Two artists seen in a new context

When art collector Zacharias Portalakis decided a few years ago to make public the international, contemporary art side to his collection, the local art world finally saw an aspect of this important Greek collection that they had previously ignored. For many, Portalakis is regarded as an art collector inclined toward Greek 20th century art. He is known as the biggest collector of Thodoros Stamos and an important collector of artists like Christos Kapralos, Nikos Baicas or Alexis Akrithakis, artists whose works were shown at respective exhibitions at the Portalakis collection exhibition hall. Yet, the «Post-Impact» exhibition offered something entirely different. Curated by George Armaos a couple of years ago, it put on view works by artists including Thomas Demand, Richard Prince, Peter Halley, Gunther Forg and Lucas Samaras (who is well-represented in the Portalakis collection) and revealed a contemporary edge to one of the most solid and respected private collections in this country. Portalakis has now created another exhibition drawing from the international artworks of his collection. Held at the Portalakis Collection exhibition space, it is both more focused and radical. Rather than offer a general view of the collection’s contemporary art holdings, it presents an unusual juxtaposition of two American artists – Christopher Wool and George Condo – who come from the same generation but work in very different styles. The exhibition «Over the Limit» uses the differences to vigorous effect. The black and white, «all-over painting» compositions of Christopher Wool gradually spill over to his bright-fuschia silkscreen prints. The viewer’s eye then turns to the colorful, figurative paintings of George Condo and his unusual portraits of hybridized creatures. At a first glance, Wool and Condo indeed have very little in common. Condo is a pure painter of a figurative style and a broad palette. Wool uses diverse techniques (sometimes within a single painting) and tools, such as stamps, stenciling, printing and, painting, confining himself to black and white and chooses to paint motifs rather than the human figure. Despite their differences, both artists reference the tradition of painting and appropriate elements from this tradition in their work. In the work of George Condo allusions to art history are more explicit. Beginning in the 1980s – which is when the artist first emerged on the New York art scene – Condo used elements from some of the greatest painters of European painting; Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, Goya, Greuze, Velazquez, Ingres and Manet all served as sources of inspiration. «I felt that my offering to painting would be an artificial, simulated American view of what European painting looked like… I think creating hybrids is a characteristic of American thinking,» he once told a journalist in an interview. This hybridized quality also typifies the figures that he paints. Part abstract, part figurative, the creatures that Condo depicts resemble humans yet are closer to animal-like, cartoon-inspired creatures. Their facial features are depicted through abstract forms or shapes that connote objects: An egg-shaped form is used for an eye, the image of a toothbrush for a mouth and teeth. From a distance, the faces look like an ensemble yet up close they can be broken down into separate, autonomous shapes. Condo’s world seems like a pastiche of unrelated elements. The surreal-like figures make you want to laugh while simultaneously unsettling you. They are grotesque yet lovable, alienating yet familiar. He also plays with ambiguity. His art does not fit neatly into a category: It is neither abstract nor figurative, not quite surreal and not quite realistic. Condo combines various elements into iconoclastic paintings that are really contemporary psychological portraits. Much of Christopher Wool’s work also draws from this style of using different elements from art history to create art with an ambiguous effect. While Condo references European painting, Wool uses elements from the tradition of American art of the second half of the 20th century but twists them out of their original context to great effect. There are elements of pop art (Wool’s flower paintings have often been compared to Andy Warhol’s prints of daisies) as well as abstract expressionism and all-over painting. There are also echoes of minimal art and the 1970s American movement in art known as pattern and decoration. In some paintings Wool has used rubber stamps to print repetitive decorative patterns on canvas. He blends the pop element, the idea of the mass-produced with the quality of the original. He also constantly shifts the focus between the process of making the art and the painting as a final product. His paintings are neither the one nor the other but a mixture of the two, a constant and ambiguous play between opposing elements. This is where his paintings can be said to have some kinship with the work of George Condo. Although there are initially more differences than similarities between the two artists, both Wool and Condo revel in ambiguity and explore the limits of painting and representation. By presenting some of the best works of Condo and Wool, «Over the Limit» highlights the inventiveness of two renowned contemporary American artists and also shows their connections and juxtapositions. «Over the Limit» at the Portalakis collection exhibition space (8 Pesmazoglou, 210.3318.933-4) through July 30. Open Wednesdays 6-8 p.m. & Saturdays 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. (Alexandra Koroxenidis wrote the texts in the exhibition’s catalog.)