George Condo - Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Tuesday, May 14, 2024 | Phillips

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  • “It’s the obliteration of the characters that keep haunting me. I’m getting them out of my system.”
    —George Condo
    Psychological, physical, and tactile, for the past fifty years George Condo’s captivatingly discordant paintings have challenged our perception of reality. Executed in 2016 during Condo’s first wave of creativity following his recovery from cancer, Focusing on Space viscerally expresses primal emotions of turmoil, pain, and healing: an obliteration of the figure to project energy – sensations – through paint. A significant work belonging to Condo’s Drawing Paintings series, first commenced in 2008, Focusing on Space continues the artist’s long-standing relationship with a repertoire of strange and recurring characters, immediately recognizable from their alarmingly exaggerated features, including bulbous eyes, oversized ears, and prominent overbites. As is more typical of the expansion of this series into the works known as Compressions, these figures are here even further abstracted and concentrated towards one edge of the composition, allowing him to draw out the contrasts between color and line, painting, and drawing. 


    Exploring the more improvisational and impulsive qualities of drawing alongside paint’s more retrained application, wide plains of lemon yellow are here lacerated by rapidly executed, ensnaring black loops. From within this tangled web of reverberating lines, the fractured features of a face are easily discernible. Overlarge staring eyes, ears, and flashes of gnashing teeth emerge from the lower right of the composition with remarkable energy and force, a pictorial intensity that takes on personal dimensions when we consider the artist’s own internal struggles with his health during this period. After a near death experience in 2013 when Condo contracted triple pneumonia while suffering from Legionnaires' disease, two years later the artist received another shattering diagnosis: cancer of the vocal cords. Condo poignantly recounts how “I was starting to feel very scrambled up and thinking about my kids and how bad my situation was.”i This sense of the fragmentation of the self is here expressed through violent mark-making, a seemingly destructive and deconstructive act through which new pictorial and subjective possibilities are created. 



    Measuring over six feet tall, Focusing on Space responds to Condo’s foundational principle of “psychological Cubism” alongside his immediate tragic circumstances.ii For Condo, art provides the potential to portray extremities of emotions in simultaneity: joy to hysteria, hope to despair at once.  As early as 1976, Condo records in his diary the “shapes and peaks and personalities locked up in a cage, and minds and thoughts and ideas trying to escape.”iii To explore these sensations, Condo draws consistently and consciously from the history of visual culture, incorporating elements from Old Masters to popular imagery based on the conviction that an image constructed from a broad range of formal styles results in a new, psychological vision. 

    “I describe what I do as psychological cubism… Picasso painted a violin from four different perspectives at one moment. I do the same with psychological states. Four of them can occur simultaneously. Like glimpsing a bus with one passenger howling over a joke they're hearing down the phone, someone else asleep, someone else crying – I'll put them all in one face.”
    —George Condo

    As is evident in Focusing on Space, Condo assiduously borrowed from a range of 20th century artistic sources, the rapid exchanges energizing Abstract Expressionist canvases and Cubism’s sharp dissections, spatial logic, and emphasis on simultaneity allowing him to articulate multiple emotional and psychological states concurrently. Questions of space had preoccupied Cubists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, at once reducing distinctions between figure and ground, and exploring innovative new methods of presenting multiple viewpoints simultaneously; a technique that for Picasso would find new emotional intensity in his monumental Guernica and related Weeping Woman series. Similarly, in its compositional verve and complex internal rhythms, Focusing on Space recalls the muscular mark-making of Abstract Expressionists such as Willem de Kooning, notably in works such as Pink Angels, where charcoal and paint work together to create a frenetic network of lines and interpenetrating forms. As our eye travels across the expanse of the canvas here, compositional stability seems to break down and reinforce itself by turns as the arched, loosened ribbons of paint are met and countered with corpulent, jagged brushstrokes, all threatening to expand well beyond the picture’s surface. 


    [Left] Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman’s Head with Handkerchief III, 1937, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. Image: Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2024 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York 
    [Right] Willem de Kooning, Pink Angels, c. 1945, Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation, Los Angeles. Image: Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2024 The Willem de Kooning Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York  


    Music, like sensation, informs Condo’s practice, discernable here in the paintings syncopated rhythms and counterpointed motifs. At the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, alongside art history, Condo majored in music theory, studying the classical guitar and then the lute. His subsequent participation in the punk band called “The Girls” led Condo to meet fellow artist-musician Jean Michel-Basquiat during the band’s performance in Tribeca, New York—a friendship that would persuade Condo to move to the city and pursue art full time at twenty-three years old. A rhythm, or rather, improvision remains central to Condo’s mark-making, staccato impastos fearlessly liberated across the surface. In Focusing on Space, Condo weaves an intricate arrangement of line and texture, where oil and pigment stick blur indistinguishably—much like the faces and bodies of his characters—melding into a raw, graffiti-like scrawl and sinuous graphic simplicity that knits the foreground and background into cohesive alignment.


    George Condo: In the Studio, Hauser & Wirth, 2021. 



    i George Condo, quoted in Jordan Riefe, “George Condo goes from Kanye West’s dark fantasy to painting his own demons,” The Guardian, April 20, 2016, online

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

    iii Simon Baker, George Condo: Painting Reconfigured, London, 2015, p. 7. 

    • Provenance

      Skarstedt, London
      Private Collection
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2017

    • Exhibited

      London, Skarstedt, Condo, De Kooning, Kippenberger, Muñoz, Salle, Warhol, February 6–April 12, 2016

    • 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


Focusing on Space

signed and dated "Condo 2016" upper left
oil and pigment stick on canvas
77 x 75 in. (195.6 x 190.5 cm)
Executed in 2016.

Full Cataloguing

$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for $1,270,000

Contact Specialist

Carolyn Kolberg
Associate Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1206

Modern & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 14 May 2024