“I don’t talk to the fuckin’ press!” Kanye West told The Observer.
We were standing in front of the titan of pop music at a party to celebrate artist George Condo’s first retrospective, “Mental States,” which opened last Wednesday at the New Museum. This is no small show. In fact, it’s a tour de force. Mr. Condo paints harrowing distorted figures as wild-eyed gaping clown faces, cheeks and foreheads flushed with spiky brush strokes that intimate explosion. His trademark is the inclusion of distinctive askew-splayed bucked teeth. Not that he needs a signature—regardless of the subject’s appearance, his or her visage will be filtered through Mr. Condo’s striking vision.
The most famous of these subjects is Mr. West, whom Mr. Condo depicted in flagrante delicto on the original cover of his album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (another Condo was used as the official album art, however, after Kanye tweeted that the more racy choice had been “banned”).
Mr. West was standing in a long black coat, gray shirt and a gold chain to match the flash of gold grill jutting up out of his lower lip. There were crinkles under his eyes. He looked very tired.
Next to him a man who opted not to remove a thick scarf entered into his iPhone 4 “K-A-N-Y-E,” punched in the appropriate phone number and added the new contact. When another acquaintance was done exchanging quick conversation (“Is Jay in town, man? … O.K., I’ll hit him up”), The Observer walked up to Mr. West and asked what he thought about the exhibit.
Mr. West’s face, wide with a smile before, hardened as he clenched his hands on our shoulders.
“I don’t talk to the fuckin’ press!” Mr. West repeated to The Observer.
In a spasm, Mr. West pointed a finger at a skin blemish on a contour of his cheekbone, a blemish that appeared to be a scar. With that, we mumbled an apology and walked off, thinking incorrectly that we would not speak to Mr. West again that night.
Others at the party were chattier than the hip-hop star. We ran into bestubbled author James Frey coming down the extra-slim white hallway that took the art patrons to the main exhibition room. Marc Jacobs sauntered around pecking everyone on the cheek, allowing the stray whiskers of his fuchsia and aquamarine fur scarf to brush against their noses.
“I love George Condo’s art!” Mr. Jacobs told The Observer as we passed from a room of abstract Condo to a room of Condo portraiture. “I love George Condo, I love Anna Condo, I love the Condo girls, I love his paintings—I love everything Condo.”
And trailing Mr. Jacobs was on-again, off-again boyfriend Lorenzo Martone, in a tan fur trench coat and matching tan fur boots. He was toting around a George Condo skateboard.
The artist himself was in a loud purple tie and carrying a laptop bag. Actress Leelee Sobieski, whose husband, Adam Kimmel, a designer, has worked with Mr. Condo, had on a svelte red sweater. She’s also a big fan.
“Love it!” Ms. Sobieski said. “Love supporting George.”
The Observer asked if she was friendly with Mr. West, pointing out that they had earlier seemed chummy.
“We just met him tonight. Adam did a collection with George, and then Kanye did a collaboration with George as well, so I think there’s, like, a mutual fan thing going on.”
Like Ms. Sobieski, The Observer had met Mr. West for the first time that night, when he informed us he does not talk to the fucking press.
Despite the threat and cold stare, after we had stepped aside for a second, Mr. West wrapped his arm around our shoulder, pulling us into a warm embracing hug.
“Are you all right, man?” Mr. West asked us.
We nodded, and then another member of the press walked up and pointed at The Observer.
“Don’t trust this guy,” the reporter laughed.
“Hey,” Mr. West said. “I don’t trust myself.”