. He is almost formless, and if there ever was despair in Condo’s work before, this work ups the ante.

“He’s amazing,” Jessica Chastain told THR at the gallery’s buffet dinner after the opening at the Sunset Tower Hotel. “I have one small painting — a blue character — and three drawings.” She said that she’d met the artist when shooting a cover story for W Magazine’s Art Issue in 2013. “It was my favorite magazine cover I’ve done ever, and we’ve been friends since. I’d always wanted to buy one [of his works], but they were so expensive. And then I could buy one.”

“Are you in L.A. for a while?” Condo asked her as he plopped between Chastain and Hollywood poker princess Molly Bloom, who used to allegedly run high-stakes, illegal games for the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire.

“No, I leave for New York tomorrow,” Chastain replied. “I have to be on TV at 6:30 a.m.”

“I don’t know how you do it,” he said. “I’ll still be in bed.”

They seemed comfortable together, and the two of them laughed together deep into the night.

Elsewhere, John Baldessari — whose show at Sprueth Magers last month was the gallery’s inaugural show for its new L.A. outpost — ate at a table next to L.A. artists Kaari Upson (another Sprueth Magers artist) and Mary Weatherford. As the night wore on, gallery director Sarah Watson kicked off a small dance party and gallerist Philomene Magers joined in.

"Watson has moves," remarked Upson, impressed.

In the corner, Condo and Chastain were joined by the ever-vaping DiCaprio, who has collected Condo’s work for years.

As the night wore on, some sort of void was entered — perhaps the void Condo paints in his new show is Hollywood. I ask him, and he denies this. "It’s great here," he says. "But I’m not leaving New York."

"Impressions of Goya 3"  (Image: Courtesy the George Condo and Sprueth Magers)

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