George Condo - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale London Thursday, October 14, 2021 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • 'The creatures inhabiting these remoter regions of the mind are exceedingly improbable. Nevertheless they exist, they are facts of observation; and as such they cannot be ignored by anyone who is honestly trying to understand the world in which he lives.'
    —Aldous Huxley, Heaven and Hell 
    The head and shoulders of a forlorn humanoid creature are surrounded by a halo of bubbles. The downturned mouth, rounded nose, and bulging cheeks of the figure are covered in a dense coat of red hair that is offset by the shining viscosity of the transparent globes. Simultaneously humorous and grotesque, the depiction of the fictional character exemplifies George Condo’s celebrated intervention in the genre of portrait painting. Deeply immersed in European art history, the American artist draws upon the pictorial language of the Old Masters to depict his subjects using a distinctive painterly approach which he has termed ‘artificial realism’. For Condo, ‘artificial realism’ seeks to achieve ‘the realistic representation of that which is artificial’.i Identifying the parallels between Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches of figures with physiognomic distortions and his own portraits of fictional characters, Condo notes that the subjects of the earlier artist’s drawings emerged from his imagination but ‘required meticulous details based on observations of reality in order to be believable’.ii In the present work, the American artist’s virtuosic painterly technique is likewise applied to the imaginary in the realistic depiction of the furry creature, rendering the alien uncannily human.


    Leonardo da Vinci, Five grotesque heads, pen and ink on paper, circa 1490s. Accademia, Venice. Image: © 2021. Photo Scala, Florence - courtesy of the Ministero Beni e Att. Culturali e del Turismo

    Grandpa (Old Red with Bubbles), 1996, is an early example of Condo’s ‘antipodular’ or ‘pod’ paintings. The name of the series is taken from Aldous Huxley’s 1956 philosophical essay Heaven and Hell. Huxley conceives of the human impulses that reside in the ‘antipodes of everyday consciousness’, or unconsciousness, as strange, disenfranchised creatures.iii While Condo’s execution of the first antipodular subjects in 1996 predated his knowledge of the essay, once he had encountered Huxley’s text, he recalls ‘I realized what they were’.iv The antipodular creatures do not solely reflect the darker side of humanity but, through their ambiguous expressions, act as a mirror for the viewer, prompting them to project their own psychological state onto the sympathetically monstrous figures. In Grandpa (Old Red with Bubbles), this impetus is heightened by Condo’s titling of the work which casts the red pod in the role of an archetypal familiar figure, introducing another element of uncanny familiarity to the communion between creature and viewer.

    The red pod character depicted in Grandpa (Old Red with Bubbles) appears in a number of antipodular paintings created by Condo in the mid-1990s. The imagined character emerged following the artist’s visit to the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna where the artist was mesmerised by a sixteenth-century altarpiece by Albrecht Dürer. He left the encounter consumed by his impression of ‘a string of red angels, solid red, red faces, red wings, red everything’.v From the fine hair falling from the tips of the creature’s dish-like ears to the coarse dark fur running along its back, the expressive brushstrokes used to depict the pod in the present work evoke the different tonalities of red that dominate Dürer’s painting. Yet, reflecting Condo’s signature synthesisation of references from art history and popular culture, the artist recognises that the red pod also has ‘the look of Yosemite Sam’, the moustachioed American cartoon As Condo explains of his artistic practice, ‘you have this diversity of artistic influences in a picture and they’re in a process of becoming – becoming the painting, something different and autonomous from the influences that go into it’.vii

    The sixteenth-century altarpiece by Albrecht Dürer encountered by George Condo at the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna. Photo credit: Luisa Ricciarini / Bridgeman Images

    The present work is offered concurrently to an important presentation of the artist’s recent paintings at Hauser & Wirth, London and the largest solo exhibition of the artist’s work to date in Asia at the Long Museum in Shanghai. A significant example of Condo’s development of artificial realism through his antipodular subjects, Grandpa affirms the artist’s reputation as a defining figure in contemporary American painting.


    On the occasion of a major exhibition of Condo’s paintings at the Hayward Gallery, London in 2011, the artist discusses his innovative approach to portraiture and the origins of the antipodular works.


    Collector's Digest


    •    A solo exhibition of Condo’s recent work will be on show across both of Hauser & Wirth’s gallery spaces in London from 13 October through 23 December 2021.


    •    George Condo: The Picture Gallery, the largest solo exhibition by the artist in Asia, is currently on view at Long Museum in Shanghai until 28 November 2021.

    i George Condo, quoted in George Condo: Existential Portraits. Sculpture, Drawings, Paintings 2005/2006, exh. cat., Luhring Augustine, New York, 2006, p. 8
    ii George Condo, quoted in George Condo: Existential Portraits. Sculpture, Drawings, Paintings 2005/2006, exh. cat., Luhring Augustine, New York, 2006, p. 12
    iii Aldous Huxley, Heaven and Hell, London, 1956, p. 10
    iv George Condo, quoted in Simon Baker, George Condo: Painting Reconfigured, London, 2015, p. 77
    v George Condo, quoted in Simon Baker, George Condo: Painting Reconfigured, London, 2015, p. 82
    vi Ibid.
    vii George Condo, quoted in Stuart Jeffries, ‘George Condo: “I was delirious. Nearly died”’, The Guardian, 10 February 2014, online

    • Provenance

      Pace Wildenstein, New York
      Private Collection

    • Literature

      Ralph Rugoff and George Condo, The Imaginary Portraits of George Condo, New York, 2002, p. 110 (illustrated)

    • 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


Grandpa (Old Red with Bubbles)

signed and dated 'Condo 12.10.96' lower right
oil on canvas
127 x 102 cm (50 x 40 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1996.

Full Cataloguing

£300,000 - 400,000 

Sold for £809,000

Contact Specialist

Tamila Kerimova
Specialist, Director, Head of Day Sale

20th Century & Contemporary Art

+44 20 7318 4065
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale

London Auction 14 October 2021