George Condo - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Wednesday, June 22, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Introduction


    “It's what I call artificial realism. That's what I do. I try to depict a character's train of thoughts simultaneously – hysteria, joy, sadness, desperation. If you could see these things at once that would be like what I'm trying to make you see in my art.”
    — George Condo


    Featuring his signature carnivalesque caricatures with their distinctive bulging eyes and compressed and contorted faces, George Condo’s clownishly grotesque characters stare maniacally and confrontationally from his canvases at the viewer, simultaneously comical and unsettling. Described by the artist to be composites of various psychological states, these macabre portraits reflect the abject and the absurd, exploring ideas of madness and metamorphosis by compacting a plethora of emotions within a single expression. This is the aesthetic of ‘artificial realism’— a term coined by Condo to describe his own painterly style, defined as ‘the realistic representation of that which is artificial’ i.


    Despite drawing upon a vast array of art-historical sources, incorporating everything from American graffiti to Old Master portraiture into his practice, Condo manages to craft a revolutionary, inventive oeuvre that is uniquely his own. The Strangers was executed in 2009 and is emblematic of his outlandish, whimsical style, and was featured in a solo exhibition, Family Portraits, with Sprüth Magers, Berlin in 2010.


    Reflecting the title of the exhibition, the current work depicts the artist, his wife, and their two daughters — though they are barely identifiable, having been mutated beyond recognition. This family portrait is an undeniably unorthodox one; reimagining the realist genre with a bizarre, surreal twist. The Strangers demonstrates Condo’s virtuosity in absorbing the genius of the great masters before him, and his success in ventriloquizing and reworking historical painting styles, translating them into his own pictorial vocabulary.


    Eclectic Inspirations


    “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, and you can capture what I call a Psychological Cubism.”
    — George Condo


    After a brief stint at Andy Warhol’s Factory in the early 1980s, a young Condo emerged onto the budding East Village art scene, soon finding himself a fixture in New York City’s artistic landscape. Amidst a creative climate that was undergoing rapid reshaping by New Wave music and graffiti culture, it came as no surprise that Condo, alongside friends and fellow artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, adopted pop art and graffiti aesthetics into their personal styles. Condo’s works are a hybridization of contemporary techniques and art historical influences, fusing a constellation of inspirations gleaned from the innumerable subject matters he interacted with while living and working in both America and Europe.


    Pablo Picasso, Portrait of a woman, 1940
    © 2022 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    In the breadth of art historical canon, Condo finds his greatest inspiration in Pablo Picasso, whose work prompted Condo to inaugurate the concept of ‘psychological cubism’. Discussing the impact Picasso has had on his art, Condo explains: ‘I'm exaggerating and personifying some of their extreme emotional vicissitudes [...] And I love the freedom to capture that in painting, where it’s like, these are the limits of hysteria, these are the limits of humanity, this is how far people really take it, and how far I see them take it. And I guess that was the other thing I got from Picasso. It’s the idea of Cubism —but rather than seeing and depicting this coffee cup, say, from four different angles simultaneously, I’m seeing a personality from multiple angles at once. Instead of space being my subject, I’m painting all of someone’s emotional potentialities at once, and that’s what I’d call Psychological Cubism.’ ii Indeed, Condo’s work recalls the Surrealist and Cubist elements of Picasso’s oeuvre and the uncanny and contemplative facial expressions in his portraits.



    Detail of the present work 


    The painterly style of Francisco Goya, a constant source of inspiration for Condo, is evident in the present work. Condo channels the Spanish master’s dark portraits with his empty, ambiguous backgrounds, drawing focus to his subjects using lighting of varying saturation in a method evocative of Goya’s Chiaroscuro techniques. Known for his ability to capture complex feelings and personalities within a single facial expression, Goya’s sitters are sensitively and realistically rendered — Condo’s subjects are the same, their visages an amalgamation of emotions that are often open to the viewer’s interpretation. Mimicking the macabre sensibilities of Goya’s works, The Strangers delves into darker narratives, hinting toward a tale of conflict and a split family.





    Francisco Goya, Charles IV of Spain and His Family, 1800-1801
    Collection of Museo del Prado, Madrid


    An erudite artist, Condo proves himself to be a master puppeteer of perception and emotion. In his prodigious manipulation of the human psyche, he plunges viewers into a curiously complex narrative, shocking his audience in a fashion that is as abrasive as it is entertaining.


    “I like people to walk into one of my exhibitions and say ‘What happened?’”
    — George Condo

    In Conversation


    Detail of Francisco Goya, A Pilgrimage to San Isidro (from The Black Paintings), c. 1819-1823
    Collection of Museo del Prado, Madrid


    In 2017, Christopher Lyon interviewed George Condo about the inspirations behind his works, particularly in relations to Francisco Goya.


    Christopher Lyon: And you were mentioning when we were talking during a break earlier about, you know, this limb from Velasquez and that one from Tiepolo, and so on. I mean, when you think of memory, are you thinking of your memory of encounters with, you know, actual works that —


    George Condo: I'm thinking of how do you—what language in painting you use to describe the memory of just somebody riding by on a bicycle screaming on their cellphone, and that expression on their face reminding me of something from one of those black Goya paintings.


    CL: Got it.


    GC: You know?




    GC: The distortion and the sort of madness in —


    CLSo, you'll see something in your contemporary world that will, like —


    GC: Spark a —


    CL— spark a connection with —


    GC: — a need to find the way to, you know, materialize that thing.


    CLGot it. Got it. Okay. Okay.



    Click here to read the complete interview.



    Collector’s Digest


    Born in New Hampshire in 1957, Condo is one of the most celebrated artists today. He studied Art History and Music Theory at the University of Massachusetts, and he received his first major award in 1999— the Academy Award in Art from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, followed by further accolades including the Francis J. Greenberger Award in 2005.


    Over the years, Condo has been honoured in a myriad of shows and retrospectives, many of which have been toured internationally. In 2021, Condo’s largest Asian solo exhibition, George Condo: The Picture Gallery, was held at the Long Museum, Shanghai. This exhibition brought together more than 200 paintings, sculptures and drawings made throughout his career. Condo’s work was also included in the 58th Venice Biennale, May You Live In Interesting Times in 2019 — six years after he first participated in the Biennale in 2013.


    Condo’s work has been extensively collected by prestigious institutions in New York City, including The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,  The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. His work can also be found in renowned public collections internationally, such as Tate Modern, London; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo; Museu d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona; The Broad Collection, Los Angeles; and The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, amongst numerous others.



    i George Condo, quoted in Emily Nathan, ‘George Condo Sees Faces and Screaming Heads Everywhere’, Artnet, 14 October 2015, online

    ii ibid.

    • Provenance

      Sprüth Magers, Berlin
      Private Collection
      Simon Lee Gallery, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Berlin, Sprüth Magers, Family Portraits, 30 January - 1 April 2010

    • Literature

      Roberto Bolaño, 'The Writer is Gravely Ill', Harper's Magazine, August 2010, p. 18 (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      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


The Strangers

signed and dated 'Condo 09' on the reverse
oil on linen
122 x 112 cm. (48 x 44 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2009.

Full Cataloguing

HK$5,000,000 - 6,500,000 

Sold for HK$5,670,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 22 June 2022