George Condo - 20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Monday, December 7, 2020 | Phillips

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  • An accomplished work from George Condo’s seminal Drawing Paintings series, Transparent Female Forms blurs boundaries between the figurative and the fragmented. Marking the beginning of what would become a decade-long preoccupation with the Drawing Paintings, this exquisite work from 2009, synergizes the traditionally disparate processes of drawing and painting—all whilst retaining his signature brand of “psychological cubism.”


    According to the artist, “Drawing Paintings…were a reaction to the consistent hierarchy that supposedly exists between drawing and painting. What I wanted to do was combine the two of them and make drawing and painting on the same level, that there was no real difference between drawing and painting and by combining pastel, charcoal, pencil, and all these various different drawing mediums on a canvas, it would be an experience for the viewer to see that drawing and painting together can exist in one—I would say—happy continuum.” i


    In Transparent Female Forms, a kaleidoscope of jewel-like hues emerges from a neutral ground, superimposed with gestural improvisations that lend the work a sense of rhythm invoking Condo’s preoccupation with music, which he studied alongside art history in university. From lush impasto and sensuous pastels emerge figures that traverse the composition. Female faces adorned with elegant pearls, full lips and luscious hair are rendered with astonishing care; yet in signature Condo fashion, grotesque characters with snarled grimaces, wild-eyes and disfigured heads loom in the background. With these juxtapositions, Condo expertly bridges the cacophonous with the sensual and the recognizable with the alien, probing at our most primitive human instincts of desire, disgust and intrigue.


    "[The Drawing Paintings] are about freedom of line and color and blur the distinction between drawing and painting. They are about beauty and horror walking hand in hand. They are about improvisation on the human figure and it’s consciousness."
    — George Condo

    A Turning Point


    Executed one year before the artist’s inclusion in the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York’s 2010 Biennial, and two years before his monumental mid-career retrospective at the New Museum, Transparent Female Forms marked both a professional and a formal turning point for the artist. Not only indexing a transition from solo portraits to canvases with several figures, this period saw Condo employing a diverse array of techniques and aesthetics. “The canvases are noteworthy not only for their mix of acrylic, charcoal, and oil pastel, almost indistinguishably integrated, but for their fusion of styles, resulting in what might be called an expressionistic surrealism or, perhaps more pointedly, an expressionistically grotesque surrealism,” Donald Kuspit elucidated. “In comparison with the solo portraits for which Condo first became known, they suggest his painting has outgrown goofy comic-strip caricature, however sardonic it remains.” ii


    A Motley Crew


    Condo coined the terms “artificial realism” and “psychological cubism” to describe his singular painterly idiom, which manifested over the past four decades as a band of imagined characters who provide a mirror from which the complexities of human nature come into view. Rodrigo is perhaps his most iconic character, a “disapproving butler” who, according to Condo, is “a kind of lowlife, the one who parks your car” or even “the piano player at a wedding, doing the worst song you’ve ever heard.”iii  Identifiable by his bald head, oversized bow tie and upward-thrusting chin, Rodrigo appears a number of times in Transparent Female Forms, as do several Cnidian Aphrodites, another of Condo’s recurring characters, who confront the viewer as Picasso’s demoiselles. The juxtaposition of these “lowlives” with the very epitome of Western beauty constitute a motley crew of guests whose psychological states unravel across the canvas in a thematic evocation of his Expanding Canvases from the 1980s.


    George Condo, The Fallen Butler, 2009. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Artwork © 2020 George Condo / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    George Condo, The Fallen Butler, 2009. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Artwork © 2020 George Condo / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    In Dialogue with the Past  


    Transparent Female Forms is replete with references to the art historical canon, drawing from the rich traditions of the Renaissance, Cubism, Surrealism, and Expressionism. Perhaps most conspicuously, Transparent Female Forms is evocative of Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera, 1477-1482, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, whereby the Old Master illustrates the Three Graces as part of a larger ensemble scene. Condo too renders three female nudes—perhaps the most iconic motif in Western art history—on the left side of the composition, alluding to this trope in Botticelli’s picture.


    [left] Sandro Botticelli, Primavera, circa 1481 (detail featuring the Three Graces). Uffizi, Florence, Image credit SCALA / Art Resource, NY [right] Detail of the present lot.

    "I want to actually paint through him, I want to paint into Picasso." 
    — George Condo

    The Greek myth of the three Graces also inspired Picasso’s 1925 canvas, The Three Dancers, Tate, London. Both Picasso and Condo reconstructed this allegory through a distinctly modern visual language, with fractured, Cubist forms replacing the idealistically rendered bodies found in Renaissance imagery. 


    Pablo Picasso, The Three Dancers, 1925. Tate Gallery, London, Photo credit © Tate, London / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Condo’s ghostly, overlapping female forms are also reminiscent of Francis Picabia’s Transparencies—a term derived from photography that points to the optical effects of the multiplied and montaged images in this series. Like Condo, Picabia achieved these richly layered compositions by using a mixture of mediums. Jostling against one another as though in a crowd, Condo’s composition is also redolent of the famed street scenes popularized by German Expressionists such as Ernst Ludwig Kircher.


    [left] Francis Picabia, Ganga, 1927-1929. Museum Moderner Kunst, Vienna, Photo credit Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris [right] Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Street, Berlin, 1913. Museum of Modern Art, New York 

    Condo’s Take on Modernism


    Condo studied the work of his idol, Pablo Picasso, as a young painter while living in Paris in the late 1980s and early 1990s, absorbing much of the Cubist master’s syntax—both in technique and in composition. Like Picasso, Condo sought to reinvigorate portraiture through the process of dismantling and putting back together, with the somewhat counterintuitive goal of more accurately—or fully—representing his subject. In Transparent Female Forms, Condo pays homage to the modernist master through a muted neutral palette which is reminiscent of his forebearer’s Analytical Cubist works. However, this monochromatic expanse is fractured by the prismatic hues that seem to tear through the canvas—the “psychological” side of Condo’s trademark “psychological cubism.” “I don’t want to simply look at Picasso on the wall or read about Picasso,” Condo mused, “I want to actually paint through him, I want to paint into Picasso.” iv


    Cut from the Archives



    i George Condo, quoted in “Blurring the Line Between Drawing and Painting,” The Phillips Collection blog, May 18, 2018, online.
    ii Donald Kuspit, “George Condo”, Artforum, vol. 48, no. 9, May 2010, pp. 252-253.
    iii George Condo, quoted in Calvin Tomkins, “Portraits of Imaginary People: How George Condo Reclaimed Old Master Painting,” The New Yorker, January 17, 2011.
    iv George Condo, quoted in Thomas Kellein, “Interview with George Condo 2004,” George Condo: 100 Women, exh. cat., Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Salzburg, 2005, p. 34.

    • Provenance

      Skarstedt Gallery, New York
      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.

      View More Works

Property from a Private Collection


Transparent Female Forms

signed and dated "Condo 09" on the reverse
acrylic, chalk and pastel on linen
78 x 113 7/8 in. (198.1 x 289.2 cm)
Executed in 2009.

Full Cataloguing

$3,500,000 - 5,500,000 

Sold for $4,265,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278 


20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 7 December 2020