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  • "The most dramatic aspect of Condo’s work lies precisely in this search for a profundity that invariably withholds itself and turns into superficiality." 
    —Massimiliano Gioni
    George Condo’s ability to create subjects who are simultaneously regal and repulsive has heavily impacted contemporary portraiture. As Holland Cotter wrote in a 2011 exhibition review of the artist’s work, Condo’s work is "tasty, erudite stuff, freaky but classy, a Mixmaster version of old master, with a big glop of Pop tossed in.”1 The multitude of themes that make up Condo’s style has brought his body of work to several permanent collections, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, the Museum of Modern Art, New York and many others.

    High Drama


    As Massimiliano Gionni describes, the “dramatic” element of Condo’s work is precisely tied to this paradoxical relationship between the beautiful and unsightly2. With the artist’s characteristic features—a bulbous nose, crooked teeth, and a phallic chin—the figure in this work is both terrifying and inviting. Her portrait creates both a comedic and hostile spectacle for the viewer, one akin to the function of dramatic theater. Through their presentation of humans as both good and evil, it is as if Condo’s portraits are holding a “mirror up to nature.”3 Not only is there “drama” in the way in which these figures are presented, there is also a certain spectacular element to the realization of how self-referential the portraits are. Such is the goal of Condo’s “psychological cubism,” or his interest in conveying different interpretations of the same surface simultaneously.


    Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of a Woman, probably a Member of the Van Beresteyn Family, 1632, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 
    Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of a Woman, probably a Member of the Van Beresteyn Family, 1632, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 


    History Portraits, Redefined


    In Smiling Young Woman, the figure does not make direct eye contact with the viewer, instead gazing slightly off the composition. The background’s gray-to-black gradient creates a stronger contrast between the figure and its environment, and allows her features to stand out, as if the Smiling Young Woman is spot lit. The characters in George Condo’s portraits are often dressed in conservative garments, as is the case here. Their “ruff collars and sartorial decorum stand in sharp contrast to their distorted features and absurd countenances,” according to David Means on the occasion of the artist’s famed exhibition, George Condo: Mental States, which traveled from the Hayward Gallery, London to the New Museum, New York.4 “These paintings seemed to recall the past through a disconcertingly subjective memory.”5

    It is clear that history impacts Condo’s work, and the artist makes such influences obvious to his audience. Works such as Memories of Rembrandt (1994) and The Insane Queen (2006) have more overt references to history and its patrons, while Smiling Young Woman is more of a subtle nod to commoner, female portraits of the past. “The irreconcilable distortions provoke memories not only of Condo’s work but of the ludicrous conventions of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century country house portraiture: no example of which will ever again be allowed to settle quietly into the dusty corners of mansions and museums without being haunted by the ghost of a Condo.”6


    1 Holland Cotter, “A Mind Where Picasso Meets Looney Tunes,” The New York Times, January 27, 2011 (online)

    2 Massimiliano Gioni, ibid.

    3 William Shakespeare, Hamlet, E.P. Dutton & Company, New York: 1905, 70.

    4 David Means et al, George Condo: Mental States, Hayward Gallery: 2015, 11.

    5 David Means et al, George Condo: Mental States, Hayward Gallery: 2015, ibid.

    • Provenance

      Luhring Augustine, New York
      Private Collection
      Phillips, London, February 13, 2015, lot 149
      Skarstedt, New York (acquired at the above sale)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Friedman Benda, Comfort, January 9–February 15, 2020

    • Literature

      Leilah Stone, "A New Show at Friedman Benda Challenges Viewers to Redefine the Meaning of Comfort," Metropolis, January 13, 2020, online (installation view illustrated)

    • 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

Ο ◆348

Smiling Young Woman

signed and dated "Condo 08" upper left; signed and dated "Condo 08" on the reverse
oil on canvas
39 7/8 x 36 in. (101.3 x 91.4 cm)
Painted in 2008.

Full Cataloguing

$450,000 - 650,000 

Sold for $604,800

Contact Specialist

Rebekah Bowling
Head of Day Sale, Afternoon Session, New York
1 212 940 1250
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Afternoon Session

New York Auction 18 November 2021