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Woman & Man
£600,000 - 800,000 ‡
sold for £1,329,000
Luhring Augustine, New York
Gary Tatintsian Gallery, Inc., Moscow
Private Collection, Russia (acquired from the above)
Phillips, London, 9 February 2016, lot 43
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Moscow, Gary Tatintsian Gallery, Inc., George Condo: Artificial Realism, 15 May - 14 August 2008, p. 20 (illustrated, pp. 21-23)
Bridging the grotesque and the beautiful in Woman & Man, George Condo masterfully deconstructs the complex workings of the mind and human perception. Uniting elements of Old Master painting with those of late Modernists, Condo forms a labyrinthine amalgamation of style that is both expressive and replete with rich art historical references. Just as Condo manipulates his painterly subjects, he manipulates the emotions of his viewers who are left in an uncomfortable state of turmoil, reflective of the painting’s oscillation between contradictory emotional states.
It is not just time whose boundaries are warped and obliterated in Condo’s paintings. Terming his style ‘psychological cubism’, Condo erases preconceived notions of visual perception. Presenting the viewer with psychological images representative of what the mind, not the eye, sees, his images sway into caricature as the inner states of their subjects are pulled forward and refracted across the composition. The viewer is pulled into the portrait’s visceral intensity. Teeth, visible in many of Condo’s portraits, especially those of his signature recurring fictional character Rodrigo, are reminiscent of the haunting teeth evident in the canvases of Francis Bacon. Each artist externalises the internal. Drawing on myriad influences, Condo builds new layers into his already multi-faceted psychological cubism, three different sets of teeth are presented in conflicting styles and viewpoints.
Condo’s experimentation with line and form, in accordance with the bold use of colour, attributes the canvas its own discordant lyricism as the viewer’s eye is softly led up the gentle curve of the woman’s hair before reaching its violent crescendo in the man’s agonised expression. The strong jaw and classically rounded breasts of the woman resemble the conventional figures of Pablo Picasso’s Three Women at the Spring, 1921, and yet the abstraction inevitably draws comparisons with Picasso’s cubist portraits. The enmeshed male and female figures in Woman and Man also echo Picasso’s abstracted lovers whilst bordering on the disconcerting. Fluctuating between tenderness, intimacy and an aggressive invasion of each other’s beings, their psychological states bleed into one another and filter into the crimson backdrop. This application of a single block red colour, in addition to the cubist presentation of picture planes, flattens the canvas and acts as a psychosomatic springboard upon which the viewer’s emotions are guided. The unnervingly sweet smile of the woman is rendered particularly disturbing through her counterpart’s abject horror. A single eye situated centrally and closed off in its own yellow triangle alludes to the all-seeing eye of God, or providence, and penetrates the viewer in its attempt to free us from traditional ways of viewing art.
Initially working for Andy Warhol at the Factory in New York in the 1980s, Condo left to pursue his own artistic technique. Diverging from the styles employed by fellow artists, Condo was heavily influenced by Francisco Goya, Frans Hals, Willem de Kooning and Picasso: ‘There was a new wave of figurative art going on in New York then, with Basquiat, and Schnabel, and Keith Haring and a few others, but I didn’t want to be part of that. I felt I had to come back to New York with a statement that would stand up against Andy Warhol’s soup cans. And the irony was that it turned out to be Old Master painting’ (George Condo, quoted in Calvin Tomkins, ‘Portraits of Imaginary People’, The New Yorker, 17 January 2011, online). Fascinated by the emotional expressionism prevalent in Old Master painting, Condo portrays his interest in surface pattern and the play of light. Sliding between conflicting picture planes in Woman & Man, we are also dragged between the overtly sensitive and intense portraits of Goya, who had allowed fantastical creatures to pervade his compositions, introducing, like Condo, a nightmare world.
The coexistence of abstraction and figuration within Woman & Man creates an interrelationship of painterly language that attempts to liberate the medium from the art historical canon. Condo’s playfully grotesque images offer a Freudian view of the uncanny, creating imaginative portraits that demonstrate a unique vision and a keen artistic awareness for preceding artistic traditions. Subverting the genre of portraiture, a genre traditionally designed to promote the subject, naturalistic portraiture rings hollow before the truth that is brought forward by Condo’s paintbrush. It is through this massacre of forms that the viewer best experiences the inner turmoil and psychological drama Condo is attempting to represent.
Illuminated by a single light source, suggestive of traditional methods of portraiture, Woman & Man sheds new light on a genre of painting that attempts to convey the multifaceted nature of humanity through its dismissal of the chronological progression of art history. Condo’s works become a collation of all the images that have inspired him. The resulting imaginary realities, fantastic beings that invade the mind, become a new form of truth in which the human psyche is revealed in its true complexity. Meandering between high art and popular culture, Condo explores and infiltrates every aspect of our consciousness forcing us to question aestheticism. Exemplary of the artist’s ability to forge new realms of imagination and appreciation, Woman & Man masterfully allows the viewer to step beyond aesthetic comfort zones and embrace the honest liberality of this new style of portraiture.
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.
Woman & Man
£600,000 - 800,000 ‡
sold for £1,329,000
London Auction 8 March 2018