George Condo - New Now & Design Hong Kong Sunday, November 26, 2023 | Phillips
  • An eccentric amalgamation of physical anatomy and human psychology, Circus Composition brilliantly epitomizes American artist George Condo and his wildly inventive contributions to the tradition of portraiture. Drawing from European art history, the avant-garde and popular culture, his whimsical yet often grotesque works are situated between the familiar and uncanny in exploring the limits of the human psyche. 

    Inspired particularly by Pablo Picasso and the Cubist language, Condo similarly makes use of multiple perspectives to move away from the accurate depiction of reality. Unlike the former’s emphasis on representing physical space however, Condo developed his own mode of psychological cubism, focusing instead on the concept of fragmented internal states and personalities. He explains:


    “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.” 
    — George Condo  

    In Circus Composition, a group of carnivalesque caricatures populate the composition, all possessing the overly modelled features of Condo’s ‘antipodal beings’ – oversized eyes, protruding ears, frenzied stares and ominous grins that defy both traditional portraiture practices and common beauty standards. Set within an empty environment, the characters surround a nude female figure, also typical of the artist’s oeuvre, in a tense face-off. 

    Detail of the present lot

    As the objectified body clashes with macabre representations of split personalities, the viewer is simultaneously confronted by the spectacle at play – the right-most figure stares out of the frame, directly at those observing the scene to solicit a variety of reactions. More than a simple depiction of marginalised characters, Condo transforms them into surrogates of his exploration of human psychology. With rationality and the various states of human consciousness battling for dominance, absurdity, conflict and hysteria become all that remain.

    George Condo emerged onto the budding East Village art scene in the 1980s, where he inaugurated the concepts of ‘artificial realism’ and ‘psychological cubism’, terms he coined to denote his hybridisation of contemporary techniques and art historical influences. Having since received both critical and institutional recognition over the years, George Condo represented the United States at La Biennale di Venezia in both 2013 and 2019. Most recently, his solo exhibition at the National Museum Monaco, titled Humanoids, closed on 1 October 2023. The artist’s work has also been extensively collected by prestigious institutions including the Musée National d’Art Modern, Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate Modern, London; and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, amongst others.

    • Provenance

      Simon Lee Gallery, London
      Private Collection
      Sotheby's, London, 13 October 2012, lot 214
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above 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.

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Circus Composition

signed and dated 'Condo 2000' upper left
ink on paper
73 x 52 cm. (28 3/4 x 20 1/2 in.)
Painted in 2000.

Full Cataloguing

HK$550,000 - 650,000 

Sold for HK$698,500

Contact Specialist

Angela Tian
Associate Specialist, Head of New Now & Design Sale
20th Century & Contemporary Art, Hong Kong
+852 2318 2058

New Now & Design

Hong Kong Auction 26 November 2023