George Condo - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 13, 2014 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Monika Sprueth Philomene Magers, Munich

  • Exhibited

    Munich, Monika Sprueth Philomene Magers, George Condo, March 16 - May 7, 2005

  • Literature

    Frieze Magazine, May, 2007, Issue 107, cover (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    “You don’t need to paint the body to show the truth about a character. All you need is the head and the hands.” George Condo, 1992

    Fusing traditional portraiture with radical fragmentation and whimsical detail, Interspersion, 2004 exemplifies George Condo's pictorial innovation. A contemporary link in the history of figurative representation, Condo bears the influence of legends like Rembrandt, Picasso, and Francis Bacon. Informed by his powerful sense of irony and multifarious imagination, Condo’s work is armed with a unique painting style, employing the virtuoso draftsmanship and paint handling of the Old Masters. His subject matter and array of “everyday” characters spring largely from his overactive mind. Utilizing the traditional medium of oil on canvas, his work recalls art historical portraiture. The subjects he paints are as elegant and alienating as they are absurd and comical; any notion of the classical is subverted through an outrageous morphology. He has been creating beautifully disturbing images for nearly three decades, specializing in provocative paintings with an often-comical tinge. The artist is known for tapping into a host diverse material to create his own strikingly incoherent, aesthetic vocabulary. Art historical motifs, references to European classicism and traces of American pop-culture pervade in his eccentric works.

    Condo has introduced a range of distinctly contemporary types: figures that, despite their apparently commonplace social roles, seem to belong to the furthest extremes of the human psyche. In paintings like these, which in his words “reflect the madness of everyday life,” meticulous attention to naturalistic detail is coupled with elements of the grotesque and the absurd.

    Interspersion, 2004, certainly expresses a cognitive state through the human form. The title, referring to the act of mixing or breaking up the continuity of something, invokes a sense of mental scatteredness. Condo’s subject stands for this state of psychological dysfunction. Half turned away, the sitter rotates to peer at the viewer cautiously, as if waiting for something to occur. The background, featuring a nondescript summer sky, hangs like a curtain, offering the spectator little distraction from the principal figure. The subject’s face is radically disjointed, seeming to capture multiple perspectives and time frames all at once. Two wicked sets of teeth cross and jut away from the face while a strange, carnival-esque button nose, in emerald green, crowns the center. The figure’s true nose is exceedingly angular, casting the rest of the face in shadow. At the side of the figure, a singular ear springs from what appears to be the entirely wrong place. These imaginative details describe an exceedingly mysterious individual. The subject is rendered as massive, wearing a thick, green shirt. Despite its internal discord, this broadness endows the human figure with weighty importance.

    In a style he has dubbed, "Psychological Cubism," Condo deviates from Picasso and Braque's practice of instantaneously depicting different facets of an object and in turn sets to paint the internal, ever changing, and often conflicting emotions of the human face. In Condo's paintings the topography of the face leaves behind all physical appearance in favor of mapping out the furthest extremes of the human psyche.

    Self-consciously disarming the viewer's expectations, Condo's images of nudity, sex, rage, insanity, glee, violence, loneliness and alienation become wrought with a complex mixture of emotion and interpretation. Fusing heroic modes of abstraction and debased forms of figuration, Condo's work observes that the transcendent aspirations of 'high' culture are inevitably tangled up with our more clownish natures and desires. Over the past three decades, in canvases that articulate this kind of potent and mixed emotional charge, Condo has explored the outer suburbs of acceptability while making pictures that, for all of their outrageous humor, are deeply immersed in memories of European and American traditions of paintings.

    Condo, who doesn’t study from photographic sources, continues to conceive of remarkably unique subjects for his work. He seeks to create ‘realistic representation of that which is artificial’, an approach he has named ‘artificial realism’. (Ralph Rugoff, interview with George Condo, ‘The Enigma of Jean Louis’, in George Condo, Existential Portraits, Holzwarth Publications, Berlin, 2006, p.8). Sometimes these wild conceptions are so imaginative that they appear contorted beyond rational legibility. But underlying each of Condo’s creations is an acute perception about some aspect of the human condition. Interspersion, in its attention towards the solitary figure, achieves such an effect.

    As the central figure stands before a backdrop of a pale blue sky bedecked with Constable-like clouds, the work is transformed from a contemporary painting to a historical one. The figure against a stark azure background with no other props or scenery harkens back to century-old portraiture. Picasso’s famed Seated Bather, 1930, with its twisting and curtailed forms, seems to serve as a muse to Condo’s painting. Here, the figure occupies two thirds of the picture-plane with her curved form and behind her a band of blue spans across the canvas. Like Picasso’s seated figure, Condo’s protagonist glances over her shoulder and wraps her arm around her own form in a coy and protective gesture. Her spider-like fingers curl across her bicep as if sneaking out to see who approaches. But unlike Seated Bather, Condo’s leading lady has bright blue and open eyes, portals that convey an eager and excited soul within.

    While historically evocative, the backdrop in Interspersion, 2004 pays homage to another modernist titan—Magritte. Black Magic, painted in 1942, presents a woman at the forefront of the picture. Half her body is painted sky blue, creating the illusion of both blending with and melting into the sky beyond. Amidst, the perfectly cerulean sky a cluster of clouds linger, contrasting greatly to the dark and heavy stones upon which the figure leans.

    Forged from these fragments of art-historical memory, Condo’s canvases wantonly co-mingle elements of the stunning and the shocking, provoking a kind of mental whiplash that unhinges the hold such categories have on our perception. Often directly alluding to the works of his European forbearers, Condo's paintings were designed to present "an artificial simulated American view of what European painting looked like" (G. Condo, quoted in George Condo: Mental States, exh. cat., New Museum, New York, 2011, p. 12).

  • Artist Biography

    George Condo


    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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oil on canvas
72 x 60 in. (182.9 x 152.4 cm)
Signed, titled and dated "Condo 02 Interspersion" on the reverse.

$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for $605,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Stoffel
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1261

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 13 November 2014 7pm