George Condo - 20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Sunday, June 6, 2021 | Phillips

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  • This idea (of Artificial Realism) came to me in the early eighties as a way to describe my painting- the realistic representation of that which is artificial. I wrote a kind of Artificial Realist manifesto in which I stated: its about dismantling one reality and constructing another from the same parts, and that various concrete objects are not attached to their parts alone Essentially what I am painting is the state in which the image-time of one reality superimposed in a field of another simultaneous presence now becomes a new conjunctive hyper-reality or hybrid image showing the simultaneous presences.” George Condo [1]

    Faces and Expressions by renowned American artist George Condo is an excellent example of the Artificial Realism philosophy that he pioneered in the late 1980s. Featured in the collections of prominent institutions such as the New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and at the 2019 Venice Biennale, Condo skilfully plays with influences as diverse as the Old Masters such as Rembrandt to Modernists like De Kooning. As explained by Ralph Rugoff, “Condo never lifts entire images, nor does he borrow ready-made styles. Instead, he assimilates his references into a seamless amalgam, so that we end up viewing one aspect of art history through the presence of another.” [2]


    Faces and Expressions was executed in 2009, an important year for Condo, who left Luhring Augustine and joined forces with Per Skarstedt. He began working on a singular group of ‘drawing paintings’ using charcoal, pencil, pastel and acrylic paint on canvas in complex layers of figurative and abstract elements. Regarding the significance of these works, Condo explained: “The new paintings may be getting certain things out of my system. I mean, all those pods and peripheral beings and weird characters I’ve been working on over the last decade. I’m starting to bring back more naturalistic faces and bodies. […] That’s exciting to me.” [3]


    Pablo Picasso, Femme au Béret Mauve, 1937
    Pablo Picasso, Femme au Béret Mauve, 1937

    Faces and Expressions draws interesting parallels with Pablo Picasso’s Femme au Béret Mauve (1937). Picasso’s portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, his greatest muse and lover of ten years, reflected a tumultuous period in his life: amidst the upheaval of the ongoing Spanish Civil War, Picasso was still married to his estranged wife Olga, who steadfastly refused to give him a divorce, whilst he divided his time between Walter and his new love, Dora Maar, whom he had met the previous year. Picasso used Cubism to depict his subject as split between a multitude of perspectives to convey the fracturing nature of her torment; in comparison Condo hybridises Picasso’s influence into a form of “psychological cubism”, utilising the different perspectives as a prism through which the different psychological states of his subjects are projected. [4]


    Francis Picabia, Atrata, 1929
    Francis Picabia, Atrata, 1929

    Condo also pays homage to the transparences of French avant-garde painter Francis Picabia, who experimented in the 1920s and 1930s with a multiple layers of overlapping images, combined with great virtuosity to render a cinematic ‘transparent’ effect (see for example Picabia’s Atrata (1929)). Through multiple visual layers Condo effortlessly forms a melting point of genres across different traditions and time periods. Instead of evoking one central theme such as grief or sadness, through dimensions Condo invokes a range of opposing feelings from the viewer. In Faces and Expressions, the figures he sketches in rough chalk and pastel are comical yet grotesque, traditional yet contemporary- the familiar profiles of Condo’s female forms are strongly reminiscent of Marie-Thérèse Walter, yet disrupted by the cartoon-like head and caricatured human features in the eclectic mix. This multi-dimensional experience is further enhanced by his alternating use of rough black and white lines against the peachy orange background. Opposing forces are inextricably entangled together, none complete but together forming a whole. Echoing the complexities of the human character, Condo’s oeuvre proclaims we are not merely defined by our physical attributes but also by our imaginative faculties and desires. Condo’s mastery and technical skill is reflected in this abstract twist on contemporary portraiture, provoking the viewer in a reactionary yet reflective manner.


    When we abstract in imagistic terms from a recognisable form lets say a face to an impression of a face, we can still recall the face somewhere within this abstraction. But when we represent to the best of our ability the reverse which is to turn an abstraction back into a recognisable form that form is the language of abstraction as it relates to painting.” George Condo [5]

    [1] Michael Miller, “Two Exhibitions Respond to Art in the Age of Anxiety and Distance”, The New York Times, 28 Apr 2020, online

    [2] Ralph Rugoff, ‘The Imaginary Portraits of George Condo’, exh. cat, 2002, pg. 7

    [3] Calvin Tomkins, ‘Portraits of Imaginary People: How George Condo reclaimed Old Master painting’, The New Yorker, 9 January 2011, online

    [4] George Condo, quoted in Stuart Jeffries, ‘George Condo: I was delirious. Nearly died”’, The Guardian, February 10, 2014, online

    [5] George Condo and Simon Baker, George Condo: Painting Reconfigured, London, 2015, p. 109

    • Provenance

      Simon Lee Gallery, London (donated by the artist)
      BFAMI Gala Auction, London, 8 November 2010, lot 13
      Private Collection
      Christie's, London, 7 March 2019, lot 221
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • 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

Property from an Important Asian Private Collection


Faces and Expressions

signed and dated ‘Condo 09’ lower left
acrylic, chalk and pastel on paper
126 x 111.5 cm. (49 5/8 x 43 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2009.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,500,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for HK$3,528,000

Contact Specialist

Danielle So
Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale

20th Century & Contemporary Art & Design Day Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 7 June 2021