George Condo - Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, February 13, 2013 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Andrea Caratsch, Zurich

  • Catalogue Essay

    “Any abstraction of reality involves some kind of distortion. The more recognizable something is, the more interesting it is after it’s been transformed or abstracted.”(George Condo in an interview with Morgan Falconer, Art World, June–July 2008, p. 62)

    Painted in 2009, Untitled (Choo Choo) is part of a recent series of Cartoon Abstractions begun in the same year. Seemingly distant from Condo’s typical style, this series may be actually considered as a further development of the artist’s distinctive concept of ‘Artificial Realism’, “the realistic representation of that which is artificial” in the artist’s words. In the Cartoon Abstraction series, Condo draws his subject matter from 1950s and 1960s cartoons. Painted on a light-grey background, each canvas is dedicated to a different character – Droopy, Ranger Smith, Donald Duck and many more. In the present work, Condo has chosen Choo Choo, one of the main characters of ‘Top Cat’, a Hanna-Barbera cartoon which ran on the television from November 1961 to April 1962. In line with the artist’s typical deformed portraits of naked women and priests, these cartoons are portrayed slightly distorted; the drawing is sketched, colours are dripping out of the outlines and, in some cases, parts of the characters are replicated but in different positions, twisted or overlapping each other. “It’s about dismantling one reality and constructing another form the same parts”, said Condo when explaining his Artificial Realism.

    It has always been common practice for the artist to take a particular character – either a specific are generic one – and to deform it according to his ‘mental states’. In this way, not only do his portraits reveal the most grotesque aspects of human kind, but, standing between comedy and tragedy, they also bring to light and question in depth the stereotypes we live by. By choosing to represent cartoons born in the 1950s and 1960s – a particular moment in the history of the United States when art, and culture more generally, were taking part in the construction of a cultural identity still so relevant nowadays – Condo dismantles these cultural beliefs, so underlining the power of mass media in shaping a nation’s culture: “Even though these characters are invented, the positions that they occupy actually exist in society, so that potentially they can kick off a mental discussion about the roles that real people play in life” (George Condo in an interview with Ralph Rugoff, in George Condo: Existential portraits, sculpture, drawings, paintings, 2005/2006, Berlin, 2006, p. 12).

    In the early 80s, impressed by a press release the young artist had written, Andy Warhol asked Condo to help in his studio as an assistant and was thus put to work on the screen prints. As Condo has stated in previous occasions, the Myth series Warhol was working on at the time has therefore certainly been an important source of inspiration for his Cartoon Abstractions. Nor is it the first time the artist has worked with mass media imagery. In fact, his 1997 Televised Silkscreen works were realized by selecting images from American television shows and by reorganizing them in new abstract compositions. By hovering between abstraction and realism, Condo’s Choo Choo reflects on the power the mass media have in shaping national culture and the collective unconscious. Apparently childish and naive, this work raises questions on the absurdity of reality, challenging us to question what is real and what is not.

  • 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.

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Untitled (Choo Choo)

acrylic on canvas
304.8 x 213 cm (120 x 83 7/8 in)
Signed and dated 'Condo 09' on the reverse.

£350,000 - 450,000 

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

14 February 2013