I was aboriginal confronted by a George Condo painting in 2006. I say “confronted” because, of course, I had been accustomed with the 60-year-old artist’s work—his grotesquely active portraits of colorful, somewhat cubist characters—for abundant best than that. But it was “Writer,” an oil apprehension of a abrupt man in repose, a block on his bloated gut and a pencil in abode of his penis, that reflected aback to me a adaptation of myself that I was not accessible to explore. The pen adeptness be mightier than the sword, but in this case, the sword, so to speak, had been removed entirely.
It wasn’t until 12 years afterwards that such a alarming mirror was already afresh captivated up to my face. It was aftermost February at the American Stock Exchange, area Raf Simons, the Belgian artisan whose career has included accessories at Jil Sander and Dior, was presenting his third aerodrome appearance for Calvin Klein. The attic of the accident amplitude was a addled excess of popcorn. Piercing reverb alternate the soundtrack to the evening. And as the models absolved through the room, dressed alternately in prairie dresses and abnormally angry balaclavas, an Andy Warhol painting—rendered abundant too ample on the façade of a barn—of Sandra Brant, aforetime a administrator of this magazine, presided over the army who had accumulated there that night to attending at clothing. The American dystopia had arrived, Simons, age 50, seemed to suggest. And we were it.
It was with these two recollections in apperception that I accustomed on an afternoon in July, alarmingly sweaty, to the Calvin Klein offices in Midtown Manhattan for cafeteria with Condo and Simons. Although our chat sometimes looked bottomward some of the darker corridors of a culture, we mostly talked about the similarities in their practices, the opera they’re animate on together, and the incomparable amusement of watching a impaired cine over and over again.
GEORGE CONDO: I accept a rental in East Hampton, but I didn’t get out there at all aftermost year. Everybody talks about action off-season, but I about anytime do. I’m so active the blow of the year with exhibitions, and whenever I do go, I accept to annoyance my administration out with me. Ultimately, I end up action like a chef because I’m consistently affable for everyone.
RAF SIMONS: You’re a cool cook.
CONDO: I’m seasonal. In the winter, I like to accomplish beef bourguignon.
SIMONS: Or meatballs.
CONDO: Heavy food. In the summer, I try to eat South of France–style food.
NICK HARAMIS: What about you, Raf? Do you cook?
SIMONS: Never. Except during the holidays aback I can booty my time and it becomes a abstracted thing. But not aback I access home at 9 o’clock and accept to alpha cerebration about what to eat.
CONDO: The abundant affair for me about affable is that it’s affectionate of like authoritative a painting that you get to eat aback you’re done.
HARAMIS: Speaking of art, acquaint me about the opera you’ve both been animate on.
CONDO: Anthony Roth Costanzo is an amazing countertenor, and this is an opera that involves the music of Philip Glass and [George Frideric] Handel. Anthony and I go aback a while. Actually, the aboriginal time Raf came over, Anthony and I performed two or three songs because I capital him to apprehend Anthony’s voice, how admirable his accent is. Anyway, Anthony was cogent me about the 56-piece orra complex in the project, and how he capital to acquisition somebody to do costumes. So I said, “Why don’t I ask Raf if he adeptness be interested?” Maurizio Cattelan and Justin Peck are additionally involved, so I anticipation he actual able-bodied could be, too.
SIMONS: And now it’s advancing together.
CONDO: I was asked if I’d accede accomplishing the set design, and I accomplished that what I absolutely capital was to do a animate painting. But I didn’t appetite to accept to get up there in advanced of an audience. That’s the aftermost affair I’d anytime appetite to do. Now they’ve added a screen, so that I arise onstage alone as a shadow.
SIMONS: I anticipate it’s action to be a actual new acquaintance for the audience. Aggregate is alive.
CONDO: For me, it’s action to be a absolutely improvisational experience. I basically accept 55 account to do whatever I want, and that’s exciting. A violinist could breach a string. Anthony could cough. I could discharge a canteen of paint. Somebody could rip a dress.
SIMONS: What absorbed me was the collaboration. Accepting aggregate focused 100 percent on your own affair can be absolutely fatiguing. With this project, I never had any ambition of demography over. It’s like aback I formed on I Am Adulation [a 2009 blur by Luca Guadagnino, which included Simons’s designs for Jil Sander]—I wasn’t action to booty over. I was aloof allotment of a team.
CONDO: My admired allotment about this action is the bulk of accident involved. Here’s to not fucking the accomplished affair up!
HARAMIS: Raf, what are you like beneath pressure? I watched you accumulate it calm in Dior and I, the 2014 documentary in which you had, like, 15 account to actualize your aboriginal couture accumulating for the house.
SIMONS: I get added fatigued aback I anticipate about all the bodies who beleaguer what I’m doing, and who are afflicted by it. In my circadian activity, I don’t absolutely feel that so much.I’m accompany with a lot of designers who I apperceive don’t like to do a show—especially the bristles or six canicule of basic afore a presentation. Me, I’m the opposite. It’s my admired period. It’s the appearance day itself I don’t absolutely like. Leading up to it, there is not a additional aback I’m not on aerial alert. I’m blessed to assignment through the night, no problem. But on appearance day, abnormally about an hour afore the show, aggregate needs to happen. Annihilation can go wrong. And again appropriate afterwards the appearance ends I accept to angle aing to all these bodies attractive like an idiot, all bathed and awkward. I can’t accept a appropriate conversation. It’s abnormally boxy aback you’re still the new guy. I don’t apperceive how to say it in English, but bodies have…
SIMONS: Exactly. Aback I went to Jil Sander in 2005 afterwards designing alone for men for over a decade, everybody was like, “Show it to me, baby. Let’s see if you can do women.” That, of course, creates tension. A agnate affair happened aback I came to the American market.
HARAMIS: At a assertive point, do you stop action the charge to prove yourself?
SIMONS: Never. Again I would quit. I’m consistently cerebration about my audience.
HARAMIS: Who is your audience?
SIMONS: These days, the admirers is everybody.
CONDO: Anybody who passes a Calvin Klein billboard, or looks at a account online.
SIMONS: New media and the selfie mentality accept created a altered affectionate of dialogue, one that’s a lot faster.
CONDO: If I go to an accident that I’m complex with, 80 percent of the bodies who appear up to me basically aloof appetite to get a account for Instagram. And that’s as far as they go critically. The analytical aspect of the assignment is far beneath important than the pure, egoistic aspect of avaricious me in a bend and saying, “Can I booty a account of you with my wife?”
HARAMIS: Do you oblige?
CONDO: I consistently say yes. But it can get weird. A while back, I was walking out of the Ritz in London and this guy, a graffiti artist, came up to me and said, “Hey, George. Let me get a account of you and me in advanced of this Rolls-Royce.” Aing affair I know, he’s got his arm about me, cutting shades, a Rolls-Royce in the background. Within a few seconds, he captured a moment in time that is additionally a complete fabricationof reality.
SIMONS: It’s absolutely taken me by abruptness before. I was in the applicable allowance of a store, analytical out to say article to my partner, and somebody was aloof cat-and-mouse there for me.I was about dressed.
HARAMIS: Social media absolutely anchored Andy Warhol’s anticipation that at some point anybody would be acclaimed for 15 minutes.
SIMONS: I’ve consistently been absorbed by Warhol. I mean, I feel a little brittle talking about it, because I’m sitting with addition who absolutely knew him. But what’s consistently resonated with me about him was this faculty that he had no fear—at atomic that’s how the assignment feels to me. He didn’t assume to affliction if his assignment was complicated to attending at, or if it accommodated to the blow of the world, but at the aforementioned time it was both accessible and commercial. He afflicted art.
CONDO: I wasn’t about in the ’60s or ’70s, so aggregate I knew about Andy Warhol was formed afore I anytime met him. I already had a acumen of him as an abundantly important American artist. What was alluring to me was how he simplified culture. That resonated with people, in either a arguable or a absolute way. The abundant affair about Andy was that he was arguable and absolute simultaneously. Even if he was talking about the chase riots in Alabama, he was accomplishing article absolute by bringing acquaintance to article so horrible. And he anesthetized it in such a way that it was altered and new and interesting.
The abstraction that he ran a factory, that he never affected the work, that it was done in this absolutely cold way so that somehow he was able to chargeless himself from the acquaintance of aboriginal modernism—it was as if to say, “I’m an artisan who doesn’t paint. I accomplish paintings, but I don’t acrylic them.” He eventually congenital this accent that was calmly identifiable—the celebrity portraits, the Campbell’s soup can. With Andy, it was aloof funny that he would accept a Campbell’s soup can. And he would consistently say article about self-deprecating about it, simplifying the acumen for accomplishing it: “I corrective some Campbell’s soup because my mother said aback I didn’t apperceive what to paint, to acrylic what I like, and I like Campbell’s soup.”
But it was consistently far added bookish in absoluteness than how Andy put it. Addition anticipation that comes to apperception is that aback you go to a gift boutique anywhere in the world, you’ll see article like a little Empire State Building. You’ll see a little Michelangelo or a little Eiffel Tower—it’s alone the best important things that accomplish it to the gift shop. I anticipate what Andy capital to do with bodies like Marilyn Monroe was to actualize a affectionate of gift of them, to the admeasurement that their accomplished activity was encapsulated in that distinct image.
HARAMIS: I’d say he succeeded.
CONDO: Aback I formed at the Factory, he was so in ascendancy of aggregate all the time. Regardless of whether he did it or not, he would acquaint you absolutely what adumbration of orange he wanted. There was a chiffonier area I’d accept to go grab the paint. The acrylic cans were all labeled, like, “Liz Taylor Green” or “Marilyn Orange 1962.” Sometimes he’d say, “Don’t use the Marilyn lip on her. She doesn’t deserve them.”
HARAMIS: Like Warhol, you both assume absorbed in aerial art and accumulation adeptness in a way that feels about democratizing. Area does that actuation appear from?
SIMONS: For me, it’s simple. One doesn’t abide after the other.
CONDO: Pop is not the aboriginal abode area aerial and low accept appear together. It’s aloof the aboriginal abode area the altercation of aerial and low became article that the critics were able to grab onto. Afore that, it was banana strips and Richard Hamilton and added bodies like him in London, who started to appear up with this altered way of demography the accustomed and accumulation it into the extraordinary. It’s the abstraction of demography article from one ambience and transforming it into a absolutely altered ambience after rearranging the pieces. And the acumen of an artwork is consistently accidental on its audience. They will apprehend it based on their own abundance of knowledge. No amount what you explain to them, they’re action to acquaintance it on their own terms. Bodies accept said about my assignment that it’s like Bugs Bunny corrective by Rembrandt.
HARAMIS: Aback we aboriginal started talking about Warhol, Raf, you had said that it was his abridgement of abhorrence that appealed to you. Is that article to which you aspire?
SIMONS: Well, it’s complete bullshit. We’re all abashed like crazy. But what I meant is that it doesn’t appearance in his work. It’s like the actual adverse of fear. It’s adventuresome work—maybe he was courageous, too. I’m not sure, because I didn’t apperceive him. Besides, who anytime knows that about anybody?
CONDO: He was abashed of aggregate but the art. It’s like you on appearance day, Raf—the ache that comes aback the assignment is done. It’s like accepting bodies over for dinner, and actuality abashed that the aliment that you’ve adapted is no good.
SIMONS: It doesn’t amount if the artistic beastly has fear. It’s added important to assay if the anatomy of assignment shows weakness and abhorrence or has a lot of strength. That’s the affair that’s in chat with the audience.
CONDO: I like the fear. It’s why I like watching TV shows like Naked and Afraid, area they go out into the wilderness for three weeks. I generally brainstorm how abundant it would be to try, but I’d never absolutely do it.
HARAMIS: It’s consistently the absolutely abashed ones who survive. The evidently assured guy, the one who’s abstruse aggregate he knows from watching YouTube videos, is usually the one who gives up on the aboriginal night.
CONDO: Yeah, that guy alone lasts ten minutes.
SIMONS: I’ve been watching The Handmaid’s Tale, a alternation that’s all about fear.
HARAMIS: Wait, it’s so awe-inspiring you accompany up that show. I had a dream aftermost night that you asked me to airing in the aing Calvin Klein appearance dressed as a handmaid, and cat-and-mouse at the end of the aerodrome was a noose.
[Sorbet is served at the table]
SIMONS: Sorry, what were you saying?
HARAMIS: Nothing. Go on, please.
SIMONS: It’s such an abundantly crisp show—the dialogue, the music, the acting, the environment, the color. Each adventure is so acceptable that I acquisition it difficult to stop watching. I haven’t acquainted that way about a appearance in a while. Not aback I watched Twin Peaks in college.
HARAMIS: Is TV your adopted aperture for escape?
SIMONS: Not exclusively. I go to the movies a lot.
CONDO: I absent my adeptness to go to the movies a while ago. I accept to apperceive how it ends in adjustment to see it. I charge to apperceive the twist. What I acclimated to adulation best about action to the movies was the previews. Aback the cine assuredly starts, I’m consistently like, “What’s gonna appear to her? What’s gonna appear to him? Is he gonna annihilate her? Is she gonna annihilate him? What are they gonna do? Who’s the bad guy? Who’s the acceptable guy? Oh, it’s not that affectionate of movie? Okay.”
SIMONS: I’m the exact opposite. I don’t appetite to watch the cine if somebody’s baby the ending. But already I’ve apparent a cine I like, I can watch it 50 times.
CONDO: I bent Impaired and Dumber on TV the added day. I hadn’t apparent it in so long, and it was shockingly funny. Fifteen account in, I was adulatory for Jim Carrey to appear aback to movies. He was so good. His appearance has been sitting at the bar for maybe six hours, and the bartender gives him a beer and says, “Hey, I feel bad for you, buddy. I apperceive you’re cat-and-mouse for a date.” And Jim Carrey says to him, “Well, you apperceive how woman are. Aggregate has to be perfect.” The abstraction that any woman would be sitting in advanced of a mirror for that continued for him is aloof so absurd.
SIMONS: What are your three admired movies?
CONDO: I adulation [Alfred] Hitchcock’s The Birds. It was Jean-Michel Basquiat’s admired movie, too. I bethink allurement him, “What’s your admired part?” And he declared the bit aback the guy goes to the gas station, and everybody’s in the window going, “No! No! No!” And he lights up a cigarette and the accomplished abode assault up. The way it’s attempt is like a [William] Eggleston. I additionally adulation Apocalypse Now. And I adulation [Stanley] Kubrick. What’s a cine that stands out to you from aback you were a kid?
SIMONS: Jaws is cardinal one. It cannot be baffled by annihilation else. E.T. is addition one. I had to be agitated out the aboriginal time I saw it because I was arrant so hard.
CONDO: I afresh watched a BBC documentary about the aftermost years of [Pablo] Picasso’s life, and his grandson Bernard, who’s a acceptable acquaintance of mine, was adage that his grandfathering admired to watch television, accurately The Three Musketeers. They cut to blur footage from that accurate show—with the swords, the outfits, the gestures, and the expressions—and again they showed Picasso’s paintings from that era, and it fabricated so abundant sense.
SIMONS: Bodies tend to appetite to intellectualize a anatomy of work, aback generally it can be built-in out of a distinct thought—as simple as a gesture.
CONDO: Sometimes you don’t charge to appointment the pyramids to be inspired. Sometimes you aloof accept to go to the bank and accept an ice cream.
SIMONS: Bodies generally ask area I get my inspiration—
CONDO: The affliction catechism addition can possibly ask.
SIMONS: It’s absurd to answer. But the one affair I consistently say is that it’s never article that I’m actively analytic for while sitting at a desk. It acclimated to aberration me out that account would appear out of nowhere, because I’d accept to address them bottomward appropriate abroad so I wouldn’t balloon them. It still happens, say, aback I’m in a cine or something, aloof plop. It has annihilation to do with the movie. Aloof plop.
Models: Tia Jonsson at Anti-Agency, Luca Bertea at DNA Models, Alvina Bokhari at Anti-AgencyHair: Recine application Recine for Rodin at The Wall GroupMakeup: Grace Ahn at Julian Watson AgencyProduction: Eshia Alvarado at Moonstruck FilmsPhotography Assistants: Jordan Zuppa and Mike ChewFashion Assistant: Rasaan WyzardHair Assistants: Nero and Kazuhide KatahiraMakeup Assistant: Sena MurahashiManicure: Megumi Yamamoto at Susan Price NYCProduction Assistant: Alizabeth AlvaradoSpecial Thanks: Ten Ton Studio
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