George Condo - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 3, 2022 | Phillips

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  • '[My work] finds a way to represent the human consciousness through portrait. That portrait could represent what’s not only the exterior appearance of that person but what’s going through their mind.'
    —George Condo
    A master of contemporary painting whose prolific output has spanned over forty years, George Condo’s portraits combine a staggering range of art-historical, pop culture and mythic references whose interrogations of both physical and psychological reality have created a unique œuvre that melds abstract and figurative elements. Condo’s The Rock Thrower is a consummate example of the artist’s knowing and articulate commentary on ancient stories as well as his critical engagement with the great masters of art history, his references roaming from Titian to Pablo Picasso. Interrogating both myth and art history, the present work is a raw meditation on the female form and the often unsettling physical contortions that the body can undergo though dislocation, fracture, and scarring. Condo’s provocative and irreverent fusion of the recognisably human with the grotesque is an attempt to push against the boundaries of what figurative painting can visually represent, and the psychological depths that it is able to explore. Executed in 2007, and appropriately included in the artist’s 2009 exhibition George Condo: The Lost Civilisation at the Fondation Dina Vierny-Musée Maillol, The Rock Thrower is highly representative of this, blending archetypal myth with one of the most established and important subjects in art history – the female nude.


    The Riff on Sisyphus


    Titian, Sisyphus, 1548 – 49, Prado, Madrid. Image: © Museo Nacional del Prado / MNP / Scala, Florence

    Titian, Sisyphus, 1548 – 49, Prado, Madrid. Image: © Museo Nacional del Prado / MNP / Scala, Florence

    At once comical and monstrous, cartoonish and deeply human, George Condo’s arresting characters belong to a world that seems to sit, lopsided, against our own. Highly dramatic, Condo’s compositions and characters carry enormous narrative weight, a recognisable and sometimes recurring cast of fiendish faces that draw energy from this paradoxical relationship between the beautiful and the unsightly, as Massimiliano Gionni has described.


    Rendered in a confident, heavy black outline against a wash of cool blue, The Rock Thrower is an unusual monochromatic portrait by the artist, drawing from an impressively broad range of sources that encompass Old to Modern Masters. In a stark parody of the Myth of Sisyphus, Condo replaces the muscled, stoical male figure as painted by Titian with a grotesque, disjointed female form. Her twisted physiology bends and collapses beneath the weight of the rock, her arms forced into angles that cut away unnaturally from the rest of her body. In a striking counterpoint to Picasso’s own Woman Throwing a Stone, who adopts the biomorphic curves and fluid lines most commonly associated with this period of his work, Condo’s nude seems to be about to throw down her rock in a murderous rage. In the centre of the composition, we see what might be a recognisably human face, but which reveals itself rather as a terrifying spectre releasing a howl of anguish or possibly a mocking grimace.


    Pablo Picasso, Woman Throwing a Stone, 1931, Musée Picasso, Paris. Image: © Peter Willi / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © Succession Picasso / DACS, London 2022
    Pablo Picasso, Woman Throwing a Stone, 1931, Musée Picasso, Paris. Image: © Peter Willi / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © Succession Picasso / DACS, London 2022

     In these complex superimpositions of art-historical and mythic references, Condo’s The Rock Thrower captures something of the artist’s larger project too. Coining the term ‘Artificial Realism’ in the 1980s, Condo formalised the unique melding of abstract and figurative elements at work in his weird and wonderful portraits. As the artist described in more detail, ‘it’s a dismantling of one reality and constructing another from the same parts [...] a new conjunctive hyper-reality or hybrid image showing the simultaneous presences.’i


    Launched with his breakthrough group of ‘fake old master’ canvases which the artist described as ‘an artificial, simulated American view of what European painting looked like’, Condo’s provocative and irreverent fusion of recognisably human and grotesquely cartoon-like features continue to push against the boundaries of what figurative painting can visually represent, and the psychological depths that is able to explore.i Twisted into ghoulish proportions, which, like so many of Condo’s portraits draws close to the reconstructed gueules cassées of veterans of the First World War, The Rock Thrower combines psychological nuance and complexity just as effortlessly as she collapses distinct, art-historical categories.


    At once powerful and vulnerable, seductive and terrifying, The Rock Thrower  ranks highly in Condo’s ‘arresting parade of tragi-comic beings […] that exude an unsettling and profoundly compelling oddness.’iii Whilst the face can clearly be read as an expression of suffering, Condo’s psychological cubism, inspired by Picasso but entirely his own, allows a variety of different emotional states to coexist in a single condensed image: the figure’s face is at once the expression of pained anguish as it is the cathartic defiance of the figure as it casts away its burden. The teeth-bearing grins or screams of this figure also nod to Willem de Kooning's ferociously smiling, abstracted women, such as Woman I (1950-1952). Condo's own female forms, transformed into relevant, contemporary images that draw upon myth and art history stay true to the artist’s stated intention to  move ‘between a scream and a smile’.


    Collector’s Digest


    •    Alongside a major exhibition which opened at the Long Museum in Shanghai last September, Hauser & Wirth also presented an exhibition of new paintings and drawings across both of their London galleries in October 2021.


    •    Since his major international travelling mid-career survey Mental States in 2011, Condo has continued to exhibit widely, representing the United States at the 2013 and 2019 International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia.


    •    Now represented by Hauser & Wirth, Condo’s  paintings are held in important international collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., amongst others.


    George Condo discussing his use of Artificial Realism in an interview for the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art 

    i George Condo, quoted in Ralph Rugoff, George Condo, Existential Portraits: Sculpture, Drawings, Paintings 2005/2006, New York 2006, p. 8.

    • Provenance

      Galeria Andrea Caratsch, Zurich
      Private Collection
      Sotheby's, New York, 14 November 2013, lot 508
      Private Collection, Hong Kong (acquired at the above sale)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Musée Maillol, La civilisation perdue, 17 April - 17 August 2009, p. 160 (illustrated, p. 91)

    • 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 Distinguished European Collection


The Rock Thrower

signed and dated ‘Condo 07’ upper left
acrylic and charcoal on canvas
134 x 116.8 cm (52 3/4 x 45 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2007.

Full Cataloguing

£500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for £567,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+ 44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 3 March 2022