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  • Provenance

    Pace Gallery, New York
    Fabien Fryns Fine Art, Beijing

  • Catalogue Essay

    Grey Nude/Purple Cape exemplifies George Condo’s innovative take on the recognisable image of the reclining nude. Painted in 1991, it draws inspiration from the work of Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore as well as finding long-established and iconic references in the tomes of art history. Describing his works from the 1990’s, the artist declares them as ‘somewhere between landscape and some kind of sexual construction of human physiognomy.’

    Condo’s work is an amalgamation of traditional subjects, modern depictions and original interpretations. His compositions are carefully planned, as the artist creates numerous preparative sketches before composing the larger final work. Just in this process, the artist draws on art historical precedent. His material choice also reflects this: his paintings are primarily comprised of the traditionally established oil paint on canvas. Condo’s signature hybridisation of European Old Master painting with a Modernist and Pop sensibility was instrumental in reviving painting on an international scale in the 1980s. Recognised as an important figure to the post-modern tradition today, Condo bears ties with other stalwarts of American innovation, namely Keith Haring and Andy Warhol, in whose Factory he worked early in his career. Over his more than 30-year career, Condo has never used photographic sources for the basis of his paintings, often drawing instead from a cast of imaginary sitters he conjures from his own head. His rich imagination is a world he both studies and inhabits. Rather than seeing history—and art history—as an impossible burden, the artist views it a liberator. His own non-linear acknowledgment and exploration of past and present makes Condo’s oeuvre markedly different from other painters who have preceded and followed him.

    Yet, the artist’s work is a foil to art historical tropes, creating innovative results that are achieved through the dismantling of the figure and its subsequent, disjointed reconstruction into a morphed, though intelligible form. The artist describes his technique using his own self-created art movement title, that of ‘Artificial Realism,’ which he coined in the early 1980s as he was emerging on the East Village art scene in New York City. The elements of this name reflect Condo’s interest in dismantling one reality and constructing another from the same discarded parts: ‘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). This approach pays homage to titans of Modernism while simultaneously inventing a truly post-modern conception of the composition.

    Grey Nude/Purple Cape includes the characteristic elements of sexuality, eroticism and aesthetic that pertain to any nude. The figure’s confrontational posture is brazen and unashamed, drawing the viewer into the world of the painting whilst still presenting a level of provocative disaffection. The artist’s presentation of nudity as intrinsic and fundamental to the figure, rather than prescribed, effectively ensures its sexual connotations without relying on them. The naked body evokes a state of raw genesis and disclosure, returning humanity back to its native primitive state. The resulting effect is psychologically intense, Condo explains: ‘Picasso painted a violin from four different perspectives at one moment. I do the same with psychological states. Four of them can occur simultaneously.’ This abstraction is more than an exploration of planar geometry and an alteration of physical reality, the artist reveals emotive and unseen reality. Condo aims to alter perceived existence, revelling in the manipulated shapes and distortions featured in his portraits as well as the elasticity and changeable sensation of mental states. His paintings aim to reflect his personal vision of the world as well as to interpret those of others; he states that his ‘objective is to portray the strangeness that I feel, and the strangeness that I see is the strangeness that is around me.’

    The contradicting elements of human thought are pictorially reflected in the artist’s use of opposing and often antagonistic components. The depicted figure seems human yet monstrous, vulnerable yet authoritative, exposed whilst still alluding to a strong suggestion of the concealed. The powerful interpretation of the purple cape, whose importance is clarified in its inclusion within the work’s title itself, embodies this particular element of obscurity. The richly coloured mantle adds an intensity and profundity to the central third of the canvas. The deep purple provides a perfect intersection between the black base, the blue clouded sky above and the human figure that collectively emphasise its centrality and significance. Of course, the use of purple inherently harkens to notions of royalty and luxury, emphasising the duality and contrast in Grey Nude/Purple Cape. The figure itself is constructed out of Cubist shapes that contradict the stark quality of the work’s base as well as the classically depicted sky. Again, Condo pays tribute to earlier artistic heritage: ‘My painting is all about this interchangeability of languages in art, where one second you might feel the background has the shading and tonalities you would see in a Rembrandt portrait, but the subject is completely different and painted like some low-culture, transgressive mutation of a comic strip.’

    It is this underlying ambivalence in Condo’s works that pushes them to challenge convention. In the midst of often grotesque contortions, Condo’s figures evoke a certain humour. Describing his style as something which ‘goes between a scream and a smile,’ the works trigger varied responses in the viewer and confront initial perceptions. The psychological cubism, a term coined by the artist to describe his technique, ‘exploits our own imperfections – the private, off-moments or unseen aspects of humanity – that often give way to some of painting’s most beautiful moments’ (George Condo, Interview, Timeout, Ossian Ward).

  • Artist Biography

    George Condo

    American • 1957

    Few artists have dedicated their careers as singularly to one genre as George Condo has to that of portraiture. He is drawn to the endless inquiries posed by the aesthetics and formal considerations of Caravaggio, Rembrandt and the Old Masters. Emerging on the New York art scene in the 1980s alongside contemporaries such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, Condo developed a distinctive visual lexicon that is unmistakably his own. 

    Student to Warhol, friend to Basquiat and collaborator with William S. Burroughs, Condo tracked a different path. The artist frequently cites Picasso as a predominant influence in his contemporary cubist compositions and joyous use of paint. Condo is known for postmodernist compositions staked in wit and the grotesque, which draw the eye into a highly imaginary world. 

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Grey Nude/Purple Cape

1991
oil on linen
134.5 x 199.9 cm (52 7/8 x 78 3/4 in.)
Signed 'Condo 91' lower left.

Estimate
£250,000 - 350,000 

Sold for £434,500

Contact Specialist
Peter Sumner
Head of Contemporary Art, London
+44 207 318 4063

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 October 2014 7pm