George Condo - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, November 17, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Collision Course, George Condo’s surreal and fragmented puzzle of imagery, is characteristic of the artist’s enquiry into the notions of perception. A spliced dreamscape of interlocking silhouettes patently reveals the artist’s ability to fluently work line, form and color into his celebrated oeuvre. Marrying figuration with abstraction, the present composition is exemplary of Condo’s self-termed style of "psychological cubism." Presenting the onlooker with what the imagination—rather than the eye—sees, in Collision Course the mental state of each subject is refracted across the composition.


    "There was a time when I realized that the central focal point of portraiture did not have to be representational in any way. 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


    Informed by an art historical trajectory, from the Renaissance and the Baroque to Cubism, Surrealism and Pop Art, Condo’s multifarious oeuvre is awash with imagery taken from myriad sources. The present canvas, a stylized patchwork of discrete compartments composed of small images of fragmented body parts, displays the psychological perspective of multiple colliding figures. Evocative of Pablo Picasso’s Synthetic Cubism, where portraits of individuals are limited to planar surfaces and restricted geometric forms, the present work pairs multiple fragmented characters with blocks of color. Commenting on the influence of art historical masters, Condo notes, "The only way for me to feel the difference between every other artist and me is to use every artist to become me."i



    Piet Mondrian, Composition in Red, Blue, and Yellow, 1937-1942, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Image: Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY

    Piet Mondrian, Composition in Red, Blue, and Yellow, 1937-1942, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Image: Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2021 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust. All rights reserved


    In Collision Course, executed in 2009, the artist expertly dissects the composition into a flurry of fractured planes, the work comprised of underlying and overlapping forms which coalesce in a tangle of visual intrigue. Blurring the light purple ground with white, cloudy washes, Condo segments the canvas with his delineated figures, interwoven in a tapestry of forms. Layering a multitude of mediums, the artist projects his divided configuration into the third-dimension. Snippets of faces and bodies twist and turn, punctuated by visual anchors of yellow and red squares. In the same manner of Piet Mondrian, who used flashes, strips and small planes of color to create depth and dynamism in his black and white banded compositions, Condo absorbs the viewer’s gaze, his painting a Cubist prism through which to see his constructed microcosm.



    Cut from the Archives




    Unlike Mondrian’s balanced compositions which provide a meditative realm of reflection, Condo’s dizzying constellations are charged with vital energy. Splicing his image and splitting his protagonist’s faces, Condo’s paintings often bear an uncanny undertone, striking at the heart of our subconscious anxieties. Violently rupturing the canvas with clowns, bared teeth, genitalia and glazed eyes, our eyes rove across the composition, its visual complexities presenting us with flashes of dream-like figures. Through the artist’s evocation of child-like visual references, the present work forces us to tap into our underlying fears and desires, our subconscious dreams and also nightmares. Creating a tension between memory and the present, Condo seeks to destroy the gulf between viewer and object, creating a visual world which provokes underlying reactions.


    "Condo’s portraits…ultimately return our attention to the varied responses that they trigger us in. They confront us with the curious fact that we can feel pity and ridicule for something at the same time, or sympathy and revulsion. In the end, these imaginary portraits lead us to wonder at the schizoid and contradictory character of our own natures. And they leave us to revel in what Soberg memorably termed “the irresolvable clownishness of being’." 
    —Ralph Rugoff


    Subverting traditional practice, Condo infrequently depicts real people in his portraits; instead he often portrays characters derived from his imagination. In the present composition, multiple figures collide. Accurately portraying the fantastical extremes of his imagination, Condo’s protagonists nonetheless appear remarkably familiar. Throughout his oeuvre the artist revisits a repertoire of recognizable protagonists, his imaginary butler Jean-Louis, visible at the left edge of the present composition, is accompanied by recurrent relatives and acquaintances. Distorting the familiar figures, Condo leaves the personalities in a state of flux, juxtaposing the mental state of the characters with their physical appearance. Employing multiple perspectives, Condo presents a vividly psychological portrait exemplary of his mastery of abstraction. "When we abstract in imagistic terms from a recognizable form—let’s say a face—to an impression of a face, we can still recall the face somewhere within this abstraction. But when we represent to the best of our ability the reverse—which is to turn an abstraction back into a recognizable form—that form is the language of abstraction as it relates to painting."ii



    Detail image of the present work. 

    Presenting intricately worked facial features and voluptuous female forms, the artist intimately engages with his subjects. In his scrambled and vivid pictorial scene he leaves "the sense of the female form prey to the vicissitudes and arbitrary geometry of posing in a constant theme of Condo's unedited female disasters."iii Registering distinct yet dislocated body parts—the curve of breasts, the outline of an eye, the texture of hair—Condo allows the portrait to take cognitive form, revealing caricatures that are both serene and frenzied.


    "I try to depict a character’s train of thoughts simultaneously—hysteria, joy, sadness, desperation. If you could see these things at once that would be like what I’m trying to make you see in my art." 
    —George Condo


    Condo's eccentric imagination and his extraordinary ability to cite art historical sources, whilst depicting a spectrum of human emotions and mental states, situate the artist at the forefront of contemporary painting. "The traditional opposition between abstraction and figuration is now no longer pertinent: it has more to do with ideology than with the ‘art of painting.’ The contribution made by George Condo is exemplary in this respect. Although totally immersed in the image culture of the late 20th century, his painting is still informed by modernist questions concerning the uncertain status of representation."iv


    i George Condo, quoted in Stuart Jeffries, “George Condo: 'I was delirious. Nearly died,” The Guardian, February 10, 2014.
    ii George Condo, quoted in Simon Baker, Painting Reconfigured, London, 2015, p. 109.
    iii Ibid., pp. 198-199.
    iv Bernard Marcadé, quoted in ibid., p. 109.

    • Provenance

      Massimo de Carlo, Milan
      Private Collection (acquired from the above)
      Phillips, London, June 27, 2018, lot 7
      Acquired at the above sale 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


Collision Course

signed and dated "Condo '09" on the reverse
acrylic, charcoal, wax crayon, pastel and paper collage on linen
71 7/8 x 57 7/8 in. (182.6 x 147 cm)
Executed in 2009.

Full Cataloguing

$1,800,000 - 2,500,000 

Sold for $2,450,000

Contact Specialist

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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 17 November 2021