George Condo - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Friday, October 15, 2021 | Phillips

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  • 'I believe that painting needs to transform in order for it to become interesting for each and every generation […] liberated by what has come before.' —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 and pop culture references including old and modern masters, Playboy bunnies, cartoons, and comic strips. Blending the seductive silhouette of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’s Odaliques with the overt sexual display of fantasy characters like Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s Jessica Rabbit, The Showgirl shocks and delights in its audaciousness, a show-stopping statement of Condo’s synthesis of tradition and 20th century painterly experiment, and the mastery of his own unique Artificial Realism. 


    Artificial Realism


    Coining the term in the 1980s, Condo’s Artificial Realism captures the unique melding of abstract and figurative elements at work in his wildly inventive portraits that roam from Francisco Goya to Philip Guston, Francis Picabia to Pablo Picasso. 

    'I wrote a kind of Artificial Realist manifesto in which I stated: 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.' —George Condo

    Loudly announced in the early 1980s 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 Executed in 2008, The Showgirl is highly representative of this, taking on one of the most established and important subjects in art history – the female nude.


    Condo and the Nude


    Presented to us on a plinth against a bare, lurid green ground, Condo’s show girl  is an arresting illustration of the artist’s stated desire to ‘take a person and fragment them to make architecture.’ii Lying prone on her back under stark, bright lighting, the titular figure is presented to us in an extreme dramatisation of the objectification of the performing girl – and of paining itself – as an object to be looked at. 


    Radically disrupting the smooth curves and passive contemplation of form familiar the reclining Odalisques favoured by Ingres’, The Showgirl is a tangle of knotted, angular, and alarmingly proliferating limbs edged in long, crimson nails. Staring confrontationally out at us, two of her three hands pull her face wide, fracturing it into a grotesque, toothy smile and exaggerated underbite that appears throughout Condo’s provocative portraits. 


    Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, La Grande Odalisque, 1814, Louvre, Paris. Bridgeman Images

    Wearing only purple stockings in a witty inversion of the elbow-length gloves of Disney’s iconic Jessica Rabbit, Condo captures the energetic tension established between active performance and passive display at work in the girl’s studied presentation of herself. At once powerful and vulnerable, seductive and terrifying, The Showgirl ranks highly in Condo’s ‘arresting parade of tragi-comic beings […] that exude an unsettling and profoundly compelling oddness.’ 

    Picasso and ‘Psychological Cubism’iii'Picasso painted a violin from four different perspectives at one moment. I do the same with psychological states. Four of them can occur simultaneously. 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.' —George Condo 

    After moving to Paris in 1985, Condo began an intensive examination of Picasso’s wide-ranging corpus, and of the Spanish artist’s own salvaging from art-historical sources. In The Showgirl we are particularly reminded of Picasso’s early Cubist portraits and their ‘simultaneous use of different historical styles and competing visual rhythms.’iv  


    Recalling Picasso’s earliest experiments with the simultaneous representation of multiple, shifting points, the hard angles and contorted pose of The Showgirl draws directly on the radical figurative distortions and break with representational tradition announced with the unveiling of Les demoiselle’s d’Avignon one hundred years before. Taking on a similarly explicit subject in similarly unflinching detail, Condo’s nude echoes the angular figuration and exaggerated pose of the two central women as they draw their arms up sharply behind their heads.


    Pablo Picasso, Les demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, The Museum of Modern Art, New York© Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2021 / Bridgeman Images

    As with Picasso’s infamous demoiselles, Condo’s figures can be ‘seductive and repulsive at the same time. They embody a position that is simultaneously frightening and appealing. This is something that also comes across in the way they solicit different kind of looks from the viewer, and how they often look back at us with eyes that don’t match or don’t even seem to belong to the same face.’v


    Picabian Transparency and ‘Psychological Cubism’ 

    'Mr Condo makes things that look like paintings, that have the presence, completeness, and frontal tautness of paintings, yet in some essential way are not so much paintings as artifacts, signs of another time and place.'
    —Roberta Smith  
    Condo’s masterful condensation of figuration and abstraction (in a single frame) is not limited to the visual representation of multiple physical aspects but utilises these multiple perspectives as prism through which to refract the multiple and competing psychological states of his subjects. Despite her cartoonish, contorted appearance, the subject of The Showgirl is deeply human.


    In the nature of its subject matter and this radical examination of simultaneity, The Showgirl also recalls the later work of Francis Picabia. In the 1920s Picabia had experimented with non-compositional imagery of overlapping transparent classical figures and motifs to create light but densely layered images. Offering a compelling model for the kind of proliferation we see in The Showgirl that describes the performer’s physical movement as much as her densely complex psychological state, Picabia’s Transparencies also allow us to approach Condo’s dense yet transparent layering of art-historical periods and references. 

    Francis Picabia, Mimos, 1929, Moderna Museet, Stockholm.© 2021. Album/Scala, Florence © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021
    Francis Picabia, Mujeres Desnudas Con Perro, private collection. © 2021. Album/Scala, Florence © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021

    Fused with Picabia’s dominant pictorial idiom from the 1920s and 30s, Condo also seems to draw on the French-Cuban artist’s stylistic shift to glossy, ‘pin-up’ nudes in the 1940s. Softly lit and smoothly rendered, these nudes encompass a ‘kitschy cheesecake imagery appropriated from soft-core porn and fashion magazines that Condo draws on in The Showgirl.’vi  Collapsing high and low and juxtaposing the art historical with the utterly contemporary, Condo, like his show girl refuses to be forced into one position, but continues to proliferate. 


    Collector’s Digest 


    •    Alongside a major exhibition opening at the Long Museum in Shanghai in September, Hauser & Wirth will also be showing new paintings and drawings across both of their London galleries this October. 


    •    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, his painting s 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, ‘The Mental States of America’, in George Condo: Mental States (exh. cat.), New Museum, New York, 2011, p. 12. 
    ii George Condo, quoted in George Condo: Mental States (exh., cat.), New Museum, New York, 2011, p. 24. 
    iii Ralph Rugoff, ‘The Mental States of America’, in George Condo: Mental States (exh. cat.), New Museum, New York, 2011, p. 11. 
    iv Ralph Rugoff, ‘The Mental States of America’, in George Condo: Mental States (exh. cat.), New Museum, New York, 2011, p. 16. 
    v Ralph Rugoff, George Condo: Existential Portraits: Scultpture, Drawings, Paintings 2005/2006, (exh. cat.), Luhring Augustine, New York, 2006, pp. 8-9. 
    vi Brooks Adams, ‘Picabia, the New Paradigm’, in Art in America, March 2003, p. 84

    • Provenance

      Galerie Andrea Caratsch, Zurich
      Private Collection, New York
      Skarstedt Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Fondation Dina Vierny - Musée Maillol, George Condo: La civilisation perdue, 17 April - 17 August 2009, p. 158 (illustrated, p. 40)
      New York, Phillips, A Special Private Collection, 22 December 2010 - 12 February 2011

    • 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.

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The Showgirl

signed and dated ‘Condo 08’ on the reverse
oil on linen
203.5 x 203.5 cm (80 1/8 x 80 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2008.

Full Cataloguing

£1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for £1,232,500

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, 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 15 October 2021