Audio Postcard: Contemporary Works Infiltrate Newport's Art Scene, At Least For The Summer

Jul 14, 2017

The art scene in Newport is known for maritime seascapes and portraits of the city’s Gilded Age wealth. But recently, an influx of challenging contemporary art has popped up in the City by the Sea.

Contemporary artist George Condo’s painting "Phoenix," now hangs in the Newport Art Museum. In the painting, man lies naked, splayed out on a blue couch, a green bottle in hand. He’s straddled by naked woman with wings for arms and the face of a cat. The two stare, grinning ferociously, out at the viewer, over a bright red background. The painting was originally album art for the rapper Kanye West.

“It was so racy, they had to blur the cover,” said Newport Art Museum Director Norah Diedrich.

That same painting now hangs -- uncensored -- in a special display at the Newport Art Museum. Diedrich points out that alongside another collection with more contemporary art, the painting might have less impact.

“It may not have the same power that it does in this particular space because it is totally out of context which is the fun of it,” said Diedrich.

The Condo painting stands out from the Newport museum’s collection of 19th Century landscapes and impressionist portraits. And that’s part of the idea of this contemporary art series.

“And like it or not, it created a reaction,” said Diedrich.

Another painting by Condo, "Shades of Madness," has also created a reaction. It’s hanging in Newport’s Redwood Library, one of the oldest libraries in the country – built before the American Revolution.

Next to portraits of men from the 18th century, Condo’s piece shows a nude woman against a dark background, a dark figure looms over her shoulder.

Library Director Benedict Leca said it is important for works like these to be shown in Newport.

 “This is quite a conservative town in many ways and this is a quite dramatic representation so it’s going to cause certain people to feel discomfort,” said Leca. “I mean all these pieces ask you to reconsider propriety, decorum, entrenched biases.”

The paintings by George Condo will be in Newport through July 21st. Other work in the series includes an installation by contemporary painter Shara Hughes.