George Condo - 20th Century to Now London Friday, June 30, 2023 | Phillips
  • “It’s like Rembrandt painting Bugs Bunny. Instead of painting a Campbell’s soup the way Andy Warhol did, I would take it and put it on a table and shine a light, like a candle light, on it and paint it in the style of Georges de La Tour [...] Ultimately I don’t want to just paint somebody else’s painting. The idea is to take all the information from every painting I like in history and to put it all back together in an original way.”
    —George Condo

    After spending three decades at the epicentre of the global art world, American artist George Condo continues to push the boundaries of what it means to engage with a painting. In his unmistakable fracturing of the figure and his interest in modes of art historical rediscovery and reclamation, Condo’s influence on popular culture and a generation of younger artists in both aesthetic and conceptual terms continues to make itself felt.


    After tuning in to the famed New York art scene of the 1980s, working for a short while in Warhol’s factory and befriending the likes of Jean-Michael Basquiat and Keith Haring, Condo developed a radical painterly voice which integrated certain technical and compositional aspects of Old Master painting with his own unbridled, psychologically charged subject matter. By focusing on the dramatic and virtuoso qualities of these iconic Old Master works and reimagining them for his own, contemporary moment, Condo extended Duchampian notions concerning the reuse of objects and images to historic painterly languages, ‘an iconic form of painting’ which in the artist’s own words resulted in something ‘strong enough and recognizable enough as being my own, rather than having been taken from historic references.’This set him apart from the more self-consciously post-modernist trends of the time and built a foundation for younger artists - the likes of John Currin, Cecily Brown and Glenn Brown - to employ painting’s history in a non-appropriative, cyclical manner.


    Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Christ on the Cross, Eglise du Mas d'Agenais, France. The Picture Art Collection / Alamy Stock Photo

    Dramatically lit against a deep, tenebrous background, Condo’s Jesus is one of four oil paintings created in 2007 which radically reimagine the iconography of the Crucifixion. The rich cross-hatching creates a deeply toned background which, coupled with the chiaroscuro interplay between emergent light and shadow, pays homage to the artists of the High Renaissance and Baroque. Further than these visual cues, Condo also returned to certain compositional techniques favoured by Old Masters. As well as experimenting with underpainting (where an initial monochromatic layer establishes the arrangement of the piece), Condo closely studied diagonal and pyramidal compositional structure alongside a registered copyist that he met at the Louvre. In this respect, works such as Jesus are enduring in their manipulation of composition and light and parallels can readily be drawn with master works by the likes of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and Diego Velázquez.


    Although utterly contemporary, there is a distinct untimeliness to Condo’s work, accumulating and amalgamating a wide range of art historical and iconographic references whilst defying easy classification. The polka dots of bright colour which emanate from Christ’s body allude to both Surrealism and Pointillism, offering an unexpected twist on the reverential subject of the crucifixion. Valuing ‘the opportunity as an artist to destroy authority by depicting it in your own terms’, Condo does not just invoke religious iconography, but absorbs it and makes it his own.ii He describes how the pointillist constellation surrounding Christ represents his released spirit, but he also states: ‘In my opinion, it’s like a grand homecoming parade.’iii This denotes a tragicomic aspect to the piece which is found throughout Condo’s oeuvre: the agonising scene of the crucifixion reconfigured in a burst of brightly-coloured confetti, brining a celebratory brightness against the gloom.


    Through such hybrid stylisation and raw narrative energy, Condo makes the infamous story of Christ’s crucifixion his own. The fractured face of Christ, which introduces a Cubistic and caricatured element to the piece, adds yet another layer of visual complexity. In the same way as appropriation of Old Master techniques and motifs, Condo translates 20th Century stylistic qualities into something unique. Showcasing the artist’s signature psychological cubist style, Christ’s face here is made up of simultaneous yet conflicting expressions and emotions, the volatile facial language fluctuating between rage, horror, pain, and even mischief. Such reimagining of religious subject matter alludes to Condo’s idea of ‘Objective Representation’ in religious imagery. Stemming from the notion explored by certain Abstract Expressionist artists that abstract art can provoke an entirely subjective experience, Condo inverts this concept, questioning whether the subject of religious iconography can incite an objective response unbiased by a prior reading of the biblical narrative. At once grotesquely caricatured and deeply human, the psychological intensity of the titular Jesus directly engages the viewer, departing from more traditional representations of a quietly composed Christ and circumventing the text-based Biblical narrative for a more visceral and immediate impact. This human study of raw emotion and tragi-comedic reconfiguration of religious iconography climax in a canvas which brims with pathos and vulgarity, a theatrical melodrama that both attracts and repulses us.


    Receiving both critical and institutional recognition over the years, George Condo represented the United States at La Biennale di Venezia in both 2013 and 2019. His work can be found in permanent collections such as the Musée National d’Art Modern, Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate Modern, London; and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, amongst others. Jesus has been exhibited in numerous institutions including the New Museum, New York; Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Hayward Gallery, London; Museum Folkwang, Essen; and Kunsthalle Krems, Krems an de Donau.



    George Condo, quoted in Simon Baker, George Condo: Painting Reconfigured, London, 2015, p. 14

    ii George Condo, quoted in Calvin Tomkins, ‘Portraits of Imaginary People: How George Condo reclaimed Old Master painting’, The New Yorker, 9 January, 2011, online.

    iii George Condo, quoted in Calvin Tomkins, ‘Portraits of Imaginary People: How George Condo reclaimed Old Master painting’, The New Yorker, 9 January, 2011, online.

    • Provenance

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

    • Exhibited

      New York, Luhring Augustine, George Condo, Christ: The Subjective Nature of Objective Representation, 23 February - 29 March 2008
      Kunsthalle Krems, Lebenslust & Totentanz: Olbricht Collection, 18 July - 7 November 2010, p. 183 (illustrated, p. 78)
      Hamburg, The Deichtorhallen, Two collectors: Thomas Olbricht and Harald Falckenberg, 24 June - 21 August 2011
      New York, New Museum; Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen; London, Hayward Gallery; Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle, George Condo: Mental States, 26 January 2011 - 28 May 2012
      Berlin, me Collectors Room, WONDERFUL – Humboldt, Krokodil & Polke Die Olbricht Collection, 29 November 2012 – 28 April 2013
      Essen, Museum Folkwang, "...EVEN THE EXPERT MARVELS!" Works from the Olbricht Collection, 22 October 2021 - 23 April 2023

    • 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.

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signed and dated 'Condo 07' on the reverse
oil on canvas
218.4 x 218.6 cm (85 7/8 x 86 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2007.

Full Cataloguing

£500,000 - 700,000 

Contact Specialist

Leonor de Osma
Head of Sale, 20th Century to Now
T +44 20 7901 7912
M +44 7584 086 052

20th Century to Now

London Auction 30 June 2023