The Picture Gallery

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  • Provenance

    Luhring Augustine, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2003

  • Exhibited

    New York, Luhring Augustine, George Condo, November 9 - December 21, 2002
    Museum der Moderne Salzburg; Kunsthalle Bielefeld, George Condo: One Hundred Women. Retrospektive, March 12 - August 14, 2005, pp. 20-21, 38 (illustrated, p. 97)

  • Catalogue Essay

    A paradigm of George Condo’s insatiable engagement with the tradition of portraiture, The Picture Gallery, 2002, illustrates the very theme that has captured the artist for nearly four decades. Employing “artificial realism” and “psychological cubism”—terms coined by the artist to describe the hybridization of art historical influences in his works—The Picture Gallery is a captivating example of Condo’s career-long engagement with the female figure—here, as muse, mother, and at times, monster. A testament to its significance within his celebrated oeuvre, the present work was selected as a cornerstone of the artist’s seminal traveling exhibition, George Condo: One Hundred Women, which began at the Museum der Moderne Salzburg in 2005 and then traveled to Kunsthalle Bielefeld. Drawing upon art historical themes such as portraiture, landscape painting, and the iconic subject of mother and child, The Picture Gallery is acutely conscious of tradition, yet simultaneously infused with a contemporary, psychological flare that is quintessential of the artist's signature style.

    In The Picture Gallery, a pregnant woman is seated in an interior space flanked by framed pictures on either side. The female subject is painted in three-quarters profile, her neck elongated and her contemplative gaze directed aimlessly into space. Resting in her lap is a demon-like child—his face distorted and shrunken in a typically-Condo fashion, and his proportions stretched and tapered in a bizarre, Surrealist manner. His aged, bald head belies the boy-ish clothing he inhabits, and his green nose, grotesque teeth, and disproportionately large ear all serve to heighten the unease of the scene. Despite the two figures’ physical proximity, there is an unsettling air about the relationship, as the mother and child appear almost alien to one another. Condo leaves the viewer wondering whether the boy is real at all—perhaps he is a doll, a figment of the woman’s imagination, or even a nightmare.

    Condo’s uncanny ability to convey such strong emotions and unsettling tensions in his paintings is a testament to his unique storytelling abilities, which come to the fore in works such as the present. When asked if The Picture Gallery had a special meaning, the artist responded, “In a way, yes… [it is] about a woman sitting in a picture gallery, and she could be pregnant. She appears to be pregnant and she is just day-dreaming, and in her mind, I think, this is what she is worried about. It is this child that is there with her. It is just a figment of her imagination and some paranoid hope that it doesn’t come out like that. That was the idea I had when I did the painting” (George Condo, quoted in Thomas Kellein, “Interview with George Condo”, George Condo: One Hundred Women, exh. cat., Museum der Moderne Salzburg, Salzburg, 2005, p. 38). A feature of the artist's hallmark style of “psychological cubism”—where he deconstructs form to convey multiple states of mind—Condo delves into the psyche of his protagonist to poignantly capture such harrowing feelings of paranoia and ambiguity. In a single scene, he upends what is meant to be a time of love and excitement for an expecting mother, and instead replaces it with notions of anxiety and fear.

    Apart from its subject matter, The Picture Gallery is replete with art historical references. The painting’s title immediately suggests to the viewer that we are witnessing a painting of a painting—a theme famously taken up by artists such as Diego Velázquez in Las Meninas, 1656. In the present work, a landscape painting hangs to the left of the sitter, and an eerily-empty frame hovers to the right—perhaps a reference to vanitas paintings of the 17th century Dutch still-life genre. Moreover, Condo cites Édouard Manet’s In the Conservatory, 1879, as his primary source inspiration for the present work. While the final painting bears only certain resemblances to his forbearer’s masterpiece—the lady’s buttoned-up dress, far-off gaze, and seated pose—a smaller, preparatory oil by Condo suggests the artist went through several iterations of this subject before painting The Picture Gallery.

    While Condo readily acknowledges these European masters’ influence on his work, he is anything but an epigon. His paintings are just as much about the subversion of art historical precedence as they are about honoring it, and The Picture Gallery is no exception. An exquisite melding of past and present, realism and psychological abstraction, The Picture Gallery is exemplary of Condo’s continual investigations into portraiture and its emotive powers, in which he has crowned the female protagonist as his ultimate leitmotif.

  • Artist Bio

    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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A Discerning Vision Property from an Important Private Collection

The Picture Gallery

signed and dated "Condo 2002" on the reverse
oil on canvas
60 x 56 in. (152.4 x 142.2 cm.)
Painted in 2002.

Estimate
$700,000 - 1,000,000 

sold for $920,000

Contact Specialist
Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session
New York
+ 1 212 940 1250

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale Afternoon Session

New York Auction 13 November 2019