George Condo (b. 1957)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from a Private Collection
George Condo (b. 1957)

Washington Square Park

George Condo (b. 1957)
Washington Square Park
signed, titled and dated 'Condo 2010 Washington Square Park' (on the reverse)
acrylic, charcoal and pastel on linen
78 x 108 in. (198 x 274.5 cm.)
Executed in 2010.
Skarstedt Gallery, New York
Private collection, United States
Acquired from the above by the present owner
D. Kuspit, "George Condo," Artforum, vol. 48, no. 9, May 2010, pp. 252-253.
B. von Hase, "Large-Scale Sculpture," Financial Times - How to Spend It, November 2010, p. 41 (installation view illustrated in color).
S. Baker, George Condo: Painting Reconfigured, London, 2015, pp. 156-157, no. 169 (illustrated in color).
New York, Skarstedt Gallery, George Condo: New Paintings, February-April 2010.
New York, New Museum, George Condo: Mental States, January-May 2011, p. 176 (illustrated in color and incorrectly dated 2008).
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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

George Condo’s unparalleled approach to figurative representation has afforded him a singular space in the history of American contemporary art. Created the same year as his inclusion in the 2010 Whitney Biennial, and one year before his momentous mid-career retrospective at the New Museum, Washington Square Park is a grandiose expression of the artist’s psychological portraiture. Part of his aptly-named Drawing Paintings series, the work’s confluence of meandering lines and Condo’s signature representative style surround the viewer with myriad faces and figures that jostle against each other like the crowds that occupy the work’s namesake park. The piece is marked by a tight grouping of staring faces and grasping extremities that meld with the contour lines of their ghostly bodies. Condo speaks to this point, saying “There was a time when I realized that the central focal point of portraiture did not have to be representational in any way. You don’t need to paint the body to show the truth about a character. All you need is the head and the hands” (G. Condo, quoted in A. Bonney, “George Condo,” BOMB Magazine, Summer 1992). By honing in on the most pivotal aspects of each figure and reproducing them across such a vast expanse of canvas, the artist is able to extract and harness the most vibrant points of his visual vocabulary.

Rendered atop an even light blue ground, a cast of characters peers out from an amalgamation of lines and shapes. Passages of blue, peach, pink, and green come together in clusters of brushy color; a central, horizontal band presents a group of faces that materialize from their sketchy surroundings. Singular eyes stare out at the viewer as their gaze is met by furrowed brows, gnashing teeth, bare breasts, and snarled grimaces. Though the style of each figure is in keeping with Condo’s instantly recognizable style, Washington Square Park explores a new avenue that harnesses open space through a spiderweb of thin black lines. Donald Kuspit, writing for Artforum, notes about the Drawing Paintings, “The canvases are noteworthy not only for their mix of acrylic, charcoal, and oil pastel, almost indistinguishably integrated, but for their fusion of styles, resulting in what might be called an expressionistic surrealism or, perhaps more pointedly, an expressionistically grotesque surrealism. In comparison with the solo portraits for which Condo first became known, they suggest his painting has outgrown goofy comic-strip caricature, however sardonic it remains” (D. Kuspit, “George Condo,” Artforum, Vol. 48, no. 9, May 2010, pp. 252-253). Moving beyond singular figures and claustrophobic portraits, Condo approaches the juncture of painting and drawing on a grand scale. Gestural lines swoop and grow until they burst into a distorted countenance.

Condo’s work is a raucous amalgamation of art historical styles and influences. He pulls successfully from the major themes of Expressionism, Surrealism, and Cubism, among others. When speaking of his interest in this convergence, he notes, “I describe what I do as psychological cubism. 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” (G. Condo, quoted in S. Jeffries, “George Condo: ‘I was delirious. Nearly Died,’” in The Guardian, February 10, 2014). Each singular character in his much-lauded portrait mode is imbued with a gamut of emotions that seethe and vie for dominance. In larger works like Washington Square Park, this tension is multiplied exponentially as a crowd of subjects churn and dematerialize before the viewer.

Born in New Hampshire in 1957, Condo moved to New York and spent the early 1980s working in Andy Warhol’s Factory in the silkscreen department. It was also during this time that he had the first exhibitions of his works that merged the styles of Old Masters with a fractured Pop sensibility. Expanding upon his interest in appropriating and finessing the extant imagery of art history, Condo began to work with some of the key elements of the New York School. “Expressionism and Surrealism had already converged in Abstract Expressionism, particularly Willem de Kooning’s, but Condo’s integration of them produces even more absurdly (and comically) monstrous and menacing figures than de Kooning’s women. The snarling white teeth of Condo’s human grotesques seem to allude to those de Kooning’s sometimes also possess, but Condo’s seem more biting, and there are more of them” (D. Kuspit, op. cit.). Consistently pulling from every direction but always staying true to his unique vision, Condo creates work that is both recognizable and bizarre at the same time.

The crowd of faces and body parts that hold the viewer’s focus in Washington Square Park coalesce from a variety of styles and influences. A multifaceted face reminiscent of Picasso is watched over by a bow-tie wearing visage that seems to be the result of Francis Bacon’s attempt at cartooning. Ralph Rugoff observed that “these 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 that they solicit different kinds 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” (R. Rugoff, “The Enigma of Jean Louis: Interview 14 March 2006”, in George Condo: Existential Portraits: Sculpture, Drawings, Paintings 2005/2006, exh. cat., Luhring Augustine, New York, 2006, pp. 8-9). Condo is interested not only in portraying psychological states in his characters, but also in eliciting them from his viewers. Each gaze that is met within the frame establishes a charged link with the rest of the composition. By playing upon these emotions, the artist is able to consistently produce some of the most engrossing representative paintings being made today.

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