Red Head

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  • Provenance

    Skarstedt Gallery, New York
    Edward Tyler Nahem, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Catalogue Essay

    “Felix [Guttari] said I was the only portrait painter who ever painted entirely imaginary subjects. Picasso was always painting Dora Maar or whoever, Bacon’s portraits could always be traced to some existing person. But not my portraits. They were all imaginary.” – George Condo

    George Condo’s Red Head, 2012, presents the viewer with an arresting portrait that exists at the border of figuration and abstraction. Constructed from a dizzying array of extruding geometric forms that tightly fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, a monumental bust-length figure, set against an opulent red backdrop, morphs into a facetted cubist sculpture. A formidable example of the constructed heads Condo has been painting since the mid-2000s onwards, Red Head specifically belongs to the series of “robot-like” Toy Heads from 2012 characterized by Condo’s formal engagement the language of Cubism. With a playful yet irreverent nod to the cubist portraits of Pablo Picasso, Condo puts forth a painterly dissection of mind and identity.

    Since emerging on the New York art scene in the early 1980s, Condo has become known for his multi-faceted pictorial inventions that incorporate a hybridization of art-historical influences, such as Francisco Goya, Frans Hals, Willem de Kooning and Pablo Picasso, as well as references to popular culture. Condo engaged in the strategy of appropriation characteristic for the generation of artists coming of age in the postmodern milieu of the 1980s, but as Laura Hoptman has pointed out, “He is not a painter of appropriated imagery…He is more like a philologist – a collector, admirer and lover of languages – in this case, languages of representation” (Laura Hoptman, George Condo Mental States, exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2011, pp. 26-27). Rather than copy individual motifs, Condo imitates his artistic forerunners in his manner of operation.

    Condo’s enduring engagement with the language of modern abstraction comes to the fore in Red Head in its formal reference to “analytical” Cubism, the earliest stage of Cubism which Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris pioneered between 1908 and 1912 in pursuit of rendering the full complexity of their subject. Condo has explored this notion of multiple viewpoints in his own approach to portraiture, which he has described as “psychological cubism”. Whereas the subjects in portraits from Picasso to Francis Bacon can always be traced to some existing person, Condo crucially paints wholly imaginary subjects. Taking the absurdities of life as a point of departure to portray the inner states of being, Condo creates portraits that are representative of what the mind – not the eyes – sees. As he noted, “What’s possible with painting that’s not in real life is you can see two or three sides of a personality at the same time” (George Condo, quoted in Julie Belcove, “George Condo Interview”, Financial Times, April 21, 2013, online).

    In Red Head, Condo explicitly cites the formal legacy of Cubism to expose the strained tension between painted surface and the psychological depth of portraiture. Whereas Condo’s portraits previously conveyed conflicting desires and uneasy psychological landscapes in their oscillation between figuration and abstraction, the sitter in Red Head appears to be more contained. The shifting mental states that Condo explored in many of his earlier subjects have here been transformed into an impenetrable, stylized mask. Though there is still a latent reference to the psychological depth behind a façade, the present work above all conveys the notion of “artificial realism” that Condo has been pursuing since the mid-1980s with the goal of visualizing how “reality…is now comprised of artificial components” (George Condo, quoted in Simon Baker, George Condo – Painting Reconfigured, London, 2015, p. 53).

    While artists such as Picasso radically challenged the conventions of traditional perspective, they nevertheless believed that painting was at its best when depicting some version of real world. Condo subverts this notion by exposing the constructed, and very often artificial, nature of identity: “Condo’s faces, whose faceted features comprise intersecting and deeply compromised geometries, are not failed attempts at portraiture, they are instead, references to the distance between aesthetics and psychology; the artificial and the real" (Simon Baker, George Condo – Painting Reconfigured, London, 2015, p. 104). Encapsulating Condo’s unique visual language, Red Head as such becomes a potent metaphor for the fragmented and fractured contemporary world we live in.

  • Artist Bio

    George Condo

    American • 1957

    Picasso once said, "Good artists borrow, great artists steal." Indeed, American artist George Condo frequently cites Picasso as an explicit source in his contemporary cubist compositions and joyous use of paint. Condo is known for neo-Modernist compositions staked in wit and the grotesque, which draw the eye into a highly imaginary world. 

    Condo came up in the New York art world at a time when art favored brazen innuendo and shock. Student to Warhol, best friend to Basquiat and collaborator with William S. Burroughs, Condo tracked a different path. He was drawn to the endless inquiries posed by the aesthetics and formal considerations of Caravaggio, Rembrandt and the Old Masters.

    View More Works

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Red Head

signed and dated "Condo 2012" upper left
oil and pastel on linen, in artist's frame
73 3/8 x 68 3/8 in. (186.4 x 173.7 cm.)
Painted in 2012.

Estimate
$900,000 - 1,200,000 

sold for $1,815,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278
aloiacono@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 May 2018