George Condo - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Introduction


    One common observation that unites much of the artistic discourse on George Condo is that he is altogether a maverick; a Rimbaud-esque character who, in his unfaltering refusal to adhere to any singular mode of creation or interpretation, has solidified his position as one of the most complex and gifted draftsmen and painters of our generation. Known for the non-hierarchical manner with which he treats his source material (for him, Cubism and cartoons coexist effortlessly), Condo’s oeuvre and its re-imaginings of contemporary life have earned him placement within the collections of some of the world’s finest institutions. Most recently, the artist has had significant prominence at the 2019 Venice Biennale, as well as a solo exhibition at the Long Museum, Shanghai in 2021.


    "For Condo, things would appear to exist in terms of line, colour and form, life itself is form—form in the throes of ceaseless change, expansion, entanglement—form enamoured of its attendant colour signs and subtly glowing or violently contrasting colour textures…"
    –Michael Casey

    Detail of the present work


    Feast for the Mind


    Commanding in scale, colour, subject matter, and composition, Entangled Figures is in equal parts visually captivating as it is mentally stimulating. Its Abstract Expressionist background, filled with bursts of pink, purple, blue, speckled with white, immediately recalls Sam Francis’ vibrant flecks, a testimony to Condo’s skillful evocation of contemporary masters in his works. And yet, contrasting with the energetic background akin to Jackson Pollock’s brighter drip paintings is a stark simplicity of line.


    "When I see a network of brushstrokes and a cosmos of imagery in a Jackson Pollock, for example, I see faces and screaming heads, and I want to paint what I see."
    —George Condo


    Aside from its obvious Pollockian link, within Entangled Figures is also a remarkable similarity to Pollock’s lesser known black pouring pieces from the fifties, in which fragments of imagery, made up of distorted faces and human forms, filled predominantly monochrome works. Obscure as his references may be, such is the way with Condo’s creations, which draw heavily and unsparingly from the encyclopedic depths of art history.


    One constant source of inspiration to Condo—and one comparison oft-cited—is that of Pablo Picasso. In its purity of line, the present work also deftly evokes Picasso’s etchings. Such etchings were based on various classical sources, including characters such as Pygmalion, Ariadne and the Minotaur, and, most conspicuously linked to Entangled Figures, The Three Graces.  




    Left: Jackson Pollock, Number 5, 1952, Collection of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
    © 2021 Pollock-Krasner Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Right: Pablo Picasso, Les trois grâces, II, 1922-23, (etching printed in black ink on wove paper), Collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts
    © 2021 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Three’s a Crowd


    The cultural significance of the magic number three has permeated both art and literature throughout the times. In one of its most notable imaginings is The Three Graces, the three goddesses that represent charm, nature, creativity, fertility, and goodwill—amongst many other positive attributes. Often depicted nude, the tripartite symbolises the pinnacle of beauty, a subject no doubt continuously investigated in the annals of history.




    1)  Sandro Botticelli Three Graces in Primavera, 1485-87, Collection of the Uffizi Gallery, Florence

    2) James Pradier The Tree Graces, 1831, Collection of the Louvre Museum, Paris

    3) Raphael The Three Graces, circa 1503-05, Collection of the Musée Condé, Chantilly

    4) Peter Paul Rubens The Three Graces, 1630-35, Collection of the Museo del Prado, Madrid


    The recreation of a party of three is so adored that the number is heavily referenced by many artists: among Condo’s sources, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Picasso, Gustav Klimt, have all produced their own interpretations of three bathers, the three ages of woman, three dancers, among others.    



     Left:  Paul Cézanne Trois baigneuses (Three Bathers), 1879-82, Collection of the Musée du Petit Palais, Paris

    Right: Pablo Picasso The Three Dancers, 1925, Collection of the Tate Museum, London
    © 2021 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    "There are characters that live within your mind and I want to bring them to light. If you think about how the mind as opposed to the eyes see people, that is the image I want to create."
    —George Condo

    And yet, with George Condo, nothing is without a hint of the grotesque. Entangled Figures ostensibly appropriates the three graces: in the central figure’s voluptuousness we detect a celebration of fertility; in the left figure’s perfectly coiffed hair and adornment of pearls we see a celebration of Venusian beauty and grace—but this image is interrupted by a third, outer right figure, peeking out, wearing a signature Condo grimace, poised between ‘a scream and a smile’. 




    Sandro Botticelli The Birth of Venus, circa 1484-86

    Collection of the Uffizi Gallery, Florence


    Entangled Figures is so typical of the artist. On the one hand the image summons Botticellian memories of Venus emerging from the sea, or indeed Bouguereau’s stunning beauty, surrounded by a company of winged cherubs (our Venus, too, raises her arms above her head as her modesty is shielded). On the other hand, the work’s sinister twist bears resemblance to the nudes of Francis Bacon: distorted, often haunting, Bacon’s influence on Condo is palpable.     




    Left: Francis Bacon NUDE, 1960

    © 2021 Estate of Francis Bacon/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/DACS, London

    Right: William-Adolphe Bouguereau The Birth of Venus, 1879 

    Collection of the Musée d'Orsay, Paris



    The reverse side of the coin is so often felt in Condo’s paintings, as nothing is ever as it seems. Even in its title, Entangled Figures, a superficially innocent nod to the intertwined Graces, one also remembers the tale behind Picasso’s infamous The Three Dancers now housed in The Tate’s collection: a ‘…“dance” of intertwined sinister figures’, whose title Picasso ‘always felt should be called The Death of Pichot ii, based on a chilling love triangle, a sordid love affair involving lust, jealousy, and ultimately death.


    Thus perhaps a closer cousin to the dual allegorical meanings behind Hans Baldung’s set of similarly themed paintings: The Three Graces and The Three Ages of Man and Death, Condo’s colourful recreation is an in-depth exploration of such themes as mortality and the fleeting nature of beauty. Entangled Figures, is in a type of reconstruction of reality; a perfect example of Condo’s famed ‘artificial realism’.



     Left: Hans Baldung The Three Ages of Man and Death, 1541-44

    Collection of the Museo del Prado, Madrid

    Right: Hans Baldung The Three Graces, 1541-44

    Collection of the Museo del Prado, Madrid


    George Condo in Conversation


    Emily Nathan “The only way to feel the difference between every other and me is to use other artists to become me,” you once said. What did you mean?

    George Condo Well, I’m not sure which philosopher it was—Aristotle or Socrates I think—who said that a “thing” is everything that it’s not, and that’s the way to describe definitively what something is. So everything that I love or am interested in or am impressed by in art goes into my work. I can only distinguish myself by understanding that all of those things are in my paintings, and then my works still come out looking like something entirely new and different. It’s really about reconstructive as opposed to deconstructive art: bringing the inter-relationships of languages in art together in a single canvas. My intention when I go into a work is to make people aware of all the great things I think there still are to draw from in painting.


    EN Your paintings often contain the recurring trope of a kind of monster, its screaming head contorted and deformed by hysteria. What was the genesis of this image?

    GC You know, Phillip Guston and all those artists who are our heroes, they all got it from Picasso: That screaming head you see in Guernica kind of got consumed into their language of abstraction. And for me as a painter, I see all that when I look at abstract paintings. When I see a network of brushstrokes and a cosmos of imagery in a Jackson Pollock, for example, I see faces and screaming heads, and I want to paint what I see. So real life is involved with that. We see reality through our own eyes. Say I see two people talking on a bus, and I don’t know what they’re talking about but their faces are sort of thrown back in some hysterical expression—and I just want to capture that at the moment I see it, even though it might be out of context when it shows up in my work.


    EN Are you saying that what we call reality is actually inherently artificial, especially since we can only experience it as filtered through our own perceptions?

    GC Our own experiences of the world are really all we can go off of. If you look up the word “artificial” in Webster’s dictionary, the definition is “man made.” And the world we live in is “man made.” If you look up “reality,” though, the definition is something like “that which exists independent of our perception.” So according to this definition, if it’s out there beyond where we can perceive it, then it’s real. But what we generally describe as “concrete reality” is actually the artificial. Now, let’s just say you decide to become a very representational painter and to sit here and paint exactly what you see. So then you’ve created a very realistic representation of that which is artificial—what do you call it? It was Robert Rosenblum, actually, who said, “What do you call this stuff you do? It’s not Surrealism, it’s not Expressionism.” And I thought about it and I said, Robert, you can call it Artificial Realism.


    Read the rest of the interview here.


    Collector’s Digest


    Few artists have dedicated their careers as singularly to one genre as George Condo has to that of portraiture. He is drawn to the endless inquiries posed by the aesthetics and formal considerations of Caravaggio, Rembrandt and the Old Masters. Emerging on the New York art scene in the 1980s alongside contemporaries such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Condo developed a distinctive visual lexicon that is unmistakably his own. Student to Warhol, friend to Basquiat and collaborator with William S. Burroughs, Condo tracked a different path. The artist frequently cites Picasso as a predominant influence in his contemporary cubist compositions and joyous use of paint. Condo is known for postmodernist compositions staked in wit and the grotesque, which draw the eye into a highly imaginary world.


    i Annette King, Joyce H. Townsend and Bronwyn Ormsby, ‘The Three Dancers 1925 by Pablo Picasso’, The Tate London

    ii Ibid.


    • Provenance

      Massimo De Carlo, London
      Repetto Gallery, London
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Milan, Massimo De Carlo, MCMXXXIV, 8 March – 13 July 2019

    • 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


Entangled Figures

signed and dated 'Condo 09' on the reverse
acrylic, charcoal and pastel on linen
182.8 x 147.3 cm. (71 7/8 x 57 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2009.

Full Cataloguing

HK$6,200,000 - 9,200,000 

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

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

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021