George Condo - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, June 30, 2022 | Phillips
  • 'I wanted to capture the characters of these paintings at the extreme height of portraiture […] in that static moment of chaos – and to picture them as abstract compositions that are set in destitute places and isolated rooms.'
    —George Condo 
    Executed in a bold palette dominated by sharp chromatic contrasts and a compositional arrangement as confident as it is confrontational, George Condo’s Black Jack Sally is a paradigmatic example of the artist’s twinned concepts of artificial realism and psychological cubism, and of his unique contribution to the tradition of portraiture. Drawing on a range of art historical and pop culture references that swerve masterfully between Baroque theatricality, Cubist experimentation, and expressionistic verve, Condo’s wildly inventive portraits are also strangely liberated from these principles. Not bound to the depiction of physical likeness, his unmistakable figures are instead characterised by exaggerated overbites, bulging eyes, and sharp-edged, violently fractured faces, coalescing like ‘fragments of a convention, filtered through the artist’s memory and imagination.’i

    Taking the titular card dealer as its protagonist here, Condo touches on a long tradition of allegorical painting in which certain themes, subjects, or symbolically charged objects are used in the composition as a way of encouraging or satirising moral or spiritual concerns. Usually employed as a warning against the temptations of gambling and the vices of alcohol and lustful liaisons, these paintings reflected the cultural and moral values of their day, a vivid mode of commentary that Condo develops, not in order to moralise, but as a means of capturing a psychological portrait of our times.


    Georges de la Tour, La Triche avec l’As de Trèfle, (The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs), c.1630-34, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas. Image: © Kimbell Art Museum / Bridgeman Images

    Butlers and Blackjack 

    Over the course of an impressive forty-year career, Condo has continually refined his cast of invented and often recurring characters who belong to what critic Jennifer Higgie has aptly described as ‘a ribald world of crazed, comic engagement, theatrical illogic and a furious indifference to conventional niceties.’ii By the mid-1990s, Condo had developed the pictorial vocabulary employed to such startling effect in Black Jack Sally, creating his beloved species of ‘antipodal beings.’iii Often taking on the menial roles of butler, maid, chauffeur, or janitor, this strange cast of characters allowed Condo to visually expose the tensions between the composed face a subject might have to present to the world, and the more complex internal feelings shifting beneath the surface, embodying ‘the despair, the heartache, the love and the happiness' of any of us.’iv 
    'It's what I call artificial realism. That's what I do. 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 CondoAlthough card players are a well-established motif in art historical terms, the frontal presentation of the titular subject here, as well as the fractured waistcoat and bowtie of her casino uniform and the broad swell of green baize that rises between us and her firmly situates ‘Black Jack Sally’ as one of Condo’s ‘private mythology of cultural types’ - a character who carries the weight of our contemporary cultural condition with her in much the same way as Otto Dix had employed his own card players in 1920.v While viscerally reflecting the physical reality of industrial warfare on the bodies of returning German soldiers, Dix’s grotesque figures also explore the collective cultural trauma of the First World War in a way that resonates with Condo’s own notion of psychological cubism. 


    Otto Dix, The Skat Players, 1920, Nationalgalerie, SMPK, Berlin. Image: Scala, Florence/bpk, Bildagentur fuer Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte, Berlin, Artwork: © 2022 DACS

    Condo’s Psychological Cubism 

    An American artist deeply invested in the traditions of European painting, Condo developed the concept of psychological cubism as a way to describe a mode of portraiture which allowed for the simultaneous representation of these multiple internal states. Elucidating the concept in one interview Condo explained: 'Picasso painted a violin from four different perspectives at one moment. I do the same with psychological states. […] Like glimpsing a bus with one passenger howling over a joke they’re hearing down the phone, someone else asleep, someone else crying – I’ll put them all in one face.’vi


    Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman, 1937, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Image: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © Succession Picasso / DACS, London 2022


    While art historical references accumulate across Condo’s canvases, Picasso remains a key touchstone for the artist, Black Jack Sally recalling the earlier artist’s own, Cubist card-players in its subject matter and fracturing of form, as well as his later portraits of his lover and muse, the photographer Dora Maar. Painted against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War and the genesis of Guernica - Picasso’s monumental treatment of human cruelty and suffering, the iconic Weeping Woman series pushed the formal principles of Cubism into new, emotionally charged territory further amplified by Condo’s psychological cubism. Referencing the Weeping Woman’s lurid contrasts of greens, yellows, reds and patches of purple, Black Jack Sally combines vulnerability and monstrosity, compassion and existential horror with astonishing facility. 


    As Condo has suggested, ‘painting needs to transform in order for it to become interesting for each and every generation […] Liberated by what has come before’, and in his own radical expansion of the possibilities of portraiture he has paved the way for a broad range of contemporary artists including John Currin, Dana Shutz, Nicole Eisenman, and Lisa Yuskavage, amongst others.vii


    Collector’s Digest 

    • 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. 

    • More recently, the artist was honoured with his largest show to date in Asia, held at the Long Museum, Shanghai in 2021.

    • Now represented by Hauser & Wirth, his 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.


    i Allesandra Montezuma Soberg, quoted in Ralph Pugoff, ‘Imaginary Essay’, The Imaginary Portraits of George Condo, New York, 2002, p. 6. 
    ii Jennifer Higgie, ‘Time’s Fool’, Frieze, 5 May 2007,  online
    iii Ralph Rugoff, ‘The Mental States of America’, George Condo: Mental States, exh. cat., London, 2011, p. 16. 
    iv George Condo, quoted in Ralph Rugoff, ‘The Enigma of Jean Louis’, George Condo, Existential Portraits: Sculpture, Drawings, Paintings 2005/2006, Berlin, 2006, p. 13. 
    v Holland Cotter, ‘A Mind Where Picasso Meets Looney Tunes,’ The New York Times, January 27, 2011, online.  
    vi George Condo, quoted in Stuart Jeffries, ‘George Condo: I was delirious. Nearly died.’, The Guardian, 10 February 2014, online
    vii George Condo, quoted in Ralph Rugoff, ‘The Enigma of Jean Louis’, George Condo, Existential Portraits: Sculpture, Drawings, Paintings 2005/2006, Berlin, 2006, p. 13. 

    p. 7. 

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Artist Biography

      George Condo


      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 of a European Collector


Black Jack Sally

signed and dated 'Condo 06' upper left; signed and dated 'Condo 06' on the reverse
oil on canvas
165.1 x 152.4 cm (65 x 60 in.)
Painted in 2006.

Full Cataloguing

£700,000 - 1,000,000 

Sold for £809,000

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
+44 7391 402741


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

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 30 June 2022